How to Foster a Pet

Welcoming a furry friend temporarily into your home can change an animal's life (and your family's) for the better.
Gilbert Ford

If you're trying to decide whether to adopt a pet and looking for a fun way to volunteer with your family, foster pet parenting may be for you. Foster parents provide a temporary home for animals in a range of circumstances, including those rescued from high-kill shelters, and those whose owners are ill or have been deployed. "These pets need a place to stay, but we don't want to put them in a kennel," says Sandra D. Simpson of in San Diego. "Every single one of our dogs goes to a private home."

Many animals arrive at a shelter before they are ready for adoption and can't stay there because they are recovering from an injury or illness, require behavioral therapy, or are too young and need to be house-trained, socialized, and spayed or neutered. Once the pet is healed or reaches an adoptable age, he is sent to an adoption program.

While fostering is a great way to help an animal in need without making a permanent commitment, you are doing much more than providing a temporary home. Foster families increase an animal's chance of being adopted by providing feedback on his temperament, activity level, and likes and dislikes.

Foster Fundamentals

  • Fostering is the perfect first step if you're considering adopting. And many agencies allow families to adopt their foster pets (check beforehand).
  • Dogs and cats aren't the only pets that need fostering—you can also host rabbits, birds, reptiles, and even horses.
  • The majority of programs involve short-term stints, typically ranging from a few days to four months.
  • Shelters and rescue groups usually give families all the supplies they'll need, like food, toys, equipment, medicine, and veterinary care. But, as a donation, you can offer to pay for necessities yourself.
  • Most foster programs provide an orientation and training classes that teach basic medical care.
  • It's not all a walk in the park. Ask the shelter about the commitment involved, since newborn kittens require bottle-feeding every two hours and an injured pet may need several months of care. Organizations will do their best to match you with a short-term companion that suits your family's lifestyle.
  • After you've filled out your application, shelters will conduct a background check, including calling references and doing a home visit.
  • For more info, look into these organizations:
    • ASPCA,
    • American Kennel Club,
    • Humane Society's Safe Haven for Animals Program,
    • Military Pets Project,

Fond Farewell

Fostering is a great experience, but saying bye can be hard. Before you sign up, make sure your kids are old enough for the emotional responsibility and understand the pet is temporary. "Most children aren't going to be happy to see that animal leave," says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of adoptions at the ASPCA. Help kids cope by giving regular reminders that the pet will eventually be adopted by someone else.

Originally published in the November 1, 2010, issue of Family Circle magazine.