Photo: Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Beginner's Guide to Fostering Animals

by Emily Starbuck Gerson Jul 28, 2010
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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