Fostering Pets

Katie Peterson, DVM, DACVECC, DABT
Emergency and Critical Care Specialist
Pet Poison Helpline®

I have a busy household including five cats, a dog, eight chickens, and a toddler.  So, when my friend that runs a rescue, posted about a fifteen-year-old cat, whose elderly owner had passed and now needed a foster home, my immediate reaction was that she’s a gorgeous cat but NO WAY!  There is just no possible way we can find the time, energy, space, litter boxes, etc. for another cat in the house.  But the pictures kept coming up on the rescue page, and one day I said to my husband, “What do you think about fostering Peanut Butter?” and although I was expecting him to be the voice of reason, he said, “When do we go get her?”

So, why foster? There are many wonderful benefits to fostering. The first and most obvious is that you get the benefit of having a companion in the house to talk to, snuggle with, and that will greet you when you get home.  According to the CDC, people with pets have been shown to have health benefits including improved stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and especially with dogs, increased exercise and opportunity for socialization.  Plus, it just feels good to be helping the animal and the rescue.

Fostering can also give someone an opportunity to take care of a pet without making a lifelong commitment.  While the pet is in the rescue/shelter foster program, the organization will typically provide medical care, food, and the other supplies needed to take care of the pet, so there is little to no cost to foster.  It can also be a way to see if a pet will fit into the family or a person’s lifestyle prior to adopting, and many people will foster prior to adopting.

There are also many benefits to the animals.  Many animals are stressed in the shelter or cage, which is not only hard on them, but may also make it difficult to get interest by adopters if their stress/fear makes them shy, withdrawn, or anxious in the cage.  In a foster home, a pet’s true personality can show through, making that pet easier to get adopted.  They can also be better socialized at a foster home, and the rescue can gain information such as: Are they good with other dogs and cats?  How do they respond to children or strangers? Do they like a quiet or busy home, etc.?  Finally, although shelters do their best to provide comfort to animals, a soft pet bed, couch, chair or human bed in the comfort of a foster home can’t be beat!

What are the downsides to fostering?

Although there are not many, there can be some struggles with fostering.  It may take time for an animal to adjust to a new environment so there may be some stress for both animal and foster until the adjustment is made.  Like any pet, there is a time commitment to taking care of a foster pet, but this can vary based on type (dog vs cat), age, breed and health history.  Shelter or rescue pets can come with behavioral or medical issues that are not always known in the pet’s history.  This is why many shelters and rescues have set up criteria for foster homes and will do a home and pet visit prior to fostering.  They want to ensure that everyone, including the animal, is set up for a success prior to the animal entering the home.  Finally, it is extremely hard to not let a foster pet get into your heart, so there is both joy and sadness when they are adopted.

So…what have I learned with fostering?

We have had Peanut Butter at our house for about a year.  We love her to pieces and would love to be her forever home and we attempted to integrate her into the family fully, but unfortunately, we are not a great permanent fit for her.  We are fortunate enough to have an area where she is allowed to be alone when she wants to be, can visit though a pet gate when she wants to, and she gets one-on-one time with us when we can.  Although not ideal, she has a better life here than in a cage at the rescue, and we plan to foster her until we can find the perfect family for her.  When the day comes that some lucky person finds her and wants to adopt her, I will cry tears of joy for her and the lucky person that gets to be her forever home, and we will foster again when the right animal needs our help.