Thinking about fostering an adoptable cat or dog?

“Can we crash on your couch?” (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

Next to owning a dog or cat, there is nothing more enjoyable or rewarding than fostering an animal from your local shelter or rescue group. Even if you have a pet at home, you might be able to fit in a temporary tenant — a dog or cat making the transition from shelter to a new adoptive family.

“It’s a tremendously fulfilling position to be in, knowing that you’ve helped an animal through a difficult period in their lives into the adoptable category,” says Brian Probst, volunteer services manager for the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo, Calif. “Many of our volunteers are so excited when they find out that an animal they fostered has found a really good home.”

Unsure if you’re the fostering kind? There is no perfect profile of a foster family, but there are some things you should know before volunteering at your local shelter or contacting a rescue group.

There’s a time commitment. You may be asked to foster a dog or cat from two weeks to two months, depending on circumstances. Foster parents don’t need to be home 24 hours a day, but you might have to postpone that weekend getaway or family vacation if you’re asked to take care of an animal for a while.

There are different types of fostering. Shelters need foster parents for puppies or young dogs, for kittens, for animals needing medical care, or for dogs with behavioral issues. It doesn’t mean you have to be able to foster all of those types; you might just want to foster kittens or pups. But foster parents are needed in all of those categories, and shelters typically offer orientation or instruction to help you deal with each type.

You may be asked to work with a dog on some basic training and temperament issues. There’s more than just feeding, exercise, and grooming involved with a foster dog. Some might need to be housetrained. Others may have problems with chewing, or jumping on strangers. Foster parents may need to devote time to breaking bad habits so a dog can be socialized. If a dog has a chewing problem, make preparations in advance — don’t leave shoes, clothes, or other important items around.

You might be asked to nurse a dog or cat back to health. It could require giving them medication at certain times of the day or perhaps bathing them periodically. If you have pets at home, you may have to keep them separated if the foster dog or cat is contagious. Before taking in an animal that’s recovering from an illness or disease, check with your vet if you have concerns about your own pets.

For many foster parents, the single biggest concern is falling in love, especially if you already have pets at home. After all, what’s another dog or cat in the household?

It’s admirable, but as experts point out, it’s not always the best thing. If you adopt a pet that you’re fostering, you might have reached your limit of household pets and not be able to accept any others. That’s one less foster home for the shelter to rely on.

“You have to keep in mind how many dogs you can provide for on a daily basis,” says Amy Romanofsky, who owns the website FosterDogs.com. “More than one dog is too many for some people. You have to keep in mind, if I adopt this dog, can I keep on fostering?”

There’s no question that foster programs are important to the success of shelters and rescue groups. Because of overcrowding issues, many shelters are continually in need of room for incoming animals. Without foster programs, some dogs and cats might have to be euthanized.

“If they’re run correctly, they can be incredibly important and useful to the work the animal shelter does,” said Kim Intino, director of animal sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States. “Foster programs are there to help animals who are probably at risk at the shelter because they’re sick, old, or have other issues that make them difficult for the staff to care for. At foster homes, they get out of the shelter environment and have a chance to be treated, rehabbed, and later adopted.”

Even a little time with a family, away from the confined space of a kennel and the continual barking, can improve an animal’s disposition. “A shelter environment is stressful,” says Kiska Icard, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “These animals are at their most fragile. Just for their health, it’s better for them to be raised in foster homes.”

What’s the financial commitment for a family?

In most cases, shelters will pay for vet visits and medications and can provide for other necessities if requested — dog dishes, bedding, collars, ID tags, and crates. Before becoming a foster parent, ask what your financial responsibilities will be.

“At the San Francisco SPCA, we provide everything but cat litter,” Icard says. “We want them to be set up for success. Having said that, every time I get a new animal or a new litter, I always make a trip to the pet store (for toys and other things), but that’s my own choice.”

Have you fostered a pet before? Post a comment below about your pet fostering experience.