You’re thinking about becoming a foster carer. Congratulations! You’re on your way to helping animals find their forever homes. Pet rescue is about a whole lot more than adopting your own fur friend. In this guide to becoming a foster carer, we’ll cover important points to consider before submitting an application to bring an animal for the short term, including:
- Why animal fostering is important
- What kind of animals can be fostered
- The application process
- The work foster care involves
- The length of time a foster stays with you
- The financial commitments involved in fostering
- Fostering when you have pets
- Adopting your foster pet
Starter Tip: As you go through this guide, take note of any questions you come up with, or things to discuss with your family before deciding to foster a dog, cat, or another animal.
Why fostering an animal is so important
Fostering an animal is an essential part of the pet rescue system. There are many reasons why an animal might need a foster home:
- Some rescue groups don’t have a physical shelter. Without a foster, they can’t commit to an animal.
- Some animals become stressed in shelter environments. This can bring out behaviour issues like aggression, which make the animal harder to re-home.
- Some animals have medical issues that require close supervision.
- Some animals may be too young for a shelter environment. Puppies, for instance, are highly vulnerable to diseases like parvovirus until they are vaccinated. Kittens need to be monitored to see if they’re carrying any viruses that may endanger other shelter animals.
For all these reasons, shelters are often on the lookout for everyday people from their communities who will chip in, now and then, to help foster animals in need.
Fostering also makes animals more adoptable! When you foster an animal, you are able to give detailed answers on their personalities and behaviours. You can also begin essential training, like housebreaking. This will be a huge help when the animal goes to their forever home.
What kind of animals can I foster?
There are all kinds of animals that need foster homes! Foster cats and dogs are the most common, but there are also rescues with small animals, like bunnies, guinea pigs and birds! For some of these animals, a shelter environment can cause a lot of stress. A quiet foster home that provides individualised attention is a saving grace for these animals.
However, before you contact a shelter (remember: time is money), make sure you’ve discussed everything with family members. Most often, the kind of animal you can foster will depend on the kind of space and attention you have.
Quick Tip #1: Consider your home type, schedule, and experience before choosing the type of animal you want to foster. A foster cat may take very little attention, while a large dog or puppy may need lots of exercise and training!
Applying to be a foster carer
Almost all rescue groups have an application process for becoming a foster carer. This begins with an application form. You’ll answer questions about your home, pets, veterinary history and experience with rescue animals. Your application will need to be approved by an animal shelter volunteer before you continue. This process can sometimes take a few weeks, so be patient!
Many groups may also require you to come in for foster carer training. They’ll cover topics like preparing your house and dealing with common rescue animal behaviours. This is also a great time to ask any questions you have about your responsibilities and clarify the types of animals you are comfortable fostering.
At the time of application, you’ll need to be clear about things like:
- any past fostering experience
- how much time will you have for grooming your new foster buddy
- do you have other animals in the house and are they well socialised
- do you have any quarantine-friendly zones in the house (especially if you’d like to foster special needs animals, or extremely young pre-vaccination animals)
- how far do you live from the shelter–especially if the foster animal needs vet checks (most vets who volunteer at shelters live close-by, therefore you would need to drive your charge to the clinic for routine pro bono checkups)
Doing this will help your shelter’s foster care coordinator match you to the animal that’ll suit your lifestyle.
Quick Tip #2: Speak with an animal shelter volunteer to learn more about rescues you are interested in. They can help you decide whether it’s a good fit before you take the time to fill out an application for animal fostering.
What does being a foster carer involve?
When you bring a foster animal home, you should treat them like every other furry member of your family. This means providing a safe, comfortable space to relax, food at mealtimes, plenty of exercise and playtime, and of course, SNUGGLES!
Your foster animal may also have extra requirements. You’ll need to bring your foster animal to the vet for any medical needs they have. You may need to begin training your foster pet, especially covering housebreaking and polite behaviour. Plus, your foster pet will need to meet potential adopters! Most rescue groups will have a main location for “meet & greets”, so you will have to take the time to bring your foster animal there and spend time with potential adopters, telling them about the animal and helping your rescue decide if each home is the right fit.
Quick tip #3: Choose a primary foster carer in your family for the main animal fostering responsibilities. This should be the person (over 18), who is most knowledgeable about fostering dogs and cats and is home the most.
How long will my foster stay with me?
A rescue dog or cat’s stay at your home can vary. An 8-week-old lab puppy will likely be adopted quickly, so you can expect to have them for just a few weeks. On the flip side, if you’re hosting a mama and her babies, you’ll need to keep them until they’re of age, which can be a two-month commitment at least.
Some of the animals who need a foster the most can also take a long time to be re-homed. For instance, large breed dogs, seniors, and special needs animals can be difficult to place. Your rescue group should be able to give you an idea of how long your foster animal will stay with you, but it’s important to keep in mind that this can change!
Quick Tip #4: To be safe, plan on fostering an animal for at least three months. Dog rehoming, especially, can take time! Stay in communication with your pet rescue if you have scheduling conflicts, or need to find another foster for your animal.
Is there a financial commitment?
Almost all rescue groups will cover veterinary care for your foster animals. Most shelters will also provide you with the basics for your animal, including bowls, a collar and leash, litter boxes and scoops for cats and sometimes bedding.
Depending on the size of the rescue, you may be expected to contribute to food costs. You should also consider the cost of any toys you buy for your foster animals, and the gas needed to take your foster animal to the vet, shelter, and adoption events.
Quick Tip #5: Make sure the expenses of any existing pets are covered before considering fostering an animal. Then, set a budget and talk to your pet rescue about how they handle foster care expenses.
Can I foster if I already have a cat or a dog, or both?
Absolutely, but there are a few things to consider! First, you’ll want to think about your own pet’s needs. If you have a dog or cat who doesn’t enjoy other animals, fostering may put too much stress on them. If you have an animal who is protective, they may lash out at a foster pet who is trying to connect with you. This would be a negative experience for both animals, and therefore something you want to avoid.
If you already have a dog, your rescue group may require you to bring your dog to meet any potential foster animal, before they come into your home. This is a great opportunity to see how your pet interacts in a neutral space, before bringing a new furry friend into “their” territory.
You’ll also want to be sure that all the animals in your house are up-to-date on vaccinations, flea and tick medicine. Rescue dogs can bring a host of unexpected “friends” that may not be caught in their initial vetting. Be sure to check your foster dog’s fur for fleas and ticks, and inspect their stool for the first week they are with you, in case of worms. If you find anything suspicious, reach out to your rescue group for advice and treatment.
Quick Tip #6: If you decide to foster a dog or cat, it can be helpful to start them in an enclosed space in your home. Slowly introduce them to the rest of your home and other animals, and make sure each animal has a personal space to retreat to if needed.
Can I adopt my foster pet?
In most cases, YES! Keeping a foster pet is commonly known as a “foster fail” but it’s not a failure at all! Fostering is a wonderful opportunity to see how an animal fits into your family, so if you find an animal that’s perfect, there’s no reason not to become its forever family.
Note: With puppies, there are groups that allow adopters to claim a puppy in advance. So if you are thinking about keeping a young puppy, it’s important to let your rescue know as soon as possible!
Quick Tip #7: If you decide to keep a foster animal, you’ll want to consider if you can continue fostering other animals. You may find that your household is now at full capacity, and you’re unable to provide the space and attention other foster animals would need.
Tying it all together
Once you’ve done your research, you’re ready to foster an animal! You’ll have considered:
- What kind of animal you want to foster
- Which rescue group is right for you
- The work involved in foster care
- The time and financial commitment you’ll make to a foster animal
- The needs of your own pets, and
- How to adopt your foster animal
Again, congratulations on your choice to get involved in animal fostering! This decision will help save animals’ lives, and you may even find your next best friend.
Cover Photo by Margo Brodowicz on Unsplash