How to foster a dog

How to Foster a Dog: Beginner’s Guide

The pet adoption cycle seems like a pretty straightforward one, right? A pet finds its way into an animal rescue shelter—often right off the street or because of owner surrender—and then a nice family comes along to rescue the pet to begin a heart-warming journey. There’s another vital link in the adoption process, though. We’re talking about pet fostering.

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What is Pet Fostering?

Pet fostering provides a place for animals to stay when shelters don’t have the space for them. Typically volunteers, foster parents help make sure that a pet doesn’t end up in a dangerous situation living on the streets. Fostering also pulls animals out of a shelter where euthanasia might be their fate due to crowding or behavioral issues. 

On that note, pet foster parents help with socialization and behavior training so that pets are primed and ready for a more successful forever home fit. That means happier, healthier pets and families in the long run!

What To Know Before Fostering a Pet 

If you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to foster a pet, you’re in the right place. We spoke with Libby Tolm, Foster Team Coordinator for Rescue City. What makes Rescue City special is that it’s a dog rescue organization where all their dogs are placed in foster homes before being officially adopted out. (This means they don’t have the overhead costs of a traditional shelter while still finding forever homes for their dogs.)

Tolm was eager to help us better understand what it takes to be a foster pet parent, and eager to drive home the importance of pet fostering in general. 

By the way, if you’ve recently fostered a pet or are thinking about doing so, we invite you to ask questions and share your experience on the purrch app, where other pet parents and experts are having everyday conversations about topics just like this.

3 Things to Know Before Fostering a Pet

1. Every Pet is Unique & Comes With Challenges

The first thing to consider before fostering a pet is understanding that this dog, cat, or small animal is a living creature with a unique personality. 

“[Foster pets] will not just come to a house and behave exactly how you want them to. You have to put in the work, and you have to understand that the first week or two is stressful,” notes Tolm. 

She adds that, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, Rescue City has seen an uptick in people seeking a companion but don’t necessarily understand the obstacles that come with pet ownership and fostering. Just like humans, pets come with idiosyncrasies and sometimes downright annoying habits or behaviors. We can help by training them, but accepting a foster pet—warts and all—is key in a happy, thriving relationship.

Along with that, here are some other things to know before fostering a pet. 

2. You’ll Need to Consider Your Space When Fostering a Pet

You don’t need a giant yard or a perfectly appointed house to foster a pet. However, you’ll want to make sure that the space you do have is a good fit for the potential foster animal. 

“The size of the [foster parent’s] home or whether they have a yard is taken into consideration, but only in terms of what type of pet we would put in their care,” Tolm says. “For example, we would pair a smaller dog with a smaller apartment.”

3. You’re On the Hook For Some Behavior Training 

Every organization has their own protocol, but almost always you’ll help your pet with basic obedience and behavior training. Some facilities provide training courses for their foster parents to help set them up for success. 

“When we start with harder cases, the foster parent assesses the dog’s behavior, tells us how the dog is behaving, and based on that we tell them what needs to be adjusted and corrected so they can continuously work on the behavior to make it manageable,” Tolm explains.

Rescue City also asks that all their fosters work on basic training commands and potty training. Some also require crate-training. The ultimate goal is to set the foster pet up for success in their new forever home. 

Is there an Interview Process When You Foster a Dog?

You’ll probably need to go through an interview process to foster a dog. To ensure success in the Pet Fostering process, the rescue organization will likely want to meet with you for an interview. This not only determines whether you’re a good candidate as a pet foster parent (which you probably are!), but it helps ensure the right pet ends up in your home so it’s a smooth process. 

“Our foster interview is fairly extensive, and we consider many factors. We check with the landlord (if applicable) to ensure pets are allowed, look at building requirements, and we get a reading on their experience level with dogs,” says Tolm. “We also want to make sure we’re aligned in terms of goals. From there, we match fosters based on that criterion.”

how to foster a pet

When You Foster a Dog, Who Pays for Food?

Typically, when you foster a dog, the organization will pay for the food and other dog necessities. However, depending on the rescue organization’s budget, as a pet foster parent, you may need to provide things like pet food, toys, crates, and even pet beds.

Some rescue centers have some of these things on hand, but not all do. This is something to discuss in the interview process. Some organizations also provide this information on their website.

“We do provide all the supplies that fosters need, but if they want to have extra supplies on hand, we always recommend they have a crate, bed, and grain-free food, as well as some toys,” Tolm notes.

How Long do You Foster a Dog?

“Typically, a dog is fostered between two to four weeks with some being adopted as quickly as within a week, and others taking up to six months,” notes Tolm. “We’ve had some situations where a dog is formally rescued but then surrendered again. This usually happens in a case where a dog is very cute but needs more behavior training and socialization experience.”

The time commitment varies on how long you foster a dog. The duration you have a foster pet usually depends on the dog and even the season. 

Tolm adds that fosters should prepare for the full fostering period. Needless to say, it’s stressful for the dogs to move from home to home. Your pet fostering organization is around to provide you support, so lean on them for guidance. 

What is the Ideal Pet Foster Parent?

Pet fostering is an incredibly rewarding process and a key part of the adoption process for these precious animals. With that said, a perfect foster parent is somebody who understands that every dog requires some degree of work and is willing to commit to the responsibilities. 

If you’re at all curious about fostering a pet, we cannot encourage you enough to explore the option with your local shelters and organizations. There is almost always a need for foster parents, and while challenging, being that vital middle link is rewarding, too.

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