What’s it like being a dog foster? Isn’t it difficult to integrate new dogs into your home on an ongoing basis? Aren’t you scared it’s not going to work out? What if you brought home an aggressive dog, aren’t you worried about your resident dogs? What if they tear up your house? Aren’t you afraid of bringing disease into your home? Isn’t it hard to let them go?
Dog fosters are regularly asked these questions, so we thought it was about time to give you our firsthand perspectives.
What’s it like being a dog foster?
Being a dog foster is one of the most rewarding “jobs” available and rescue groups are always “hiring.” To witness a scared, confused, sometimes ill-treated dog open up and gain confidence right in front of your eyes is awe inspiring. You immediately realize how important your role is in his/her transformation. We’ve never met a foster who regretted their decision. While it’s hard and challenging at times, you will grow exponentially from the experience. If you have children, fostering can be an impactful way to teach them about compassion, love, responsibility, and what it means to take care of another life.
Is it difficult to integrate new dogs into your home on an ongoing basis?
This is a mixture of yes and no. Sometimes it depends upon the personality and energy of the incoming foster dog and your dog’s reaction to him/her. Integrating a new foster dog requires some flexibility and patience. But ultimately, you’re the pack leader and they are going to follow your lead. You know your pack better than anyone else and you know what will work and what won’t. Keep as a priority the needs of your pack and make sure the rescue group also understands. Carefully consider the type of dog you are willing to foster. For example, maybe your pack only likes females, or small dogs. Maybe they would do best with puppies or maybe they would prefer seniors. Always provide slow introductions.
Carole: I don’t leave the foster(s) alone with my pack until I completely understand the personality of the new kid. I keep them on a lead, with me, in the house for the first few days. Respect the resident dogs and respect the fear that the new foster may be struggling with.
Kristin: I have a large pack with varying personalities, so I need to be vigilant about their dynamics for the first 48 hours. I pay close attention to body language and look for signs of stress. I also watch my pack’s reaction to the type of energy the foster dog has. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn just by observing small things.
Are you ever scared it’s not going to work out?
Carole: Occasionally, yes. But dogs are so resilient, much more so than people. I have to continually remind myself of that. I also have to remind myself that the first day is always the worst…by far! I’ve had fosters that I immediately deem inappropriate for my home. And have gone as far as contacting the rescue group to say that I think we need to find another solution (i.e. home). Then I walk myself off the cliff, remind myself it’s only day one, and by the next day I’ve completely changed my mind. It’s like I’ve awoken to a different dog. A little love, patience and showing them boundaries does amazing things.
Kristin: That’s always at the forefront of my mind. But what gets me through is knowing that all of the breath-holding is temporary and that eventually things will settle down. I’ve rarely had major issues between a foster dog and my pack, and when they arise, it just takes some creative problem-solving and seeking advice from others to work through it.
What if you brought home an aggressive dog, aren’t you worried about your resident dogs?
Carole: I have zero tolerance for aggression. It brings out the worst in me. But, then I must remember that aggression that is fear based is very different. I’ve gotten much better at identifying that and now can understand and work with it. It just means things need to move slower. As long as the foster dog listens to correction, it means they want to do better. They just need a chance. They need to know you are there for them, that they are protected. They just need to gain some confidence. That being said, it is our job to keep our resident dogs safe and not endanger them in any way. Precautions should always be taken. Be sure you work with a rescue group that will make immediate changes, if you sense a situation is not going to work out. And, always provide slow introductions.
What if they tear up your house?
We would tell anyone before they foster to make sure you have a proper setup in your home. Are you equipped with the proper size crate(s)? Do you have areas for your foster dogs and your resident dogs to be alone and be safe? Make sure you puppy/dog proof your home. And, be prepared that things can and may go wrong. You eventually learn to let go. No one likes having things destroyed, but the fact is, it can happen. Keep in mind that in the scheme of things, stuff can be replaced but you only get one chance to save a life.
Are you afraid of bringing disease into your home?
This should be a concern for anyone who fosters. However, there are precautions to prevent or eliminate the risk. All resident dogs should be completely vaccinated and spayed/neutered if you decide to foster (there are exceptions, of course, but keeping your dogs up to date on medical care is for their protection). Puppy fosters tend to deal with much more disease such as parvo, worms, coccidia, etc. They should be kept away from your resident dogs. Most rescue groups won’t send an ill/contagious dog into someone’s home without proper training and consent. You will also learn that bleach is your new best friend.
How much time should I be prepared to dedicate to fostering? Is it a lot of work?
This answer can vary greatly. It’s quite common to get a dog that fits seamlessly into their new environment and with your pack. When this happens there isn’t much additional time needed on a daily basis. You will need to keep in mind, however, that it is your responsibility to get them to vet visits and adoption events.
If you are willing to take on more difficult cases, such as a sick or injured pup, the requirements can be quite time intensive. This could include time for medications, medicated baths, more vet visits and general caring and clean up.
Litters – it is an ongoing need to find fosters willing to take on Mothers and litters. This requires a separate/private area for the new family. During the first four weeks the mother does all the work. Your only responsibility is to make sure the pups have clean bedding, mom is fed, watered and let out. She will only stay out long enough to do her business. After four weeks, the tides begin to turn. Wigglebutts are all over the place and mom is getting frustrated and just about ready to pass her responsibilities onto you. It’s time to buckle up, enjoy the ride and prepare for some long hours of endless cleaning. We estimate it can take an additional 3+ hours per day of puppy cleaning time. The smaller the litter the better at this point. You will find it literally impossible to believe that puppies could be such dirty little bastards. The saving grace? Your heart will double in size watching them become little moving beings. You will lay on the ground and be covered from head to toe in puppies and you couldn’t be happier. That is, for the few seconds you have a clean room.
Without a doubt the answer to this question is YES. Always yes. Some are harder than others. You and your resident dogs are the ones responsible for the dog they’ve become. You were by their side watching them every step of the way. And they trusted YOU. Now you are letting them go. Every foster deals with this differently, but some become “foster fails,” (the term coined for a foster parent who officially adopts the foster). The more you foster the better you get at this – but it never becomes easy! If you can put aside your own personal attachments to a foster dog, you leave a place open in your home to save another life.
Tips for finding a rescue group to foster for:
- Research foster-based rescue groups in your area; Petfinder is a good starting place.
- Ask your local pet store if they hold adoption events and which rescue groups they partner with.
- Ask around for referrals. Facebook groups can be a great resource.
- Find a group that holds adoption events that are convenient for you.
- Make sure the vet they use (and will require you to use) is convenient for you.
- Make sure the rescue group will cover all the costs of the foster – this includes medical, food, and necessary crates.
- Make sure the rescue group has enough resources to help you in the event that you can’t fulfill your responsibilities.
- Find a group that is active on social media. Getting animals adopted involves good marketing techniques and you want to be with a group that knows how to “pimp the pups.” Are they actively promoting their events? Do they have any TV segments? Do they have a strong Facebook following? How will they help you ensure your foster pup finds a great home?
- Find a rescue group that you like. Make sure you follow the same ethics and you are comfortable with their leadership. Do they pull from high-kill shelters? Do they take mothers along with puppies (i.e., no mother left behind)? Will they take seniors? Will they take ugly ducklings as well as the purebreds?
- Will they allow you to specify what type of foster you are willing to take? Don’t be hesitant to ask questions.
- Bottom line: ALL rescue groups need help. If you can’t foster, then help out at adoption events or help with their administration. It ultimately means more lives can be saved when more help is available.
- We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.