Pet Fostering 101

In the simplest terms, fostering an animal means taking that animal into your home and providing it with shelter and care until a forever home is found. Those animals could be too sick or young for adoption. They could be facing euthanasia at an overcrowded shelter. They could be homeless after their owner passed. No matter the situation, fostering is a rewarding way to help an animal in need.

Why Foster?

For Lea Haverstock with Maxx & Me Rescue, a rescue for dogs of all breeds, the reason is simple: “We could save more dogs if we had more fosters.” Rescues like Maxx and Me regularly pull deadline animals from overcrowded shelters and must have a committed foster home to do so.

“Fostering provides a safe and healthy environment for animals who need to heal, grow or get some extra TLC,” added Courtney Netta with St. Francis Society Animal Rescue. “It creates more space in shelters for other animals in need. It saves the lives of neonate kittens or puppies who need bottle feeds or medications. It Introduces the animal to new pools of prospective adopters. Best of all – it makes your life a whole lot more interesting and adorable!”

“Fostering kittens through St. Francis is one of the most rewarding (and entertaining!) experiences I’ve had,” said Theresa Waugh, who recently had her first foster experience. “There’s nothing like helping save the life of kittens with some of the most selfless people I’ve been blessed to know.”

What are the responsibilities of a pet foster parent?

Above all, a foster home should provide a safe, loving environment in which the animal will thrive. Other responsibilities could include transporting the pet to adoption events; working on basic training commands; reporting information about the animal’s personality and behavior; speaking with potential adopters; and transporting the pet to a vet for care.

What are the financial responsibilities?

A typical rescue will cover all costs of care, with some simply asking the foster home to provide food. “At St. Francis, we will cover all medical fees, and provide food and litter,” Netta said. “Of course, we are non-profit, so many foster families offer to buy their own food or litter, but it’s not expected or required to foster.”

Are there any set qualifications to foster?

This will depend on the organization and the specific animal. Rescues will require an application, and some are more rigorous than others. Because Maxx & Me works with all dog breeds, some who have suffered abuse or abandonment, they prefer foster candidates have some experience with dogs. They also require proof that other pets in the home are up to date on vaccinations, spayed/neutered, and on current flea and heartworm preventative.

St. Francis is in constant need of foster homes for kittens and experience isn’t required. “All that is required is a desire to help animals, and a stable home,” Netta said. “Fosters can be kept in a bathroom, laundry room, spare bedroom or have the run of the house.”

For larger/higher-energy dogs, the rescue may require a fenced yard. Breed-specific adoption organizations may require experience with that particular breed. Contrary to popular belief, renting does not automatically disqualify you, but rescues will ask for proof of the pet policy.

It is important to remember rescues and adoption organizations have the best interests of both the foster family and the animal in mind, and they will work with applicants to find the right fit. “We want it to be a successful match,” Haverstock said.

What is the typical duration of a foster stay?

It varies. “Kittens and puppies can’t be offered for adoption until they are spayed or neutered, chipped and fully vaccinated; this can’t be done until they are at least two pounds – which is usually around 6-8 weeks old,” Netta said. “Older animals who are ready for adoption can be offered right away! The quickest way to get your foster adopted is to make sure they are well socialized, to show them at adoption events, and to promote them on social media.”

The duration will also depend on the background of the animal – an abused animal or one that is recovering from illness or injury may require a longer stay. However, those situations would be made clear upfront.

Where can I find a reputable rescue?

Haverstock advised seeking recommendations from friends who have fostered. She also said to ask which shelters the rescue is pulling from and what vet they are using to get testimonials on the quality of care.

“Make sure they are non-profit and putting the needs of the animals first,” Netta added. “Ask questions on how they handle after-hours medical emergencies, ask if you’ll have a mentor to call for questions, and inquire about their adoption numbers and successes. Make sure they are desexing, chipping and vaccinating animals before marking them ready for adoption.”

Some shelters, like Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center, offer a foster program – which is a great way to free up shelter space and save a life.

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