Ever Thought About Fostering Animals?
More specifically, I’m referring to family pets. The reality is, shelters and rescues wouldn’t be able to help as many cats and dogs (or rabbits, reptiles, rodents and more) as they do without the help from their volunteer fosters.
Even though many people aren’t able to help out as fosters there are other ways to help by volunteering. Those who can foster, might not know enough to take that step and help.
A dear friend, Brenda Winkle, has been fostering animals for some time. She offered to shed some light on the topic by sharing her experience and that of other fosters she knows.
If you’ve been on the fence, I hope this article pushes you over. You’ll make a world of difference. More than you’ll ever know. Enjoy!
Why foster pets? What kind of animal needs foster care? Isn’t foster care just for children?
These are common questions. In fact, I had these questions.
In 2007, upon preparing to leave an abusive marriage, I realized I needed a way to get my two cats and Chihuahua puppy out of the abusive home. I called around to local animal shelters and rescue organizations and learned that my only option was to surrender my fur babies in order to rehome them. I knew my only safe option was to take my daughter and move into a domestic violence shelter.
Unfortunately, there would be no shelter for my pets. There was no such thing as temporary foster care.
I took matters into my own hands and sent out an email plea to everyone I knew asking for help once I was safely out the home. A very kind woman stepped up and offered to foster my Chihuahua puppy. I told her, through tears, I wasn’t sure how long I would need her help. She said it didn’t matter, she was just happy to help. I had to leave the cats in the abusive home, but they weren’t the major target of abuse. And I had no choice. Because of her kindness, I was able to get my Chihuahua and cats back together after about 4 months when I was able to get back on my feet.
I decided I wanted to pay that kindness forward. I’ve been a foster parent to several dogs through Fuzzy Pawz Rescue as well as one of their volunteer photographers.
Why would a pet need foster care?
Shelters can be stressful for pets, especially if they have been in the shelter for a long time. When an animal is stressed, it is less likely to be adopted because they exhibit behaviors that are unbecoming (being shy or unfriendly, excessive barking, etc).
Some animals need foster care because of medical issues that require more care than the shelter can give. My very first foster dog was 24 hours out of major hip surgery when I picked him up from the shelter. He was brought into the shelter after a car had hit him. He needed care until he had his stitches removed and was healthy enough to be adopted. I had such good support between the rescue organization and the shelter it was not scary or hard. In fact, he helped me become a better dog owner because of all he taught me.
Some pets, like the ones taken in by Fuzzy Pawz Rescue, are hard to adopt. Statistically, senior animals (over 7), black animals and animals with any medical issues are less likely to be adopted. By taking these animals into a foster home, giving them love and structure, their best features come forward because they are relaxed and happy. At that point, these “unadoptable” pets are easily adopted out.
Other pets need temporary foster care. At this time, there isn’t anything official in place to help pets and pet owners needing temporary care. This is one area where Kiringie.Me will be able to make a big difference: connecting willing foster parents with pet owners needing temporary help.
Many people are nervous about fostering. I asked a group of volunteer foster parents for help in writing this so we could address common questions.
Is fostering pets something you always wanted to do?
For some people, yes! But the majority of people I surveyed were nervous to get started. In fact, for most of them, they weren’t looking to foster pets. Fostering “just happened.” They loved it so much they continued to foster.
I asked, “What was the most surprising thing about fostering pets for you”?
Everyone I surveyed mentioned how wonderful it feels to find foster pets their forever home. Many people worry that they will want to keep every animal they foster, but finding homes is so rewarding that it really isn’t a problem. When a foster parent does decide to adopt a foster animal, it is because that animal fits so well into the pack and the family.
Fostering is surprisingly easy! There is an amazing support system available when you foster through a shelter or a rescue organization which can include behavioral advice, medical help, training support, and camaraderie that comes with being part of the rescue community.
Fostering helps your own animals. They learn so much from each foster pet, they become calmer, more well-adjusted, better socialized and overall better pets.
One person told me, “Each foster dog has taught me something. After 9 years of fostering, I’m still learning and I love that. Also, my son was younger when we started and it was great to do as a family.”
What has been the hardest thing for you about fostering pets?
It is hard when the foster pet comes in scared and afraid. One foster mother said it was hard knowing that some kind of tragedy had happened in the pets life. Another admitted seeing a fearful animal is hard and then said, “But it’s not really hard, it just makes me love them more.”
Some foster parents worry about making a mistake and putting the pet into a bad situation or home. Having a screening system in place and doing home visits (with another foster parent, never alone) is a great safety protocol to have in place for the pets.
It is true that you do grow attached to the animal. Each foster parent surveyed said something similar. However, one said it best, “I remind myself I have to get one adopted to help the next one in need.” Knowing you’ve helped an animal in need and a family who wanted a pet feels amazing!! That takes away any sting that might be there.
It is generally advised that foster parents take at least a short break between fosters. This gives you a break as well as provides a break for your pets. This break helps re-set your other pets and is especially important when just beginning to foster. Choose a period time that feels right for you (a week, a month, 6 months, etc) and then try to stick with that time. It can be hard to say no to a new foster if you are in your well-earned break.
What has been the most rewarding thing about fostering pets so far for you, your family or your pets?
Everyone agreed, watching your foster animal find a new family is incredibly rewarding. It’s also fun to have a new pet in the house. Watching a new animal grow in their confidence is a great feeling.
Getting updates from previous fosters is such a treat for foster parents. Don’t be afraid to send pictures and updates to your pet’s former foster family. They love that!
This is another area where a pet’s profile on KirinGie.Me will help keep everyone in touch with the pets we care about.
What do you think would have been helpful to know before you became a foster parent?
You can’t save them all. Take a break when you need a break.
There is a great support system. There are many resources readily available for you when you foster for a shelter or a rescue.
It is surprising how many inappropriate people apply to adopt pets. You have to trust your intuition when meeting potential families. Don’t skip the home visit. Keep in mind you have the well-being of the animal in your hands. Don’t be afraid to tell potential adopters “no.”
If you have other animals in your home, what did you find was an effective way of integrating the foster pet into your family (pets or humans)?
- Doing proper introductions is very important – Introduce one animal at a time and give the new animal time to get used to the routine and space.
- Going for pack walks often really helps.
- Giving animals time be integrated slowly by crating and rotating if necessary or utilizing a baby gate to keep the foster pet separated from the family pet(s).
- Supervise play at all times.
- Do everything in pack order including feeding, leashing up, petting, unleashing, getting into the car… everything. The new dog is always last in the pack. If you help the dogs understand that the pack order isn’t threatened, all of the dogs relax.
Is there anything else someone considering being a foster parent should know?
Everyone I surveyed talked about how rewarding fostering is. Many talked about how deeply they had experienced love from their foster pets; a love unlike anything they had experienced before. One foster parent said, “It is so rewarding and foster doesn’t have to mean forever – even one dog or a short amount of time can make a huge difference in the life of a foster animal.”
I hope you’ll consider fostering, even one animal. It’s really life changing!
If you have questions about fostering, please leave a comment below. If Cynthia or I can’t answer it, we’ll put you in touch with someone who can!
You see, that’s not so bad is it? With hundreds of millions of abandoned and surrendered pets out there, I invite you to open your heart and home. By fostering, you make it possible for many lives to be spared and forever homes to be found.
About Brenda Winkle:
Brenda is a wonderful writer, Spiritual Life Coach, Reiki Master and ThetaHealer® living and practicing in Boise, Idaho while she is writing her first book.
For more about Brenda visit her website.
Photography credits: all photos in this article by Brenda Winkle.