TOP #18: Why You Should Become a Foster Parent to Dogs

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Becoming a foster parent to dogs is another great way to help pets in need. If you'd like to listen to more reasons why you should become a foster dog owner, tune into today's podcast episode where I’m also going to explain how it can help you and your family as well.

Actually, there are many reasons why animal shelters and animal rescue organizations may be looking for foster families who'd like to adopt their dogs and cats. However, what many future (or current) pet owners get wrong is thinking that these rescue animals will be a hassle because they'll require special care or will have behavioral issues. But that’s not always the case.

I'm going to walk you through all the benefits of sheltering a dog, and give you resources for learning about pet foster programs in your area. Becoming a foster parent to a dog (or a cat) is much easier than you may think, and you can usually work around your schedule.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

Reasons to Become a Foster Parent to Dogs
(raw podcast transcript)

Become Foster Parent to Dogs

Today I want to talk to you guys about a cause that is near and dear to my heart, and it is fostering pets. I think a lot of people when they hear fostering pets they're kind of have some negative connotations. And maybe if there is a cost associated with it some people are a little bit leery about fostering, because they're worried that they're going to get attached to an animal and then the animals going to be gone. They might think that the pets that are fostered in homes can't adjust in the shelters and they're having behavior problems and things like that that you're going to have to deal with, and that's not always the case.

There are times when, for example, let's say a dog is in a shelter and he is very vocal and he barks all the time, or he's very shy and he ends up hiding a lot or not wanting to interact with any animals or people at the shelter. In these instances they may be looking for foster homes because they know that they have a dog who's not aggressive and maybe not a barker in a home setting, so foster home is just going to be where that dog is more comfortable.

So you know sometimes there are dogs with certain medical issues or separation anxiety where they can't be alone or they don't do well in a shelter, but those cases are rare, a lot of times there are other reasons for fostering and so I guess I'll talk about those first, some of the reasons why animals need to be fostered.

One of those reasons would be that sometimes a shelter or rescue don't actually have a physical building where they shelter animals, it's a rescue organization and they work with, let's say for example dog fighting ring, so they work with like a law enforcement agencies that will find these dog fighting establishments and they'll once they take care of the issues around the dog fighting then they have all these dogs that need to be placed into a home.

You might get rescues or shelters that work with law enforcement agencies for things like this or that maybe you work with animal control officers once and animals taken from its home. These rescue and shelter organizations will find foster homes for the dogs but they don't necessarily have a physical shelter where they could take dogs so they find out about dogs that need homes, they work to find foster homes until they can place the dogs with their forever home. So that's one example.

Sometimes animals are brought in and they're too young to be adopted, cats, litters of kittens or puppies that are found with either without a mother or that the mother is found but she maybe is malnourished, she's not being able to produce enough milk to care for her babies so this litter needs to be in a foster home with somebody maybe who's home a lot of the time that can give the puppies or the kittens the care that they need and feed them, maybe bottle-feed them or take care of them until they're old enough to be adopted out until they're usually that's about eight weeks old. So sometimes the animal's too young.

In some cases it's a medical condition, like I had mentioned, maybe there's a dog with separation anxiety, a dog might be recovering, if it's a rescue dog, from surgery or some type of an injury and illness that they've had to go through treatment for and now they're in the recovery stages and they just need a quiet place. You know shelters are busy, there's other animals, there's people in and out all the time and the people that work at the shelters don't have time to sit with these animals all the time or maybe to keep an eye on them 24/7 until they're recovered, so to be in a foster home with somebody who has that ability can really be a godsend for these animals that just need a nice quiet relaxing place to recover.

Or for example a dog with separation anxiety you know they're going to need a foster home or somebody's home most of the time to keep them comfortable until a forever home can be found.

And then there's dogs that just show signs of stress and anxiety when they're in a shelter, they don't like the shelter environment but you get them into a home environment and they're really a great loving, wonderful animal but being in a shelter causes them to pace or hide. Some dogs can have stress issues, forms rashes, scratching, biting, itching, things like that when they're under high stress, so being in a home environment is much better for that animal.

And then there are some dogs or cats that they've never lived in a shelter… sorry, in a home before – these dogs are rescued or they haven't for a very long time so they have habits and things that aren't conducive to a home environment, so if you're willing to take any one of these animals and work with them they'll get contact with people again and they're socialized, they're in a home environment and they can learn those rules that we all need to follow when we're living in a home environment with pets.

And again you know sometimes I think the most common reason that rescues and shelters are looking for foster homes is that there just isn't enough space, unfortunately, for all the homeless animals out there. So when the shelters run out of space they still may get calls from animal control officers, law enforcement agencies, they may still have people surrender dogs or cats that they don't have a room to a home so if they can have foster families lined up, they have a place for these animals to go until they either have them in a shelter or can find a forever home for these dogs.

So what happens typically, and with our local shelter that we work with, they have a list of foster families that will take animals and you… you know they want to get to know you and they want to get to know what you're looking for, so in the process of giving them all your information for fostering they're going to ask you questions about how often that you're home, if you work outside the home, if you would do things with your dog say like walking, hiking, things like that on your down time; what type of home environment you have; do you have other animals; do you have children, things like that.

And they're really going to get to know you and get to know your family so that when an animal comes in they're going to be able to match the best animals with the best families. And what they'll do is they'll put you on a list and for example like I said with the overpopulation of pets if they get a phone call that says “Geez you know we rescued this old senior dog that needs a home and the shelter doesn't have room for it,” they're going to look for a nice quiet home for the senior dog to be fostered until either a space opens up at the shelter or until they can advertise and find a home for this dog.

And with the help of social media now animal adoption has really found a niche I guess on social media. It's so much easier for shelters and rescue organizations to post photos to fans of theirs that like their page in their local area, and things get shared instead of just like before it would have to be the people coming into the shelter, they might advertise in a local newspaper and they might see 20/30 people are seeing this dog, now you're getting on social media, they're posting it, it's being shared hundreds and hundreds of people in the local area are seeing this dog or this cat.

So what will happen is they will… let's use the example of the senior dog, so you know the law enforcement agency calls, “We have this dog that needs to be in a safe environment,” so it's a senior dog, they place it in your home, you're the foster family and you're going to care for this dog maybe for a few days, maybe for a few weeks, that is up to you. You and your preferences, and obviously the shelter also will be advertising, they maybe will take some pictures, I know our local shelter they have foster families will write up little blurbs about the animal.

One of our local shelters does diary entries from their foster families, so the foster families can write in and say, you know Day Four…” for example I saw a cat on their website a couple of days ago and it was like “Day Four…” we'll say the cat's name is Button, so “…Buttons is doing well, This is her favorite place to sleep. This is her feeding schedule. She's getting along well with our other cat, she's still a little skittish with our dog. She likes to sleep on our bed;” and kind of whatever's going on on Day Four. And then you see Day Seven and Day Ten and how she's progressing and being more comfortable.

And you also may get foster families who say “Geez you know we took this dog into our home, it's just me and my husband. He does so well; he loves the adults; he loves how quiet it is. Maybe he's a senior dog or he's just a dog that prefers a peaceful environment; but our little neighbor came over the other day with her daughter, or our nephew or niece came over the other day, we had a child in our home and the dog was really kind of uneasy around the child.”

So it helps with foster families to get all the information about these animals. Shelters are such a unique environment, it's not a home environment and the dog is not going to show it's true colors I guess for lack of a better term, he's not going to be able to relax and be comfortable, or at least most dogs aren't, some dogs do but very few. So you can get a better sense of what the dog actually acts like if he's been in a foster home in a home environment with people, with other animals.

Foster families are able to say “Geez you know he did well with other dogs at the shelter when it was in that big group setting but boy when he's at home he really likes to be the only dog, he's very protective of his home environment and really should be the only animal.” Or I just used the example for kids that maybe when kids come into the shelter it's overwhelming and he's kind of scared and meek at the shelter but in his home environment he really doesn't like kids, or he really does like kids. So it can give that extra insight to have a foster family take a dog or a cat in and really get to know them well.

Another one of the benefits is that it frees up a spot in the shelter so that they can take in another dog or if a dog needs a spot and they don't have one you're saving that dog's life by fostering it. And the way it works with fostering you can say whether you want to do short-term fostering, you know maybe you travel for work and you're gone once a month so you only want dogs that you can foster for a week or two at a time.

So they're going to call you when they have a dog that for example the shelter is full and so they call you and get you to foster this cat or this dog for two or three days until a spot opens up at the shelter. Or you might say “Geez you know what we really we want a dog, we want a cat, we're not a hundred percent sure if it's going to work in our home… we're not a hundred percent sure if it's going to work with our family so we'd like to really think about maybe fostering to adopt,” that's always an option.

You can foster for a little while, if it's working out great maybe you want to adopt the pet. Or you can say “Geez we don't want to be tied down with a dog all the time, they're a big responsibility, we do like to travel, we go on vacation a few times a year;” or I mean older couples who maybe have children that have grown up and moved out, “We go visit our children sometimes throughout the year so you know we don't want to be locked down to a dog all the time but we maybe wouldn't mind long-term fostering for a month or two or three,” whatever it is.

So you do have control over how long you foster an animal and it's also obviously going to be the shelter's needs as well. So they're going to try and listen to your needs and your concerns and match you with a dog that's going to be good for you. For example if they have a dog that's not doing well in the shelter environment, they're not going to look for that person that only wants to shelter a dog for a week or two, they're going to look for that person that's willing to shelter a dog for a longer term because they know that this dog it's going to take a while for …you know to find somebody to adopt this dog so they don't want to just have him in a home for a week or two and then have to go to another foster home.

So they're going to match a dog with your needs as well, and you know as I mentioned it, it helps the shelter and potential adoptive parents learn more about the animal; it gives that pet the time that they need to be ready for adoption. Not all animals are ready for adoption right away, maybe they have some health concerns, maybe they're too young and they need a little bit more time and then they're going to be ready to adopt.

And of course it helps socialize that pet to a home environment, there are times when animals are surrendered or things happen where they have to be taken from a home environment that they've come from and they're comfortable in that home environment so they are going to be more comfortable in a home environment than they would be in a shelter.

There are sometimes when animals maybe are from say a puppy mill type of situation or hoarding, an animal hoarding type of situation, or maybe they were in a certain home environment but it wasn't their regular pet home environment that we all have for our animals, it's not just a one or two pet household where they kind of have some space to run and play and they can interact with people and things like that, it's a different type of home environment. So now these animals need the time in a foster home to get used to a traditional home environment before they're sent out for adoption.

And finally my personal favorite reason for fostering and the reason that I actually started fostering the first time, it's been many years now but we had …it was actually my first dog that I ever had as an adult, I had moved out into my own home and I had adopted my… I rescued my first Boxer, if you are familiar with my podcast or my writing you know that I am Boxer crazy, that is my breed of choice. I had rescued my first Boxer, we were together for many years, she was my girl and we did everything together. I loved Roxy… her name was Roxy, and she was definitely one of those dogs that just will always hold a special place in your heart. You love all your pets but every once in a while one comes along that really just works their way in I guess in a different way than others.

So Roxy was my only pet at the time and when I lost her… I had to have her put down when she got older, and when I lost her it was devastating for me, it was very tough and I was living on my own so I was in this place where I really wanted another pet because I didn't like to be alone, I liked that companionship, I liked having a dog if somebody knocked on the door or a stranger came to the house that I didn't know.

I liked the security of a dog, I liked the comfort and the companionship of a dog but I just couldn't bring myself to adopt another dog completely yet, it almost felt like I was trying to fill that void that was left by her and almost like I was trying to replace her and I just wasn't ready for that. So I actually I would go… this is when I started working with one of the local shelters in our area, to foster I would go in and visit with the animals and spend time and spend a little bit of time volunteering just to get kind of that pet fix to love on some cats and dogs and get that fix where I wasn't getting it at home anymore.

And as I opened up to one of the other girls that works full time at the shelter and explained my story to her she said “Geez you know fostering maybe can help that healing process for you. You can take in an animal and you know that you're just fostering so you're not filling any holes, you're not trying to replace anybody, all you're doing is helping an animal in need, and you can do that in memory of the pet that you lost. So it's really a wonderful thing and I think that if you tried it you would really be surprised at how healing it can be.”

So I did, I tried it, I fostered a little Jack Russell Terrier, he was not the breed for me, not the dog for me but he was with me for about a month and a half and it was a wonderful experience and it was a very healing experience.

I would encourage anybody if you are distraught after the loss of a pet and you don't know what to do, spend some time at your local shelter or rescue organization and start out by volunteering, dip your toe back in the water, just start out slowly, volunteer a little bit and you never know it may work …you may work your way up to being comfortable enough to foster a pet.

And remember that if you foster you're giving that pet a chance to shine. You're giving them that opportunity to be in a home environment to show their true colors, to show what a loving caring dog they can be, how well behaved they can be, and they don't get that chance all the time in a shelter environment, so keep that in mind.

If you have any questions about fostering I would really encourage you, reach out to your local shelter, virtually every shelter and rescue organization are interested in foster families so absolutely reach out to them, ask some questions. The programs kind of vary depending on the organization that you work with and the structure of the program, so ask some questions. If you aren't really comfortable with one of the foster programs that you find there is probably another shelter or rescue in your area that's looking for foster families, so check around, ask them questions.

PREVIOUS PODCAST: Seven Reasons to Adopt Senior Dogs

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Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.