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Photo: OlgaKay

Tears streamed down my face as I drove back home.

I had just dropped my foster dog, Daisy, off with her new “forever family”, and despite knowing her story had a very happy ending, I was devastated that her chapter in my life was over.

Her charming bow-legged waddle. Her cute tendency to sleep in my clothes drawers. After just two weeks with this Rat Terrier mix, I was heartbroken to lose her, but as I left her running in circles in a large front yard with two giggling little girls, I knew my job was done.

While it can be very challenging, knowing that you saved an animal from euthanasia and helped it find its forever home will give you endless joy. Fostering animals has numerous benefits for everyone involved:

1. It saves adoptable animals from probable death at an overcrowded shelter.
2. It removes animals from a traumatic shelter environment and gives them a happy home to live in (and be trained) while they await their forever home.
3. It gives the foster parent the benefits of having a pet without the long-term commitment (or gives their pet a playmate).
4. It allows the foster family to learn the animal’s personality so they can help the forever family determine whether it’s a good fit for them (animals don’t behave like themselves in shelters—how would you act in jail?).
5. It allows the foster family to screen applicants and ensure that the pet is going to a good home.
6. If you plan to adopt a dog or cat in the future, it gives the foster parent incredible insight into what they do or don’t want in their own pet.

It is highly advisable to work with a rescue group rather than rescuing a pet and finding a home for it on your own. Most shelters work with several rescue groups and help them identify and save animals that are most adoptable.

For dogs, there are two types of rescue groups: mixed-breed rescue groups and breed-specific rescue groups. If you are passionate about a certain breed, such as Pomeranians or German Shepherds, there are groups that foster and adopt out just that breed. But there are some groups that assist any type of adoptable dog in need, especially wonderful mutts who are often dismissed by people seeking purebreds.

Before you foster animals, you should know two things:

1. It’s emotionally grueling.

If you’re fostering dogs or cats, you are likely an animal lover with a big heart. It’s so easy to get attached to a dog or cat, even after just a few days or weeks. Be aware that it is going to be hard letting them go, even though you know they are going to a good place. Prepare to feel very sad every time you ‘lose’ a foster baby.

You may also find yourself upset when your friends or family members insist on buying dogs from breeders. You just have to keep reminding yourself that your foster baby is in a happy forever home where they will be loved until the day they die, and that you’re doing your part to save lives.

2. It’s time-consuming.

Sometimes the dogs and cats need to be taken to the vet for shots or treatments (paid for by the rescue group). Some puppies need to be let out every few hours. Some dogs need potty or manners training. Sometimes you have to take the pet to three different potential forever homes before you find the right match. Some animals are scared and need some good TLC.

Don’t foster if you don’t have some free time.

Also, if you already have your own pet, it is highly recommended to take time off between foster pets in order to give your animal a little one-on-one love.

Ready to rescue?

Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Figure out what type of animal you want. Dog or cat?

2. Decide whether you are interested in a specific breed or if you want to help all breeds.

3. Find a rescue group of that type in your area. has a great directory.

4. Tell the rescue group in what capacity you can help. Can your home only accommodate small animals, or can you foster big dogs? Can you handle puppies and kitties, or only mature animals? Can you take more than one animal at once? Keep in mind that small dogs and puppies/kitties are the most in demand, and get adopted the quickest—sometimes even just days.

Large dogs and older dogs and cats are less in demand, and it can take weeks or months.

5. Your rescue group will notify you when it finds an animal that fits your criteria and hand it over to you. They usually provide a crate and medicine, if needed.

6. Treat the animal like your own, and train them if possible. Meanwhile, the rescue group will be doing outreach to find a forever home and screening applicants.

7. Receive information about the first potential forever family. Call or email them to discuss the pet and set up a visit.

8. Meet the potential forever family. For dogs, you will usually take the dog to their home for a visit. If both you and the family think it’s a match, that’s often the end of the story—you leave empty-handed. Sometimes they will want a few days to think about it, and other times they will say it’s not a good match. If things don’t go well, try again with the next name your rescue group gives you.

Also, be warned that many foster parents end up adopting at least one of their foster babies, so if that’s out of the question for you, be sure to stick to it (and have someone hold you accountable if needed!).

Community Connection:

Lots of Matador members enjoy pet ownership. See some of them in the Meet Matador Pets photo essay.

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About The Author

Emily Starbuck Gerson

Emily Starbuck Gerson is a professional writer, travel junkie, and dog lover based in Austin, Texas. She also plays cello and adores photography. Keep up with her at her travel blog, Maiden Voyage.

  • Molly

    I’ve been considering fostering here in Shanghai if I stay longer than my proposed year. My family is full of huge animal lovers and we’ve always taken in strays over pet shops animals. Heck, I grow attached to the strays in our community. (There is a cat family living on the roof I can see from my apartment window. They play everyday. It is so freaking cute.)

    This information was really helpful. Thanks so much!

  • JoAnna

    My husband and I are kitten foster parents. We have nothing to do with the adoption process or the forever families. What we do is take the kittens into our home, help them socialize, introduce them to other animals and children, and care for them until they are 12 weeks old, which is when they can then be spayed and neutered and then adopted out by the organization we volunteer with.

    I would add the following tips to the ones you’ve already suggested (specifically with our experience with kittens in mind):

    1. When foster animals move in, they will be stressed out. Even if they are litter trained, there will be accidents. Cover your furniture with sheets and invest in a wet vac. You will use it. Often.

    2. Because a lot of kittens that come to us have been kept in kennels, they start out by spending the night in a bathroom. During the day they are free to roam around, but at night, they stay in the bathroom. About a third of the way through the stay, they are upgraded to a bedroom, which is much bigger than the bathroom. For the final third of their stay, they are free to roam the house at night, which is probably what they will do when they are adopted. This gradual, step-by-step process helps keep them from feeling overwhelmed.

    3. Don’t become frustrated. It is a stressful process for both parties, but baby steps are key. It may take a few days for an animal to come around, but once it does, that makes everything worth it. If the animals are too shy to play or be cuddled at first, that’s normal.

    4. As a foster parent, learn to recognize common ailments for young animals, how to treat them and when to call your rescue group for help. We have a supply of antibiotics, eye ointment and cream for ringworm on hand, but if something is out of the ordinary, we definitely call for help.

    5. Kittens usually have to be fostered in a litter. It’s rare that only one kitten can be fostered at a time. If this is what you would like to foster, expect to care for 3-5 animals at a time.

    6. Make sure your pets are up-to-date on their vaccinations if you foster kittens. Because kittens aren’t vaccinated until eight weeks, you put your personal animals at risk if they are not protected from anything your foster pets bring into your home.

    Thanks for the great piece ~ I hope it inspires others to open their doors and foster!

  • Emily (author)

    Hi JoAnna, thanks for sharing your insight! I’ve only fostered dogs, so it sounds like the process is definitely a bit different with kitties (and possibly different with older cats). You’re very right about the accidents–many foster puppies and dogs have soiled my carpet! And I did have to deal with quite a few dogs who had kennel cough, though the rescue group always gave me the medicine to administer. But it is definitely worth it in the end!

  • Candice

    Great resource! Totally agree that fostering animals is emotionally draining…I did it for about 3 years with at least 12 different animals, and it was just as hard every time. But so, so worth it!

  • Marieke

    To chime in, it’s not just cats or dogs that need foster homes. I am currently fostering a bunny through the Rabbit Rescue organization nearby. The poor thing came from a bunny mill, and had a traumatizing experience. They often find bunnies dumped or abandoned along roads when the owners no longer feel like having them as pets.

    If you are interested in adoption, look up a list of all nearby animal facilities. There are all kinds of opportunities. I know the wildlife sanctuary out of town looks for short term foster parents (up to two months) to look after little critters like baby foxes, squirrels and gophers to feed them their formula.

    Thanks for the article!

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  • Debra

    My husband and I moved into a ranch home that is just too big to ourselves. We have been thinking about fostering animals and would appreciate any suggestions or steps to get our property prepared and how to go about contacting the rescue places here in this state (Oklahoma). We have two cats and two dogs of our own, and our children are grown and gone, so we have plenty of time for foster animals and just need to determine where to start.

  • Sweetpetsrescue

    We have had 6 fosters in our home in the last 2 weeks!!! now we are all down to # that are just babies who are being bottled feed!!!

    So as a foster parent to fur kids I am asked ALL the time! “Don’t it break ur heart to see them go?” Well truthfully YES it does break my heart!

    Then I am asked “how can you just let them go?” Well if I didn’t let them go then others at the shelter would be KILLED!

    I am heart broken till I walk back in a shelter and look into another dogs/cats/kittens or puppies eyes and say the magic words “pull this one for rescue” then my heart is healed!!!

    So hug a animal rescuer or animal foster parent! Without them soooo many more animals would be KILLED for nothing more then BEING BORN!!!!

  • Whitney Work

    We are talking about fostering a kitten or 3 and this really helped me.

  • Sarah Jean

    What do I click to see about being a foster mom on

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