14 min read

Thinking About Fostering? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

It’s a great way to make a HUGE difference in an animal’s life 🐶💗🐱

Want to make the world a better place? Fostering a dog or cat is a great way to start.

Not only does becoming a foster parent get an animal out of a shelter and into a home, it frees up valuable space and resources, allowing the shelter to welcome even more animals in need.

While some may think they can’t foster unless they are ready to adopt, that’s not always the case, explains Brittany Feldman, president and cofounder of Shelter Chic, a nonprofit foster-based dog and cat rescue group in New York City.

Even if it’s just for a short time, fostering plays an important role in successfully re-homing dogs and cats. “A lot of organizations, including us, really can only take in as many animals as we have fosters for, so opening your home is actually saving a life,” Feldman tells The Dodo. Through fostering, homeless dogs and cats learn what it’s like to be a member of a family — a vital step on the way to finding their forever home.

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“It’s great for people to experience the benefits of having an animal in the home, without a long-term commitment,” Feldman says. “And, for the animal, not only is it saving their life, but it makes them more adoptable. Having the dog in a home gives you experience with them, so you know things about their personality that you wouldn’t know in a shelter.”

Something as simple as learning whether a dog likes to sleep late or is obsessed with squeaky toys allows for better matches with potential adopters and “makes the adoptions a lot more successful,” Feldman adds. It’s a win-win for the human and animal!

So what do you need to know before fostering a pet? Check out these answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

What are my responsibilities when fostering a pet?

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Every animal is different, and depending on which shelter you work with, responsibilities may vary each time you foster a dog or cat. With dogs, it’s the foster mom or dad’s job to provide their pup with exercise, food, shelter and basic obedience training. Did we mention snuggles? You’ll want to give him plenty of those, too.

For cats, the responsibilities are much the same — just swap the daily walks with litter box duty (and good luck with any obedience training). Taking care of a pet is a big responsibility, but it’s definitely worth it.

What do I need to have in my house?

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Concerned about the expenses that come with adopting a pet? Fostering can be a cost-effective option for those ready and willing to care for a puppy or kitten. “In general, some of the rescue groups do provide supplies. With us, we always say, if you have a home, that’s really what we need, we can provide everything else,” Feldman explains.  

Most shelters will send foster parents home with all the basics required to take care of their foster pet. For dogs, this list usually includes food, bowls, collar, leash, wee wee pads and bedding. Feline companions will come with food, bowls, litter box, scoop, litter and a cat bed. Vet bills are typically covered by the shelter, too, so all you need to be concerned with is giving your foster pet plenty of love and playtime.

“As long as you have a home and can give an animal love, that’s really all you need,” Feldman explains. “A lot of people say they can’t foster because they have a small apartment, but, of course, an apartment is much better than living in a cage.”  

How long does fostering last?

Fostering can be very flexible, so it’s perfect for people who find themselves with a little time on their hands. “Fostering can last anywhere from one day to several months. It really depends on the organization and the dog,” Feldman says. “We ask for as long as possible, but in general, a minimum for us would be two weeks.” In many organizations, two weeks is the norm, according to Feldman, but sometimes animals who take longer to adopt, such as a senior pit bull, might be in foster homes for months at a time.

Can I foster if I already have a dog?

Most foster programs have no problem with a rescue dog or cat joining a home with a resident pet, as long as everyone is vaccinated and spayed or neutered.

Learning to get along with other animals is an important social skill for the rescue animal, and, of course, it’s always nice to have a few furry playmates around the house. However, Feldman notes that fosterers should be sure to introduce the animals to each other in the right way, and take things slow at first.

“If you are bringing in a dog, and you have a resident dog, I would say that they need to meet on mutual territory,” Feldman says. “The best thing to do is to have a friend bring your dog down, and have them meet and go for a walk immediately. It’s non-threatening, the dog’s not going to get possessive and that’s the best way to establish a relationship.”

If all goes well on the introductory walk, it’s still a good idea to exercise caution at home. “When you bring the animal into the home, I would definitely keep the foster dog on a leash for a period of time, so if they do something you don’t like, you can pull them away quickly,” Feldman says.

When leaving a foster pet and resident pet alone together, make sure they each have their own territory. “Keep them separate for the beginning while you’re away, either in two separate rooms or with a crate or baby gate,” Feldman advises. “You never know what’s going to happen when you’re not there. The same goes if you’re fostering a cat.”

Can I adopt my foster dog or cat?

“Absolutely,” Feldman says. Fostering-to-adopt is the norm at Shelter Chic, so if a foster parent is interested in finding a long-term companion, the shelter will place them with a foster dog or cat that matches what they are looking for. The trial run shouldn’t last too long, though, in case another family might be a better fit. “After a week they should know,” Feldman says. “If they don’t know after a week, we’ll kindly explain that there may be a family that desperately wants this animal, and if they’re on the fence, it’s probably not meant to be.”

If a foster parent decides they want to adopt their foster pet they can submit an application. “But if there is already an adoption going on, and someone has applied and been approved, then it’s done,” Feldman notes.

How do I know if fostering is right for me?

The foster experience can be incredibly rewarding, and plays an important role in helping rescue dogs and cats prepare for adoption. So how do you know if you’re ready to take the plunge?

“It’s a good tool for someone who is considering getting a pet, but not sure if they are ready,” Feldman says. “It’s the best of both worlds. They can say, ‘I love this dog, I want something just like it,’ or ‘This breed is too high-energy for me. I actually want a smaller breed.’ So it really benefits everyone.”

Those worried about feeling guilty when they give the pet back to the shelter after their fostering period is over shouldn’t fret, Feldman explains. It’s all part of the process. “Some people feel they have to adopt [their foster pet] because they are worried about them, and I try to say, ‘That’s not the case. If you’re not sure if you want an animal, then you can do so much more good just by fostering',” Feldman says. "If you have a home and a little bit of time, you can save an animal.”

Thinking about fostering or adopting? Then meet Dodo Adoptbot, an interactive guide for new pet parents. Get started on Facebook Messenger or text HOME to 38349.