How to Become a Pet Foster Parent
All the perks of adopting a pet—with only a fraction of the responsibility.
Before you officially bring a dog or kitten into your family, you might want to consider fostering. It can help everyone in the house get a sense of what’s required when taking care of a pet, like feeding and grooming, before you fully commit. Plus, you can also determine if the type of animal is the right fit for your home.
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It may also be easier on your wallet than adoption. “Some shelters will cover foster-related expenses, but policies and procedures vary depending on the adoption center or rescue group,” says Eileen Hanavan, senior manager at Offsite Adoption and Foster Programs at the ASPCA. These expenses may include veterinary care or supplies such as collars, leashes, crates and litter boxes. Other foster programs may also provide food for the pet. Check with your local shelter or foster organization about their guidelines.
FACT: Approximately 6.5 million animals enter U.S. shelters nationwide every year.
The biggest perk: Getting an animal one step closer to finding its forever home feels good. You could lend a paw to animals that are recuperating from illness, injury or medical procedures. Or you might house kittens who can’t stay in shelters due to overcrowding during feline breeding season (between spring and fall, peaking in summer).
“Fostering is the backbone of many rescue groups,” says Samantha Nelson, public policy specialist for The Humane Society of the United States. “Without it, rescue groups simply could not take in
as many animals.”
Before you bite off more than you can chew, ask yourself these three questions:
Do I have the time?
Even if the pet will be in your life for a brief period, you still have to give it significant attention—unless you want a scratched-up couch or upset neighbors. You’ll need to train, walk, feed and socialize the animal plus take it to the vet just as if it were your own. “If you are determined to foster but work inconsistent hours or travel frequently, some shelters offer programs where pets can be picked up and brought home just for the weekend,” says Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD, a research scientist at Purina.
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Will family members get too attached?
Saying goodbye is tough, especially for kids. “It’s important that kids understand from the beginning that the foster pet is just visiting and will be leaving for a new home when a suitable match is found,” says McGowan. But if you simply can’t let go of the animal, be prepared to become what is affectionately known as a “foster fail.” If a foster parent meets the qualifications for adoption, most organizations give them first choice to adopt, says Nelson.
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How will my other pets react?
If you already have a pet, it’s very important to introduce the new addition slowly and carefully to prevent fearful or aggressive behavior from developing. Dogs should be leashed upon introduction, while letting cats get a sense of each other’s scents (through a blanket swap) can ease their initial meetup. Before you bring your foster pet home, make sure the shelter discloses how the animal behaves around other cats and dogs.
For more information about the process of fostering, reach out to your local shelter.