What to Know About Fostering an Animal

It’s no secret that we’ve got a serious case of animal overpopulation in this country. And though more people are starting to understand the necessity of spaying and neutering, dogs and cats are continuing to procreate like…well, rabbits. Shelters across the nation are continually dealing with over-capacity, and not only is it taxing their resources and staff, it’s making it increasingly difficult for rescue organizations to save as many animals as they’d like.

So what can you do? While the possibility of adopting a pet or adding another one to your existing pack may not be in the cards for you right now, becoming a foster parent is an excellent (and unbelievably rewarding) way to help decrease euthanasia rates and increase adoptions. It also better prepares your foster pet to be the perfect new addition for another family. Teach an animal how to love and she will share it with others (and with you!) tenfold.

Think you’ve got what it takes? Here’s the 411.

Is fostering right for you?

Having space in your home and your heart is pretty much all you need to be a successful foster. Organizations handle the costs of care, including food and vet bills, so you don’t have to worry about the financial commitment. Before saying yes, take a complete and honest inventory of your situation. Assess your housing situation, current pets in the home (some foster animals need to be isolated from other animals, or your pets might not be dog- or cat-friendly themselves), humans with allergies, and how much time you have to spend with your foster pet.

How to become a foster

Rescue groups are always looking for volunteers who want to go the extra mile by fostering animals in their home, and animal welfare organizations that don’t have a kennel space rely solely on fosters. If you have a shelter you’re interested in working with, contact them and ask if they have a foster program. You’ll likely need to go in for an interview, and the shelter will probably send somebody to check out your home to make sure it’s suitable. In addition, most organizations require that you complete a foster orientation session.

Understand the potential extra costs

Shelters provide the basics you’ll need, but if you have a tendency to spoil your pets (and really, who doesn’t!), do know that extra out-of-pocket expenses you pay for— such as additional toys or treats—will not necessarily be reimbursed. If you’re concerned, talk to the shelter before making any purchases for your foster. Otherwise, consider any bonus items you purchase a donation and accept payment in the form of waggy tails, purrs, and happy kisses!

Saying goodbye is ruff

When it’s time for your foster pet to go to their fur-ever home, chances are it will be a little tough for you. If the shelter and new family are okay with it, get all the appropriate contact information and arrange for a future play date or for occasional photo updates. Sure, it may be bittersweet, but you’ll get the enormous gift of knowing you saved a life. The rewards are well worth the difficult goodbyes. And if you just can’t bring yourself to let go? Consider becoming a member of the “foster failure” club by making it official with an adoption.

Notes from a serial foster mom

I started fostering because I wanted to connect with and rediscover my inner-child. As a kid I wanted to be a vet. I loved all animals and was always trying to rescue every stray I met. As a grown up, I realized I had closed off those parts of myself.

I have continued fostering because every dog teaches me something and gives me a new chance to connect with a soul in need, to love new parts of myself, and to be a part of an awesome community. These pups have burst my heart wide open with love as I see them go from malnourished to flourishing, and from non-stop trembling with fear to whole body wiggling with joy. It’s amazing to bond and see them grow and open up.

On a deeper level, getting to know and love all these different DOGonalities (I’ve been trying to get this word to go viral for about 20 years, since dogs can’t have PERSONalities!) has shown me that there is a perfect home for every being and I can accept and love all aspects of myself. Pups who were prickly with strangers, who had severe separation anxiety, and a variety of other needs, have found perfect, loving, and accepting homes.

Finally, being a part of a larger organization where I get so much support and encouragement serves as a balm for the soul in our world. There is such a vortex of goodness in the rescue community—from the organization I’m involved with, to all the local rescue groups, to all the volunteers at the city shelter.

When not tending to her foster pups, Laura Reber, Founder and CEO of the Chicago Home Tutor, works to support struggling learners with different needs find help through expert academic and social-emotional instruction.

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