So you're thinking about fostering a dog, but you're not quite sure what it entails and if you're cut out for it. (Mind-reading skills on fleek, no?) Good questions, both of them, and the fact that you're even wondering is potentially a good sign. I fostered for the first time this year. Annie spent a month with my husband, my dog Pancho and me, and, boy, did I learn a lot! Prepare yourself for my helpful info dump.
One of the most effective ways shelters and rescue operations handle overcrowding is through temporary foster care until a forever home can be found. Sometimes a few days, sometimes a few months, this in-between fostering provides a literal grace period for dogs who might otherwise face euthanasia.
But is it right for you? It might be if...
- You are a homebody. If your favorite four-letter word is home and turning down last-minute invitations to a weekend getaway is easier for you than breathing, fostering might fit. Foster dogs are usually leaving the noise and stress of shelter life, so a calm, predictable environment is like a magic potion. (Plus, now you have an easy out. "Sorry, I'm fostering a dog. Can't come." You're not a jerk, you're a saint!)
- Your long-term forecast is unclear. Perhaps you have recently joined the CIA and your current position has you working from home for six months, but next year you may be wearing a series of disguises as you make your way through Siberia on assignment. You might enjoy the companionship of a dog in the short term without any long-term complications.
- You have special skills. Dogs placed in foster situations often need some type of extra care that a shelter is unable to provide. Whether it's help with house-training, socialization, or recovery from a medical procedure, foster parents with a particular skill set are priceless. If you love the satisfaction of helping a dog reach a goal that will make him/her more adoptable, fostering might be your jam.
- You have another pet who enjoys occasional friends. Pancho is already a very social dog who loves to play with friends at the dog park and those who stop by our apartment for a visit. While he loved Annie, he had moments of being a bit territorial when things were looking long-term. (The pack mentality is strong with this one.) Keep in mind that it's a socialization process for both animals. Your permanent dog will need reassurance of his place and boundaries, and approximately 18% more cuddles.
- You want a dog, but can't quite afford one yet. Most of the time, shelters will cover the cost of caring for the pet, everything from a collar to food to vet visits. Foster parents still end up spending some personal money on things like toys and the occasional matching human/pet t-shirts, but fostering is rarely a financial burden. (Looking at you, animal-loving grad students.)
- You know what you can handle...and what you can't. If you're interesting in fostering but need a very specific type of dog (like, a house-trained small dog, for instance), make it known loud and clear upfront with the agency.
- You believe in fostering as a cause. The fear most potential foster parents have is that they will fall in love and want to adopt every dog who comes through the door. THAT FEAR IS WELL-FOUNDED. Especially when the dog is a good fit with the rest of the household. If you're able to focus on the fact that fostering allows you to save MANY dogs instead of only one, it's easier to let that special one go. Signing a contract for your husband that you won't adopt any more animals doesn't hurt either. And remember, that pet is going to a forever home made possible by your generous foster care and that soothes the sting.
- You don't mind being a little pushy. Finding a forever home for your foster is your job too. Utilize your social network and social media to spread the word and help find the right home for your foster friend. Bonus: if you place the dog with one of your friends, you have guaranteed visitation rights!
If you're ready to take the next step toward fostering, get in touch with a local shelter and find out about their particular needs. Good communication with the shelter is key to everyone's happiness, including the dog, so be sure to ask detailed questions about potential foster dogs and protocol for the entire process. Here's a great list of 20 questions to get you started.