(Note: this is a reprint of a blog contributed to Dogster.com as a guest blogger in 2011)
When people find out that part of what I do at the SPCA Serving Erie County includes foster care for dogs and cats, the statement I most often hear is, I couldn’t do that. There was a day when I might have thought the same thing. However, there are thousands of animals in shelters and rescue groups who need a helping hand (or home) to unleash their potential. If your heart is jumping at the chance to help a homeless animal, make sure you use your mind to determine your best chance at fostering success!
The most important consideration is the health, well-being and contentment of your resident animals. The combination of pets who are permanent residents in your home must be considered when deciding if and whom you will invite into your home. Although you may want to open your heart and your home to all wayward furry souls, ignoring your resident animal’s preferences can spell disaster for your foster animal, you and your own pets. Personally, I know that my resident animals are comfortable fostering smaller sized dogs as my largest and oldest dog, Apollo, does not enjoy the company of male dogs over 30 lbs. I would be doing a disservice to my own dog and my relationship with him, if I brought an adolescent male boxer into our home even if that is one of my favorite breeds in the entire world. I do know that he loves little dogs and is incredibly patient with puppies and females. So, I limit my acceptance of any foster dogs to that criterion no exceptions! My relationship with my dogs comes first after all they will be with me for the rest of their life.
You also have to consider the potential challenges to your pet’s physical health. Anytime you bring a new animal into a home, there is a risk of sharing parasites, viruses and more that the new animal introduces into the environment, even if the animal has had the best veterinary care prior to being place with you. If you have an animal with a weak immune system or one susceptible to particular physical illnesses you will want to think very seriously about bringing a new animal into that environment for the sake of your own pets. If you don’t think seriously about the risks, you could create a negative experience for everyone involved. And, if you have a bad fostering experience your chosen organization could lose a great foster parent!
You also need to determine what you are capable of handling. We all want to help that injured dog who has the cutest face and whimpers just so. But, if he needs bandage changes daily, regular trips to the organizations veterinarian, or other intensive medical care you should seriously consider if you have the time and resources to provide the care he needs. If you are taking home a mouthy 5 month old foster puppy who has had little, non-existent or unpleasant socialization experiences, you should seriously consider if you have the patience and training chops to provide positive socialization and training experiences to a puppy who has just exited his most critical socialization phase.
The best foster home successfully matches their abilities and skills to the needs of the foster animal.If you’ve decided that you have the right environment to help a foster animal, find an organization that shares your passion for animals. If you have a special place in your heart for a particular breed, you may want to locate a breed-specific rescue group. They often work exclusively from foster homes and are always looking for people to provide a loving, nurturing home for animals in their care. If you are looking for more variety in the available foster animals, you may want to contact your local shelter, SPCA or Humane Society to find out about their foster care program. Often, they need homes for animals recovering from medical trauma or illness, puppies too young to be spayed/neutered or animals who may be fabulous adoption candidates although they are over-stressed or over-stimulated in the shelter kennels.
Finding your recipe for fostering success is crucial for creating an environment that will maximize the results for your foster animal. A critical variable for success is understanding clearly what is expected of you as a foster parent. Every organization has different sets of resources, policies and expectations. Make sure you clearly understand what your responsibilities, and just as importantly, your limitations are. Although you are the caregiver, it is important to remember that the foster animal is not legally yours. It belongs to the organization for which you are providing a valuable service a foster home for an animal who needs a little extra TLC.
Once you’ve found the right organization for you and the right foster animal from that organization, enjoy every minute with them. Love them like they are your own. Train them like you would your own with positive reinforcement based techniques. Remember that you are creating a masterpiece to be enjoyed for an entire lifetime when they find their forever home. Help that animal blossom into a fabulous adoption candidate.Then, when it is time to send them off on their next journey (hopefully with an amazing adoptive, forever family) give yourself, and your own pets, time to breathe. It is this very moment that most foster parents fear, especially first timers. However, once you experience the selfless joy that comes with watching the smiles and happiness that exists when your foster animal find his new family, you’ll be hooked. That feeling is priceless.