Joys of Pet Foster Parenting

In the winter of 2012, the lives of my husband and I changed when we become pet foster parents. Both while growing up and during my adult years, I had adopted pets privately or through shelters. Thus, I felt confident about what lay ahead when we filled out our application. Turns out, I was somewhat naïve. Fostering a hearing- and vision-impaired senior silky terrier with Cushings Disease was a rollercoaster ride. In part due to our experience with Gizmo, I became interested in researching the entire pet parent foster experience, with all of its joys and challenges. In this first article of a four-part series, I’ll talk about what fostering is, benefits of fostering, and share insights from local pet fosters.

WHAT IS A PET FOSTER PARENT?

One of the best ways to help the pet community is by becoming a pet foster parent. If you’re not familiar with term, this role simply means you provide a temporary home to an animal in need until that animal is adopted. That animal might be a dog, cat, exotic, or even some other kind of companion animal such as a bird. Later in this article I’ll explain the need behind pet fostering, but first I’d like to share some of the ways that you can benefit from taking in a temporary pet.

HOW CAN PET FOSTERING BENEFIT YOU?

There are many ways that pet fostering can benefit you. The one most frequently cited by local pet foster parents was the joy of witnessing the change of a shy companion into a confident one. Amanda Brokaw, a volunteer with Big Dogs Huge Paws and NE No Kill Canine Rescue, succinctly noted that the joys come from “dog kisses and cuddles”. She went on to explain, “We had one dog that finally learned how to be a dog when she was with us. She was a senior dog that never got to be around other dogs and she learned to play and I felt like I could see her smile. I am also a very social person and having fosters pushes me to help them find a home. I like to talk about them and then when I get to meet their ‘fur’ever family, I have a smile on my face for days.”

Amanda's foster dog, Gracie
Gracie, a foster dog whom Amanda fostered
that is now at Promise 4 Paws Dog Sanctuary

Janet Wilkinson, a volunteer with Dolly’s Legacy Animal Rescue, expressed a similar sentiment: “I feel I was blessed being able to foster a mother cat and her kittens. I witnessed a mother who was a stray who trusted me and allowed me to watch her nurse her babies … When you start to see the trust and happiness in their eyes it gives you hope and joy. You know you have made a positive change in the animal’s life and that when they find there forever home they will be ready to trust again.”

Two kittens, Pumpkin and Butternut, fostered by Janet
Two kittens, Pumpkin and Butternut, that Janet fostered

It lets you experience pet ownership without a long-term commitment: Maybe you’d like a pet but aren’t sure where you’ll be in the next few years. For example, foster pet parenting can work well for college students and seniors.

It’s a good way to see if you’re ready for an additional pet: With fostering, you have a chance to see whether or not a certain animal is right for your family. Maybe you want to foster a certain dog breed to see if you’re ready to adopt one. Perhaps you want to see if adding a cat into your all-dog household will upset the balance. Fostering can help you try out changes to your current family setup.

Alternatively, you might end up with a new family member: Many foster families realize the pet that they’re fostering is a perfect fit for their family. This is a happy ending for all concerned. If you don’t foster, you might never meet that special pet companion that adds to your life.

Your own pet will learn more social skills: The more animals your pet comes in contact with, the better he’ll deal with stress and strangers. Even if your current pet gets along with all animals, it’s still important for him to receive exposure to a variety of animals. In doing so, he will learn to share his dishes, beds, toys, and even you. In addition, your pet might even find a playmate in your foster pet.

Any volunteering makes a person feel good: Fostering is a way to give back to your community. If you love animals, there is nothing more rewarding than helping a homeless animal. Amanda is one of many pet foster parents who fits this description: “When we foster we get to be crazy dog people with a lot of different dogs in our house. We have a lot of different personalities that walk through our door and we love that! I also feel called to volunteer work and I really love talking about dogs and helping dogs. Rescues seem to be full of people who love to talk about dogs and I fit right in.”

WHY ARE PET FOSTER PARENTS NEEDED?

Angela Gebhardt wrote, “You know that when you take in a foster you are opening up a cage for another cat to be able to come into the shelter but also, you’re helping to truly save a life or save lives, depending if you foster a cat that is just sick and needs a safe and quiet place to recover or a mom with her babies that needs the same….”

Angelina's Foster Kittens
Kittens that Angela fostered

Her comment leads nicely to a discussion about why pet fosters are needed. Don’t we have shelters? The reality is that all animal programs have limited resources. By taking in a foster pet, the bottom line is that you’re truly saving a life.

Three million animals are euthanized within our humane society shelters on an annual basis due to lack of room and money. In 2014 alone, about five thousand of those deaths happened right here in Nebraska.

Although no-kill shelters are growing in numbers, these shelters are often full with animals on a waiting list. By agreeing to foster, you’re freeing up space for another animal to be saved.

Then there’s the fact many rescue groups do not have actual physical space for companions animals. They depend solely on volunteers to provide temporary homes and can only step in to rescue an animal in need if foster homes are lined up. Kaywin Sohl notes, “Big Dogs Huge Paws currently has a wait list of 50 dogs that we can’t even help because we don’t have open foster homes.” Those on the wait list might come from shelters, kennels, or even be running out of time with an owner who can no longer keep them.

UnforgetttableUnderdogs_1

Some of the most often cited candidates for fostering include: Animals that have been overlooked and might otherwise be euthanized for lack of resources; puppies and kittens will need foster homes until they’re old enough to be spayed or neutered; those animals who are injured or recovering from surgery might need time to recover in a warm and secure environment; senior animals who are ill and need to time to recover; and finally those animal who need extra Tender Loving Care because they’ve recently experienced the trauma of having lost their beloved lifelong owner and home.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO THE FOSTERED ANIMAL?

Beyond the bottom line of saving a life, there are many ways in which fostering can benefit the companion animal you foster.

The rescue group learns more about the animal’s personality: Some companion animals come from shelters, where it’s hard to know much about the then when they’re living in potentially crowded and cramped conditions. Placing companion animals in foster homes can help rescue groups learn which animals suffers from separation anxiety, know basic commands, show high or low energy, beg for food, like children, or accept other pets. The possibilities of what foster families can learn are unlimited.

The animal’s chance of being adopted: Fostering creates a link between an animal in need and potential homes. You can spread the word about what a good pet you have. Additionally, the foster family has the opportunity to work with the animal to correct behavior problems that have led to a surrender or even ones that have arisen since. By living with you, a foster pet will have a chance to develop more appeal to potential adopters.

The animal will be happier in a home than a shelter: One of most often-cited reasons for fostering is that an animal gets to live with a family instead of at a shelter. Animals can get stressed from shelter conditions. Shelters are noisy with limited one-on-one interaction. Animals don’t get enough exercise, training, or socialization. With time, many will develop psychological issues as a result of pent-up energy, frustration, or boredom.

Graphic from PetMeds
Graphic from PetMeds

Over all, animals in foster care are considered to be less stressed, better socialized, and have a lower chance of getting sick than animals in shelters. By becoming a pet foster parent, you can give companion animals the best chance to let their real personalities shine. You feel good, your shelter or rescue group helps more animals, and your foster pet is better prepared for its forever home. Talk about win-win-win!

WHAT IF YOU’RE STILL ON THE FENCE?

Fostering is temporary: If you already have a dog, it’s not a big change to add one more pup to your daily walks and potty break schedule. Cats and exotic animals generally require minimal space and don’t require a lot of time to look after. Knowing the foster animal will only be with you for a short time makes it easier to find the time to take care of them, and it also makes it easier to give them up.

You probably already have the space for one more: A spare bedroom or office can be the perfect place for a foster pet. Even a bathroom is enough room for a puppy or kitten, while often being much larger than a cage in a shelter. Sometimes the smallest space in your house is the only thing standing between an animal and euthanasia in an animal control facility.

Fostering is a way to help without spending money: If you don’t have the money to donate to animal shelters, you can donate
your time and space by becoming a foster. Many rescue groups cover everything for you, providing a crate and bed, dishes, food, and even veterinary care.

You can choose how to foster: Only want to foster big dogs? Prefer to look after just orphaned kittens? Able to foster for only a few weeks? Most rescue groups will do their best to accommodate your requests. If a particular group doesn’t meet your needs, there are many others with companion animals just waiting for you to foster them.

Pauline Balta of Lincoln Animal Ambassadors believes, “The message that needs to be brought to the front is that fostering pets is a wonderful, character-growing, positive thing you can do for the pet’s good and your own good. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors’ mission is to reduce the number of homeless pets in the Lincoln area. Fostering pets is one very important way to keep pets in homes until they can be reunited with their guardians or adopted.”

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