Ask the Expert: The Basics of Fostering


QI’ve heard a lot about the increased need for foster homes to help with dogs coming into shelters with the canine flu, and I have been thinking that I’d like to start fostering. Are there any special requirements or considerations for fostering dogs with canine flu? How do I make sure my home is a safe place for them to get better?

Thank you for caring and wanting to help! Fostering is a wonderful way to help a cat or dog and to free up space in a shelter for another animal. If your lifestyle doesn’t allow you to offer a pet a “forever home” at the moment, fostering is a great way to have a pet in your home on a temporary basis.

Your first step is to reach out to your local animal shelter, animal control, or rescue organization to inquire about their unique foster program. Many rescue groups are foster-based, meaning they do not have a building and use foster homes to provide care for animals until they are adopted, which could be days or months. Most organizations that have a facility use foster homes for cats and dogs who need extra care or would benefit from being kept out of the shelter environment. These pets may be less than eight weeks old, have a medical need (such as canine influenza or cats with an upper respiratory infection), or might just need some extra socialization. In these cases, the average foster period is two to eight weeks. Before taking on a foster, be sure to ask the agency how long they expect the pet will need your care.

Dog laying downMake sure you know what is expected of you. Many agencies provide medical support either with their staff veterinarians or through a relationship with a private veterinary hospital. Many also supply food and basic supplies. Most have a support system to help answer any questions that you have during the foster period. If you are “fostering to adoption,” meaning that you are enabled to find and screen potential adopters, ask if the agency will provide marketing help to facilitate the adoption.

If you are fostering for a medical reason, be sure you understand the nature of the disease. If the condition is infectious, such as canine influenza virus (CIV), the foster dog should not come into contact with any other dog until he or she is no longer contagious. In the case of CIV, that would be 21 days after the onset of symptoms. To protect other dogs in the community, a dog with CIV should not be walked outside in areas where other dogs might also walk. A private backyard to allow outside access for elimination is ideal.

Potential fosters may be concerned about contaminating their home. Every disease is different, but CIV does not live in the environment for more than 48 hours and is easily inactivated with soap, water, and most disinfectants. So if you foster a dog with CIV, with common cleaning your home will be safe for another dog two days after the foster is returned. With any foster animal (or pet), you should always practice good hygiene: hand washing after handling animals or waste material, and disinfecting supplies between foster animals.

Fostering is a rewarding experience for both you and the animal. You are providing tender care for an animal in need, and they, in return, give you unconditional love. As author Karen Davison said, “Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.”

AskTheExpertBioDr. Robyn Barbiers is the President of The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. With more than 30 years of experience in veterinary care and leadership/management at various zoos and veterinary clinics across the country, Dr. Barbiers is an established leader in animal health and well-being.

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