Fostering 101 (Dogs and Cats)

Posted on May 10th, 2015 by Anna Nirva

Definition of “fostering”

Providing a temporary home for a shelter or rescue animal, while they are on their path to permanent adoption, as a volunteer for a shelter or a rescue. Foster-to-adopt situations, also known as trial adoptions, are not addressed here. There is a difference between fostering homeless animals and pet-sitting family pets for family, friends and neighbors. Homeless animals usually don’t know their names nor the people helping them along the rescue road. They don’t know anything about where they are at first. And they are typically grateful for your role in saving their lives and getting them out of the shelter. They know.

Typical foster responsibilities may include:

Provide food and shelter

  • In-home living 24/7 usually required for cats and pocket pets; foster dogs might enjoy some outdoor time such as walks and backyard play time
  • Crate sleeping and feeding often recommended
  • Meals twice daily
  • Fresh water availability at all times
  • Dogs are provided appropriate pottying time outdoors
  • Dogs are always leashed outdoors, unless the yard is securely fenced (no free-roaming allowed)
  • Cats are provided litter boxes, cleaned daily
  • Socializing time with family members and other family pets AFTER the foster dog or cat has had appropriate time to settle in and relax

Provide some additional services (these will vary depending on foster type and shelter/rescue organization)

  • Attend training classes with the foster pet, to help the pet become more adoptable and better socialized
  • Attend adoption marketing events with the foster pet, to help the pet meet potential adopters
  • Drive foster pets to and from vet appointments
  • Answer email inquiries, speak with potential adopters on the phone, meet with potential adopters, all to provide essential information about the temperament and health of the foster pet

 

Types of foster homes needed

  1. Kitten/cat
  2. Large-medium dog/puppy
  3. Small dog/puppy
  4. Behavioral needs
  5. Medical needs
  6. Seniors
  7. Undersocialized cats
  8. Respite care
  9. Momma & litter of cats
  10. Momma & litter of dogs
  11. Transport overnights
  12. Service dog
  13. Military family dog
  14. Animals that may be awaiting a court disposition


Kitten / cat

Any healthy feline of any age

Basic requirements:  

Indoor living. For families with owned pets, having a quiet warm room with a door that can be closed is essential to providing safe haven during the transition period. Separate clean food and water dishes and separate clean litter boxes are needed, as are cat toys. An snug airline crate can be helpful. If the foster family has no other pets, a snug crate or retreat space (even a cardboard box with blankets inside) is still desirable. Many cats are shy and reserved when in new environments and relaxing inside a retreat is comforting. Cats typically sleep 18 hours a day.

Why cat fosters are needed:

There are not enough homes for shelter cats so many are euthanized for space in communities all across the nation, due to the proliferation of free kittens. Cats are sometimes viewed as more disposable pets than dogs, compounding the problem. Casual cat owners are less likely to spay or neuter; some owners will fix their dogs but not their cats. Providing foster homes for cats opens up space for more incoming cats, saving lives.


Large-medium dog / puppy

Dogs and puppies that will exceed 25 pounds when mature

Basic requirements:

Indoor living. For families with owned pets, keeping foster dogs in a quiet warm room such as a laundry or mud room can be helpful during the transition period when all the pets are getting to know each other. A kennel in the basement can be useful, if not too small. Separate clean food and water dishes are needed, and toys. A clean dog bed or thick blanket will help keep the dog comfortable when resting. Dogs typically sleep or rest 16 hours a day. When taking the dog outside for potty, use leashes 100% of the time (unless your yard is fenced), because the dog will likely try to escape to return to its previous environment. Make sure the dog has a snug-fitting  collar with an ID tag and current phone number on the tag.

Why large dog fosters are needed:

Large dogs and medium dogs are less popular than small dogs, so they often spend more time in the shelter or rescue system. In some communities, they are at higher risk for space-euthanasia. When you foster a large dog, you are saving a life. Pit bull fosters and hound type dog fosters are especially needed.


Small dog / puppy

Dogs and puppies that will be smaller than 25 pounds when mature

Basic requirements:

Indoor living. For families with owned pets, keeping foster dogs in a quiet warm room such as a laundry or mud room can be helpful during the transition period when all the pets are getting to know each other. A kennel in the basement can be useful, if not too small. Separate clean food and water dishes are needed, and toys. A clean dog bed or thick blanket will help keep the dog comfortable when resting. Dogs typically sleep or rest 16 hours a day. When taking the dog outside for potty, use leashes 100% of the time (unless your yard is fenced), because the dog will likely try to escape to return to its previous environment. Make sure the dog has a snug-fitting  collar with an ID tag and current phone number on the tag.

Why small dog fosters are needed:

It is estimated that 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are put to sleep in shelters and pounds every year, because of lack of space. Every dog you foster opens up a kennel somewhere and saves a life.


Behavioral needs

Troubled dogs who need socialization or rehabilitation to become adoptable in the future

Basic requirements:

In addition to the requirements outlined above, the foster should have broad experience in handling and caring for dogs who need socialization or rehabilitation. The foster should be competent in understanding dog behaviors and modeling human behaviors that reduce stress for the foster dog. Owned pets in the home should be emotionally stable and less reactive to stress and other animals.

Why training/rehab fosters are needed:

Shelters and pounds are poor environments for dogs with these issues, causing stress and worsening of symptoms and euthanasia is often the sad solution. Rescues will take in dogs with treatable behavior issues, if a knowledgeable foster is available. True sanctuaries, guaranteeing loving care for the lifetime of a troubled animal, are rare.


Medical needs

Dogs or cats that are recovering from an illness or surgery

Basic requirements:

In addition to the basic requirements for dog or cats described above, a medical foster should be comfortable providing some medical services such as administering medications or shots and changing dressings or bandages. The medical foster should have a keen eye for behaviors that indicate pain or distress, so appropriate action can be undertaken when needed.

Why medical fosters are needed:

Shelters and pounds are poor environments for dogs and cats with medical issues. A knowledgeable medical foster can truly save a life by providing a healing environment and opening up a spot for another incoming homeless pet.


Seniors

Dogs or cats that are middle-aged or older (best guess)

Basic requirements:

Indoor living. Most often, the basic dog or cat requirements described above suffice for senior dogs or cats without medical issues. They are usually less active and require less exercise, making them ideal for some foster situations.

Why senior fosters are needed:

Senior dogs and cats are slower to be adopted and they typically are uncomfortable in a shelter environment, leading to euthanasia for space reasons. Yet they make wonderful companions and seem to bond very well with their new families. Saving the life of a senior dog or cat through fostering is extremely rewarding.


Undersocialized cats

Cats of any age that have not been socialized properly can often be made adoptable by training them to tolerate some human contact

Basic requirements:

A garage or outbuilding that can provide safe haven, space for food and water bowls, cat beds and toys is ideal for rehabilitating undersocialized cats to accept some human contact or companionship. Ideally the cat is fully vetted.

Why undersocialized cat fosters are needed:

Unsocialized cats are frequently euthanized; they might be the most severely threatened demographic of all homeless companion animals. If an unsocialized cat can be vetted and trained to tolerate some human contact, even outdoors, the cat can lead a reasonably content life as a barn or warehouse cat.


Respite care

Short-term foster care for weekend or a week, when the long-term foster needs to travel

Basic requirements:

See requirements above suitable for the pet.

Why respite care fosters are needed:

To make foster care for feasible and attractive for long-term fosters, supporting the foster care system and ultimately saving lives.


Momma and litter / cats

Mother and babies of any age, usually under 8 weeks

Basic requirements:

Indoor living. Stay at home foster care (full time care in the home) usually required. Willingness to bottle-feed on a schedule may be needed for very young babies. A nursery of some type is usually set up (possibly in an easy-clean  plastic tub), with a washable towel bed for nursing and sleeping.

Why cat litter fosters are needed:

Nursing mothers aren’t usually comfortable in a noisy shelter environment, so some shelters and pounds will euthanize a family that doesn’t have rescue or a foster home available. Orphan kittens are especially at risk for euthanasia in some shelters. Foster homes for litters saves lives.


Momma and litter / dogs

Mother and babies of any age, usually under 8 weeks

Basic requirements:

Indoor living. Stay at home foster care (full time care in the home) usually required. Willingness to bottle-feed on a schedule may be needed for very young babies. A nursery of some type is usually set up (possibly in an easy-clean  swimming pool), with a washable towel bed for nursing and sleeping. Because nursing mother dogs can be very protective of their babies, a home without toddlers may be required.

Why dog litter fosters are needed:

Nursing mothers aren’t usually comfortable in a noisy shelter environment, so some shelters and pounds will euthanize a family that doesn’t have rescue or a foster home available. Orphaned puppies are especially at risk for euthanasia in some shelter environments and fostering will save their lives.


Transport overnight fostering

Dogs and puppies, cats and kittens

Basic requirements:

Indoor sheltering. For families with owned pets, keeping foster pets in a quiet warm room such as a laundry or mud room is usually best, especially if the transport pets are not fully vetted, posing health risks to your own pets. A kennel in the basement can be useful, if not too small. Separate clean food and water dishes are needed, clean washable bedding and toys are needed. For cats, a separate litter box is needed. When taking the dog outside for potty, use leashes 100% of the time, because the dog will likely try to escape (unless your yard is securely fenced; remember to consider fence height if the rescue dog is large and athletic). Make sure all transport pets being overnighted have snug-fitting  collars with an ID tag and current phone number on the tag.

Why transport fosters are needed:

Transporters of rescue dogs and cats drive relay legs over very long distances to bring them to new rescue/shelter organizations and opportunities for adoption. Typically just the animals are overnighted, as the overnight city is also the transport relay point. The incoming driver returns home and the next morning’s driver lives nearby. Overnight fostering allows the animals to feed and rest, and so refreshed, they can continue on their journey. This type of fostering is ideal for those animal lovers who have some roomy, clean accommodations at their home (and perhaps the yard) and can drive short distances to pick up and drop off the animals from and to the transport relay points. Kibble often accompanies the animals but not always. Be sure to ask.


Service dog

Large breed puppies, from 10 weeks old, for 6 months or 1 year

Basic requirements:

Indoor living as a full-fledged family member, with a prescribed term commitment required in advance. Service dogs  typically require a crate, clean bedding, food and water dishes, and toys. Service dog organizations provide a set of requirements and recommendations, including requirements for daily beginning dog training, exercise, frequent socialization, repeated familiarization with a variety of situations, and may include weekly or biweekly checkins.

Why service dog fosters are needed:

Service dogs will provide necessary, life-changing services to individuals with medical needs when their training is completed. Seeing eye dogs, hearing dogs, medical alert dogs, autistic support dogs, are just some of the needs for highly trained and certified service dogs. When you foster a service dog, you help an individual and perhaps an entire family that is dealing with a profound issue.


Military family dog or cat (or other pets)

Why military pet fosters are needed:

Military members being deployed may need foster care for their pet(s) for a defined term. This is a very rewarding way for animal lovers to support our troops. Typically a foster care agreement defines all areas of pet-keeping such as responsibility for veterinary care expectations and expenses. Contingencies for deployment extensions and other potential changes are included in these agreements. A pet profile form provides details about the pet to be fostered. The military service member and the foster family will typically remain in communication during the deployment. Contact base command to inquire about opportunities if you are located near a military base, or go to http://dogsondeployment.org/.


Court case animals

Cruelty, neglect, hoarding, dog fighting, or other crimes against animals are prosecuted and the animals might be held until sentencing and disposition is decided. Fostering these animals helps them stay healthier and happier, and opens up more space at the shelter, ultimately saving lives.


 

Choosing a rescue or shelter

Research opportunities on the internet and simply make inquiries to the organizations you find interesting. Observe the responses and application processes. Ask questions. Well-organized and responsible shelters and rescues will stand out. Choose to work with organizations based on what you have learned about them during your correspondence and the application process. If a trusting rapport develops during that process, you are off to an auspicious start.

  • Mixed breed and purebred animal fostering opportunities are readily available. If you have a passion for any particular breed or type of dog or cat, search the internet for breed rescues. If you like many breeds and mixed breeds, you might find opportunities closer to home. Petfinder.com can be very helpful.
  • Don’t let distance deter you from inquiring. Many rescues routinely engage volunteer foster homes 100 or 200 miles or even farther away from the rescue owner.
  • Some organizations will require you live within a specific distance or within a specific county.
  • Organizations that rely on foster programs are motivated to enlist you as a foster volunteer because the needs are so great. While your environment and daily routine might not allow for certain types of fostering, they will work with you to find fostering opportunities to suit. Many shelters and some rescues need fosters for sweet, lower-maintenance pocket pets and birds too!

 

Foster approval process overview

A foster application process is much like an adoption application process. Typically, the foster approval process is a one-time event; the process is designed to ensure there will be happy matches between animals and foster home. Every rescue or shelter will provide their own requirements to potential fosters and typically a foster agreement form and approval process will itemize these to ensure shared understanding of the requirements.

Fosters will need to provide references and typically home visits are required to ensure safety for everyone. Home visits may also be provided through video streaming (Facetime, etc.). The process might take up to several weeks before the new foster is approved. When individual animals are delivered (or picked up), further paperwork isn’t usually required.

After approval, the foster typically has the right to say whether or not the proposed foster animal is suitable for their environment, before the animal is delivered or picked up. A large-dog foster might refuse to foster an energetic Great Dane, for example, if the dog weighs more than the foster and the dog’s leash skills are poor. If the animal is discovered to be a poor fit for a foster, usually the organization and the foster work together to plan for a change over a period of days.

 

Questions to ask the rescue or shelter about fostering for the organization:

  1. What is the current emergency contact and phone number to use?
  2. What methods of communication are preferable for that contact?
  3. Who chooses the vet, non-emergency and emergency situations?
  4. What is the vet visit approval process and vet payment process?
  5. Who provides food?
  6. Who provides crate, bed, leash, collar, ID tags, toys?
  7. Who provides medications if needed?
  8. What is the plan if the fostered dog or cat doesn’t fit the foster environment well?
  9. Are there any training resources for the animal?
  10. What happens if the foster falls in love with the animal?

 

Questions to ask about the individual animal being proposed to the foster:

  1. What is the personality and activity level of the animal?
  2. What are house-training and leash-training needs?
  3. What are the environmental requirements, such as fences or special sleeping areas?
  4. How should the foster pet be introduced to the owned pets?
  5. What is the feeding and potty and exercise schedule currently established with the animal?
  6. Any mobility issues or medical needs?
  7. What training classes or adoption events will the foster pet and foster need to attend?

 

About escaped foster dogs

Foster dogs are always considered “flight risks” especially during the first week of residence in the foster home. An escaped dog may be extremely hard to catch. Why? Well, they are faster than you are, to start!

  • They often do not know their new name.
  • They often don’t know the “come” command (might be completely untrained).
  • They remember their previous home and family and want to return to it.
  • They don’t know you at all, so they don’t associate you with affection and food. You are just another kind stranger, met along with a series of other kind strangers during their rescue journey.
  • They just don’t want to be captured. Shy dogs are frightened by the new environment. Or curious dogs want to follow their noses and explore. Some dogs are chronic escapees, looking for adventure. Young, unfixed dogs are likely to go looking for romance.

This web page is very helpful, if your dog has escaped, no matter where you are:

http://lostdogsofwisconsin.org/lost-a-dog/recovery-procedures/

 

Foster preparation: a week before

The most important preparation will involve your household members, your family. These are the discussions to have with everyone in the home (except infants):

  1. Simple dog and cat body language shared and discussed, especially signs of stress.
  2. Rules established for visitors and greeting manners (human greetings are considered rude by dogs and cats).
  3. Flight risks discussed among all. Rules established for closing doors and windows and gates to prevent escapes.
  4. Who is primary caregiver and secondary (backup) caregiver? 1-Daily feeding and 2-Exercise and 3-Potty times established and posted prominently for reference.
  5. The shelter or rescue is not responsible for damages caused by permissive or careless pet management practices. Ensure the entire family understands the responsibilities for maintaining safety in the home.

 

Preparation Foster Responsibility Shelter/Rescue Responsibility
House safety preparation
  • Puppy (or dog) proofing; valuables stored safely
  • Room or crate preparation
  • Cleaning chemicals are hidden
Advise foster family about energy level of the dog and apparent signs of the pet never having lived indoors
Fence, yard & garage safety preparation
  • Fence is strong and tight
  • Garage door can be shut tightly
  • Yard chemicals are stored high up
Advise foster about any known fence climbing or door opening abilities
Cleanup supplies (non-toxic)
  • Gentle dog and cat shampoos
  • Floor and carpet cleaners
Advise foster family of any known house-breaking needs and training steps

 

Foster preparation: the day before

  • Family meeting to ensure everyone is prepared and understands the rules. Talk about the specific animal’s characteristics and behaviors and needs, as well as new responsibilities for family members.
  • Schedule cleared for a few days to help family and pets settle in and get to know each other.
  • Crates, bedding/blankets, food and bowls, toys, leashes ready.
  • All household chemicals and other risky items are secured away in closets or inaccessible shelves.
  • Valuable collectibles and belongings are secured away in closets or inaccessible shelves.

 

Fostering during the first hours and days

  • Meet the family humans one at a time, good dog greeting manners practiced (no staring, no crowding).
  • Meeting the family dogs outside on neutral territory until ease is observed.
  • Let the foster animal have plenty of “chill” time during the first days or a week, because moving to a new place is stressful. This might mean keeping the foster animal separated from family pets, using separate rooms or pet gates in the home.
  • Feed separately; provide treats and toys separately.
  • Cats might not be introduced to other family cats for many days or weeks as cats may be slower to accept newcomers.

 

A few tips for successful fostering

Situations Tips to prevent
The foster pet escapes and is lost (a common and potentially tragic problem)
  • All family members discuss strategies for remembering to close doors, windows and fence gates. Don’t forget to close your garage door before you let the dog out of the car!
  • Discuss safe collar and leash practices.
  • Make certain the collar has a current ID tag. If not, purchase one the first day and put it on.
The foster pet has common digestive upsets because of new environment stress
  • Reduce food and treat intake for a few days and avoid vigorous exercise after meals.
  • Feed the foster pet separately and pick up the food bowl after mealtime.
The foster pet isn’t socializing well with the family pets
  • Consult with the shelter or rescue early on, but expect some discomfort at first as the pack adjusts. Some grumbling and staring would be normal, but if the owned pets are well socialized and the foster animal is also, the tensions will likely subside in a few days.
  • Baby gates can separate animals during the first week or two of adjustment in the home.
  • Always feed foster animals separately and use crates or separate rooms for time-outs.
  • Cats may take longer to accept a foster cat. Keep the foster cat in a separate room.
The foster dog is barking and annoying neighbors
  • Provide a very quiet indoor environment where less outside noise may be heard. A dog that is new to the home might be excessively nervous in the early days; barking may subside.
  • Try dog pheromones or Rescue Remedy essence.
  • If the dog is used to being with other dogs continually and is now alone, the dog might be barking to alert other dogs for social reasons. Try a soothing music radio or TV. Some dogs do better in multi-dog families. A different foster home might be helpful.

 

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