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fostering a shelter pet

8 Things to Know Before Fostering a Shelter Pet

Understand the time, financial, and other requirements that come with fostering a pet

Jennon Bell Hoffmann

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 6.5 million cats and dogs enter the shelter system each year. That’s almost the entire human populations of Los Angeles and Houston, combined. With so many animals in need of care and attention, fostering is a great way to offer these animals a safe haven.

Different from adoption, fostering is welcoming an animal into your home and taking over their care for a set period of time. Some people choose to foster because they want the rewards of pet ownership without the lifelong commitment of adopting. Others want to help a shelter or rescue organization socialize and train animals to bolster their adoptability. Whatever their reasons, those who foster dogs and cats lend a major helping hand to shelters and rescues, which often have limited space and resources.  

Fostering isn’t a walk in the park, however. It’s important to understand the commitments associated with fostering pets, including time, schedule flexibility, financial contributions, temperament compatibility, and other requirements. Before you sign up to foster, check out these tips to best prepare your home and your heart for furry guests.

Know the Rules of Becoming a Foster Parent for Pets  
1.      There is no national legislation for animal rescue and fostering, so regulations can vary at the state, county, and city levels. Depending on where you live, there may be zoning, licensing, and protection restrictions for fostering pets. Research shelters in your area and make sure they are certified by the state.
2.      That being said, different shelters have different rules and policies for fostering. Some may enforce a single-pet rule, require that children in the home be of a certain age, or make you guarantee a certain amount of time and energy can be given to the fostered pet. To ensure you, the shelter, and the pet are good matches, take the time to learn the organization’s fostering policies and be sure you meet all requirements.

Bringing Foster Pets Home
3.      Animals can be unpredictable, which is why it’s important that your residence is cat- and dog-proofed prior to bringing home fosters, especially if you are welcoming a puppy or kitten. That can involve putting up guard gates, placing wires out of reach, and putting away fragile furniture. Remember that while this experience is designed to benefit the pet, it still is new and probably scary for the animal.
4.      If you already have pets, make sure they’re prepared to be on their best welcoming behavior. Similarly, make sure all the members in your family—including children—are prepared to be around the shelter animal, especially if the animal has special needs or is easily nervous. Talk with the shelter beforehand about which available animals would be the most compatible with your family’s makeup and lifestyle.
5.      Proper supplies, like food, a bed, a litter box, toys, and more, are essential. Be sure you have the means to provide these necessities for your foster animal and talk to the shelter about what they can provide you. Animals need comfort and security as much as humans, and having a soft blanket or favorite toy can help ease anxiety and distress.

 Help Your Shelter Pet Settle In
6.      Unfortunately, some rescue animals do not come to their situation with full medical or emotional background checks, and it can be impossible to know what they have been exposed to or dealt with prior to meeting you. Depending on the age, breed, and background of the animal, your foster may be susceptible to certain ailments. Know the signs of common illnesses and have a vet plan in place so that you can detect and address any issues early.
7.      Put yourself in your pet’s paws and think how this new experience may make them anxious, restless, or emotionally distressed. Some foster pets cannot stay home alone for a long period of time, at least not at first, and your schedule may have to accommodate that. Sticking to a routine, incorporating plenty of positive reinforcement, and giving them tons of affection can go a long way in comforting and socializing a pet. An obedience class or training can also help your foster pet acclimate to their new circumstances.
8.      Lastly, pets can provide unconditional love and comfort, and you may become attached to your foster pet. While plenty of people end up adopting their foster pets, that isn’t always an option, so be prepared emotionally. If your animal has to move back to the shelter or with a forever family, remember that in a difficult part of their life, you provided a warm place in your home and heart, and whatever happens, you helped an animal that couldn’t help themselves. You and the animal will be better for it.

To learn more about pet rescue and fostering programs, visit the ASPCA website, or your local shelter system or rescue organization.