What makes the perfect foster home?
The ideal foster home may not exist, but if it does, it would be a pet savvy person with no pets or a perfectly sociable dog and/or cat. The no-pet home is perfect for a dog or cat with animal fear or aggression issues. The foster pet can settle in, bond with the person and then gradually be exposed to socialized animals. It is also a person who can hand that animal over to a new family when their job is done – with some sorrow – but also with pride knowing that they helped that animal find its forever home.
A pet savvy person is important because many animals that need to be fostered come with baggage – medical, behavioral or both. You must be capable of doing treatments if the foster has medical issues. You must be able to pick up small body language cues and read them correctly if the pet has behavior issues. Experienced volunteers can certainly be trained to provide a great foster home.
Many animals coming into foster situations are simply frightened and upset at the loss of their homes and their families. With time and love, they will blossom. Others may need specialized behavior modification or training. If you agree to foster a coonhound who has lived tied out to a shed for the past five years, some major work can be expected. The dog may not be housebroken (though housebreaking tends to go quickly with adult dogs). The dog may not be used to everyday sounds like the dishwasher or vacuum and may not be comfortable with grooming or even being touched at first. With a solid basic temperament, these dogs will come around.
A dog or cat that has been physically abused may not trust any human contact. These fosters need long term setups where the pets can determine the interactions themselves. It can be frustrating to be a foster parent and want to hold and comfort these pets while the pet does not want anything to do with you.
Some pets may need basic manners training – you do not grab food off the dinner table, you do not steal or chew shoes, you don’t jump up on people. This basic training will make this pet much more adoptable in the future.
However, a perfect foster home needs more than great people. You will need gates and/or crates to keep the pet safely confined when you aren’t right there. If you have pets of your own, you want to be sure that they have safe places of their own.
Your fenced yard (if you have one) will need to be securely dog proofed for dogs of all sizes. This means there should be no way to dig under and it should be high enough to stop dogs that try to jump. You may need to angle the top to prevent a talented escape artist who knows how to climb out.
Always consider your own pets first. If your dog is attached to your hip 24/7, adding a strange dog that needs physical closeness may not work out well. Putting a dog that potentially will chase cats into a home with a 14 year old sedate tabby might work or it may end tragically.
Providing a foster home and helping a pet reach their full potential and be adopted into a forever home is a rewarding experience. Sometimes foster families turn into “foster failures”. This does not mean you failed to help that animal – it means that the animal has found a new home – with you!
By: Deb Eldredge, DVM
Deb M. Eldredge, DVM graduated from Cornell University’s New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. She has worked primarily in small animal private practice, but also has experience in exotic work. Dr. Eldredge is an award winning writer and currently resides in upstate New York on a small animal farm with her cat, six dogs and several other animals.