Fostering a dog—taking a dog into your home and providing it with shelter and care for a predetermined amount of time or until a forever home is found—is one of the most rewarding things a dog person can do. I admit, I’m a little biased: I fostered for years (and want to do so again when my living situation allows), and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
If you’re not familiar with how fostering works, you might be a little worried about the time commitment and emotional strain of caring for a dog and then letting it go. Here’s how to tell if you’re ready for to try fostering.
4 Signs That You’re Ready to Foster a Dog
- You want to help transform a shelter dog into a pet, and help another family find the right dog for their home.
- You’ve been thinking about getting a dog but you’re not sure you’re ready for the lifelong emotional and financial commitment, and you want to get some practice while helping dogs in need.
- You want to give your current dog some canine companionship.
- You have space in your home and schedule to accommodate a temporary guest and give her the attention she needs.
If you nodded in understanding at more than one of the above reasons, you might be ready to foster!
What Kind of Dogs Get Fostered
Shelters typically foster out dogs who are too stressed out by the shelter environment or need more individual attention than the shelter can provide (including puppies who are too young to be adopted).
The most common reasons foster homes are needed are:
- The shelter is overcrowded, and placing dogs in foster care frees up space to save more dogs.
- The rescue group wants to learn more about a dog’s personality and behavior in a home setting.
- A young, energetic dog needs to learn some basic manners before being made available for adoption.
- A shy or timid dog needs a safe place to come out of her shell.
- A dog is recovering from illness or injury.
- A senior or sick dog needs loving hospice care.
Of course, there are also foster-based rescue groups that don’t work out of a facility, but instead rely on foster homes to shelter and care for dogs. For these groups, foster homes provide the necessary caregiving, training, and assessment to help dogs find forever homes, and are a vital aspect of their lifesaving work.
The Responsibilities of a Dog Foster Parent
The main function of a foster home is to provide a safe, loving home environment. For the most part, this entails caring for your foster as you would care for your own dog: offering food, affection, socialization, and exercise to keep the dog happy and healthy.
As a doggy foster parent, you may also be asked to:
- Transport the dog to and from adoption events.
- Participate in obedience training at home and/or in classes.
- Report back to the shelter/rescue workers with information about the dog’s personality and behavior.
- Speak with potential adopters to tell them about your foster dog and help determine if they are a good match.
Your time and commitment level can vary depending on your schedule and the rescue group’s needs, and when you start fostering, the rescue will help match you with a dog that suits your lifestyle and home. First-time fosters can get their feet wet with “easier” dogs; the more invested and experienced in fostering you become, the more willing and able you may be to take on challenges. No matter what kind of dogs you foster, all foster homes provide the valuable service of socializing a dog and getting to know its personality. Your relationship with the dog is key information in helping find its forever home.
The Cost of Fostering
You may be wondering, do you get paid to foster animals? Keep in mind most rescues are working within a tight budget, and fostering is one of the most helpful and rewarding volunteer positions you can provide.
Foster programs prioritize the needs of the dog and make sure foster homes have all the resources they need to be successful, from food, leashes, toys, and a crate to veterinary care and training. You won’t make any money fostering dogs, but you will be hugely rewarded in playtime, snuggles, and the indescribable feeling of knowing you are helping to save a life.
One of the greatest rewards of fostering is watching a rescue dog bloom into a pet, but of course, it’s not without its challenges. Foster dogs sometimes need to learn the basic rules of living in a house, including:
- Appropriate greeting behavior with humans
- Appropriate play behavior with other dogs
As you gain experience as a foster, you may be asked (or volunteer) to take on dogs with more challenging behavioral or medical needs, or even move into hospice care, which is challenging and rewarding in a completely different way.
Whatever your foster dog needs, remember that the shelter or rescue group is your ally and support network.
For many people, the biggest cost of fostering dogs is emotional. It can be hard to say goodbye to a dog after spending weeks or months caring for it, and may experience sadness or what rescue workers call “foster guilt.”
The important thing to remember is that fostering saves lives, and by letting your foster dog go to a forever home, you free up space for another dog in need. In time, the saying goodbye part gets easier, and the feeling of helping a dog find its forever home gets addictive.
Why is fostering a dog so great? For starters, fostering is one of the most direct things you can do to save lives. Fostering:
- Makes room for other dogs in the shelter, freeing up space to help more dogs in need;
- Builds on your canine expertise;
- Gives you those warm, fuzzy feelings only volunteering can provide;
- Brings the fun and companionship of a dog into your life. There’s nothing like seeing a shelter dog blossom into a loving companion, and sending her off to a happy family who found their match thanks to you.
Of course, fostering comes with one big hazard that can also be one of its biggest rewards: you just might fall in love! “Foster failures” abound in the dog rescue world, and I know because I am one myself: my dog Radar was supposed to be a temporary foster dog, but I soon realized I couldn’t imagine him belonging to anyone but me.
How to Get Started
Okay, so you’ve read all the facts, you’ve decided you can handle the commitment, and you’re ready to try this fostering thing. The easiest way to get started fostering is to connect with a reputable rescue group.
A simple web search of shelters and rescue groups in your area will get you started with a list, but don’t stop there: visit the facility in person, and go to an adoption event to meet other volunteers (and potentially even other foster parents).
Do your research! Dog fostering is a big commitment, and the best way to determine if it’s right for you is to talk to people who have experience.
Fostering can be challenging, but if you’re anything like me, once you get going, you won’t want to stop.
Are you a dog foster parent (or a “foster failure”)? Share your experience and advice in the comments!
Top image via flickr/rswatski