When I meet someone and introduce my latest foster dog, they usually say one of two things:
- I could never foster a dog. It would be too hard to give him up.
- Or they say, I’d love to do that some day myself.
But what I’d love to hear is, that sounds great. How can I get involved?
Maybe I should share some of the things I’ve learned about fostering dogs and see if it convinces anyone to give it a try.
What I’ve Learned Fostering Dogs
If you read a dozen blogs by people fostering dogs, you’ll discover at least a dozen different kinds of experiences. Because
Fostering means different things in different organizations.
Some rescues have no central building. So all their dogs are in foster homes, sometimes for months at a time.
Some organizations promote foster-to-adopt where a potential family gets time to live with a dog in their home before finalizing the adoption.
The Tompkins County SPCA, who I foster for, has a lovely adoption center, tons of well-educated volunteers, and professional training staff. That means they only send dogs to foster homes if they have a compelling reason to do so. And for the shortest time possible.
Dogs are more likely to be seen and get adopted if they’re in the adoption center and not in a foster home where someone will have to make an appointment to see them.
Dogs need foster homes for different reasons.
I’ve fostered dogs who needed a little extra medical attention, like Ginny the beagle who needed several slow walks a day while recovering from surgery.
A few dogs came to us because they felt frightened or depressed in the shelter. For some dogs, even a lovely apartment with frequent visits from kind volunteers is too stressful.
Once we even fostered some dogs who needed a temporary home while their person was moving out of an abusive relationship.
But mostly we’ve fostered puppies.
Why puppies? When someone surrenders a litter to the shelter, they don’t have their first vaccinations. Which puts them at great risk in a building that houses stray dogs. Dogs that might be carrying dangerous (to puppies) diseases.
The shelter staff check and vaccinate puppies and get them into foster homes quickly, before they are exposed to nasty buggies.
It only takes a couple of weeks for a puppy immune system to benefit from vaccines so they can go to their forever homes.
Your dog will teach your foster dogs.
My latest foster puppy, Zoe, is smart as a whip. But she learns the most from watching Honey.
She’s learned to sit and wait for dinner. She’s learned how to play with a bigger dog. And, unfortunately, she’s learned how to dig up the yard a little just for fun.
Your foster dog will teach your dog.
Our hound mix foster, Cherie, was so fearful.
When we crossed the street, she’d slink to her belly. Our trainer, who is the gentlest man ever, terrified her. Thunderstorms drove her to the basement where she shook for hours.
But she was not afraid of the things that scared Honey the most: agility equipment and the bike cart.
Honey gained so much confidence once Cherie showed her how un-scary the bike cart was. I don’t think we would ever have gotten her to ride with us without Cherie’s help.
I only wish she could have stayed longer to keep up the training.
Some foster periods are long, others are short.
I have friends who have fostered dogs for long periods. Mel at No Dog About It, writes poignantly about the challenges of fostering puppy mill dogs. Progress is slow and can take years before a dog is able to live something approaching a normal home life.
We had our fearful hound mix, Cherie, with us for several months. But most of our foster stays are quite short.
Our shortest foster lasted only one day. Titus was an extremely fearful pit mix. He was gentle as a lamb. But for some reason he frightened Honey.
He went to a new foster home the next day.
Fostering makes you love your own dog even more.
Except for Titus, Honey has been a perfect host to every dog we’ve fostered.
A few foster dogs, like Layla or Eddie, weren’t too crazy about other dogs. Honey had to temper her innate friendliness with these introvert pups.
Cherie, although afraid of nearly everything outside the house, loved to play with Honey in the house and yard. Unfortunately she was recovering from spaying surgery and I had to enforce a no-play zone for about a week.
I didn’t think Honey would survive. But she held back. And they got their ya yas out once Cherie was fully recovered.
And the puppies. Oh, Honey is good. In fact, she’s a little too good. I think she needs to speak up for herself a little more when a busy foster puppy is searching for a nipple or using her tail as a tug toy.
When we’re walking Honey with our latest foster dog, my husband will spontaneously talk about how good a foster-sister she has been.
In truth, Honey is just fulfilling her destiny.
Fostering when you have a dog (or dogs) at home is easier.
Honey’s presence has built confidence in some of our fearful foster dogs. When they see her sitting quietly waiting for food, some of them pick up the same trait. And she’s better at tiring out a puppy than anything I could ever do.
If only I could teach Honey how to alert bark every time a house training puppy needs to pee.
Fostering when you have a dog (or dogs) at home is harder.
Some dogs just don’t like other dogs. In fact, our shelter is always looking for foster families without other dogs in the house.
And just try walking by the school crossing guard with one overly friendly, food-motivated golden retriever and a fearful foster pup. Yep, it was an epic training fail. (You should really click the link. The stories in the comments are even funnier than mine.)
Let’s not forget feeding the dogs two different meals in two different rooms.
And do I really need to tell you what it’s like to walk a hyper little puppy who always manages to find Honey’s latest poop with her feet before I even have my baggie open for the clean up?
Now you know why I buy cleaning enzymes a gallon at a time.
Fostering is inexpensive.
Every shelter and rescue is probably different. But with our shelter, fostering is an inexpensive way to volunteer.
I pick up our dog with a full supply of food. They get free (and excellent) vet care at the shelter. I’m offered bedding, leashes, and bowls to take with me.
My only expense is renting a car to pick up my foster puppy. And I’m thinking that should be tax deductible (volunteers can deduct mileage; I should be able to deduct my car expenses even though I don’t own one).
Returning a foster dog is sad.
Okay, I’ll say it. Sometimes I cry when I return a foster dog. Not every time.
It’s easy to become attached. Especially with a dog who stays with us for a long time.
But I’m most likely to feel sad when I’m returning an adult dog to the shelter to wait for an adoptive home. When a family adopts a dog directly from my home, it’s very different.
Returning a foster dog is happy.
There are many happy aspects of fostering. I meet interesting people. I get to love lots of dogs. But most of all, it’s thrilling to see a dog go home with someone who already loves her after just a short time.
I love when a dog is adopted directly from our home. It means they get to go from one happy place to another. Without any stress resulting from the more lively shelter atmosphere.
But considering the shelter to be more stressful says more about me than about the dogs.
Most dogs adapt well when going to a new home.
When we’re getting ready to return a foster dog, my husband starts to talk about adopting them. He worries that they’re too bonded to us already and won’t adapt to a new family without pain.
But he doesn’t usually go with me to return the puppies. Or isn’t around when their adoptive family picks them up.
I’ve never had a puppy pull or cry when I left them at the shelter. I place them in the loving care of staff who are excited to see them and they’re fine.
It’s even better when they walk off with their family. They’re going for a car ride. And I’m sure they bond quickly to their new family just like they did with us.
Is Fostering Right For You?
I’m only one person who has fostered for one organization. But I hope I’ve given you a nice peek into what our fostering experience has been like.
Last night, while walking the dogs, my husband said, “I guess when we move aboard the boat we won’t be able to foster anymore. Will you feel bad about giving it up?”
I replied that fostering has been a special part of our lives. But it is part of a time and a place. And we’ll do other things to help animals in our travels.
Unless, of course, there’s a shelter out there who wants to copter a puppy out to us on the ocean one day.
I’ve found it very rewarding. You might also.
But fostering isn’t for everyone. Perhaps your current pets would find it too stressful. I purposely adopted and raised Honey to do this work. My previous dogs would have hated it.
Or maybe you really couldn’t give up pups after fostering them for a short time. I’d hate to see you end up on a tv show about animal hoarders because you took my advice and tried to foster.
My friend Mel at No Dogs About It wrote a perfect post: “I Could Never Foster.” It’s loaded with suggestions for different ways you can help shelters and rescue organizations.
As we come to the end of one year and start the next, maybe you’ll find one more way you can help homeless animals. Heck, just by sharing this post, you might get someone else thinking fostering might be a good fit for them.
I’ve only been fostering for a few years. But it has been a fun, challenging, annoying, and lovely way to help dogs.
Maybe you’d love it too.
Calling All Pet Bloggers
Could you use a little cheer and encouragement? Then it’s time to sign up for the Third Annual Pet Blogger’s Gift Exchange, where instead of exchanging presents or cards, we share appreciation for our fellow bloggers.
- Step 1: Sign up in the Rafflecopter where you’ll also get a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card. (Psst, if the Rafflecopter doesn’t work, try another browser. It hates Safari but loves Firefox.)
- Step 2: Share yesterday’s post introducing the Gift Exchange with your blogging friends so we get lots of people signed up early.
- Step 3: Check your email on Monday, December 8 to see which pet blogger you’ve been randomly paired with.
- Step 4: Plan a post praising all the great things about your gift exchange partner. If you need ideas, check out some of last year’s posts in the linky.
- Step 5: Publish your post by Tuesday, January 6 and link it to the hop I’ll be setting up next week.
- Step 6: Sit back and enjoy the adulation, encouragement and link love from your blogging partner when they write nice things about you.
Sounds fun, right? So what are you waiting for?
Sign up now.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Your Turn: Have you ever fostered for a shelter or a rescue? Was it a positive experience?