By Dr. Parker T. Barker
There is no question that fostering a pet is a great thing to do. If affords the pet a chance to get acclimated to a home environment, and it lets you share your valuable experience in training, teaching and loving a pet which in turn helps them find a furever home. But there are some things that you need to be aware of before you just blithely say you will take a litter of kittens whose mother has passed away or a dog that has never been in a house before.
There’s a time commitment. You may be asked to foster a dog or cat from two weeks to two months, depending on circumstances. Foster parents don’t need to be home 24 hours a day, but you might have to postpone that weekend getaway or family vacation if you’re asked to take care of an animal for an extended period of time.
There are different types of fostering. Shelters need foster parents for puppies or young dogs, for kittens, for animals needing medical care, or for dogs with behavioral issues. It doesn’t mean you have to be able to foster all of those types; you might just want to foster kittens or pups. But foster parents are needed in all of those categories, and shelters typically offer orientation or instruction to help you deal with each type.
You may be asked to work with a dog on some basic training and temperament issues. There’s more than just feeding, exercise, and grooming involved with a foster dog. Some might need to be housetrained. Others may have problems with chewing household items like your shoes, or jumping on strangers. Foster parents may need to devote time to breaking bad habits so a dog can be socialized. If a dog has a chewing problem, make preparations in advance — don’t leave shoes, clothes, or other important items around.
You might be asked to nurse a dog or cat back to health. This could require giving them medication at certain times of the day or perhaps bathing them periodically. Before taking in an animal that’s recovering from an illness or disease, check with your vet if you have concerns about your own pets.
For many foster parents, the single biggest concern is falling in love, especially if you already have pets at home. After all, what’s another dog or cat in the household?
It’s admirable, but as experts point out, it’s not always the best thing. If you adopt a pet that you’re fostering, you might have reached your limit of household pets and not be able to accept any others. That’s one less foster home for the shelter to rely on. Most of those in the rescue business would like to save each and every pet we see, read about, or hear about. That just isn’t possible. You need to assess where you are as a family and if there is really room for another pet. Sometimes there is room and that is called a “foster failure” when you just can’t say goodbye. And sometimes the biggest help you can possibly be is to stay a foster and help many more animals find their perfect family.
Even a little time with a family, away from the confined space of a kennel and the continual barking, can improve an animal’s disposition. We all know how stressful a kennel environment can be to some dogs and cats. Recently, there was a photo of a dog returned to a kennel after being adopted for just a few days. This poor pup just totally shut down – she wouldn’t eat, play, walk, anything. She just hid in a corner not understanding what had happened. Because her photo went viral, she now has a new family that will last longer than a couple of days but what about all the other pets whose picture doesn’t go viral? What will they be like in a week, or a month, or a year?
What’s the financial commitment? In most cases, shelters will pay for vet visits and medications and can provide for other necessities if requested — dog dishes, bedding, collars, ID tags, and crates. Before becoming a foster parent, ask what your financial responsibilities will be.
So if you are ready for it, Percy and I say, “good for you!” What you are giving a dog or cat is a chance at a happy and safe life with their future family and that is really wonderful. Both of us thank you from the bottom, and tops, of our hearts.