As rescue organisations gain traction among the average person or family, so does the need for additional rescue organisations. Anyone in animal welfare will tell you that it feels like the influx of animals needing assistance or re-homing, increases year by year. There never seems to be enough hours in the day, or hands to help, or money in the bank, or space to keep the animals. It’s a constant struggle and many organisations just take it day by day, relying on the good nature of individuals and vets to assist them for another day. It’s a tiring, but rewarding job.
Each one of us, would like to help where we can, I’m sure, and the most commonly asked question that we came across when dealing with the public was that they wanted to foster, but they weren’t sure if they should. Even if the possibility existed, most people were also unsure of what the procedure is, and how it works. So, we set out to answer some of the most common facts you should know about fostering for an animal welfare.
- What does fostering mean – Fostering an animal means that you assist a welfare organisation by letting the animal live with you in your home. Each organisation has their own set of rules regarding this. The basic principle, however, is that you need to make the animal part of your family environment. They should be comfortable and cared for by you and should be taken to any veterinary visits as specified by the organisation. The organisation will also ask you to allow potential adopters to meet with the cat or dog. This will be co-ordinated with you and shouldn’t disrupt your daily routine too much.
- Why are foster homes needed? – Many organisations make use of foster families to help alleviate the stress on shelters. Shelters are also stressful for animals. The high volume of animals in a small space and in cages cause them to act out, and might lead to behavioural issues. Another reason for using foster homes, is to allow an animal to heal from wounds, or for them to get personal attention when they are malnourished. Animals heal so much faster when cared for on a personal level.
- Do I need to provide the food to feed the animal? – In most cases the organisation will assist with food donations. In some cases, the foster parent is in a better financial position and will willingly donate the food for the cat or dog from their own pocket. This is something that you need to ask before offering to foster. It is important to note that the food provided to the pet should be wholesome and nutritious and that the diet of the pet should be specified by the organisation.
- What about any medical costs? – While the foster animal is in your care, they will be covered by the rescue organisation you are fostering for. If the animal gets sick or hurt, you will need to contact the adoption officer first, to find out which vet will assist you on their account. This is why it is so important to assist welfare organisations with their veterinary bills. Vets, in most cases are willing to help day and night, but the cost of materials and medications need to be covered from somewhere. So, if you are not in the position to foster, you should consider making a donation every now and again. You can even pay the vet directly.
- While the dog or cat stays with you, they need appropriate stimulation. – This is a biggy. Giving an animal a place to stay for a few weeks is admirable, but if you come home to the fact that Fido has chewed up your couch, or Sylvester has given your curtains a makeover, you will quickly lose your sense of humour. When you agree to foster, you agree to take care of this animal, as if it was your own. Walking, playing and giving this animal enough of your time is part of your job as a foster parent.
- Training is good for you and your foster. – I’m a big advocate that you should try to teach your foster the basics of good behaviour while they live with you. It’s not hard and you could probably Google or Youtube your way through teaching a dog to sit and wait for their food. This makes the puppy more “adoptable”. Most people, whether they care to admit it or not, would rather adopt a dog that has the basic skills. Granted that some skills are easier to teach than others, why not consult the trainer or behaviourist working with your welfare organisation. They are usually happy to assist, because they know the value a few good manners can bring to an adoption.
- What about the other animals in my home. – When you apply to foster for a welfare, they should ask you what your current situation looks like at home. This is important. You won’t send an unneutered dog to live with a family that has an unsterilized female, for instance. The same would apply to temperament. If the dog in question isn’t cat friendly, the foster parents need to know about that before agreeing to care for it. The pet you agree to foster should always fall in with your current family unit. If you have any doubts or concerns about this, please discuss it with your chosen rescue organisation. Please also don’t allow yourself to be pressured into taking in an animal, if you are unsure. The welfare of your own pets is just as important as helping rescue animals. Don’t compromise on this.
- What if it doesn’t work out. – In the event that you do take in a dog that digs up your garden, or a cat that hisses at your kids, it is important to communicate that fact to the welfare organisation that you are fostering for. In most cases that pet will be moved. This can, unfortunately, only happen if they have another foster willing to assist. ( Do you now see why this network is so important?) You also should ask yourself how serious the problem is. If you can handle the behaviour or put arrangements in place to avoid the behaviour, I would encourage that, but if you feel out of your depth, please make it known and act in the best interest of all involved by contacting the rescue organisation.
- If they find their forever home, how do I let them go? – This is probably the most common question we hear. The fact of the matter is that, if you apply to be a foster parent, you are signing up to be a super hero. You will have dogs or cats, maybe both, passing through your house, and your life. Sometimes, they don’t stay long. Other times, they stay for months. You will bond with these animals. You will often see them heal and grow and come out of their shells, after a life of neglect or abuse. I would like to suggest that before you start your journey, take some time to write out why you want to be a foster parent. Put this somewhere you can find it, and when you feel those anxious moments creeping up on you, take out that piece of paper and read it. Foster parents are rescue workers. You won’t be doing this for any credit or recognition, and you won’t be doing this for money. You will be doing this because you are a hardcore animal welfare supporter. Bravery like that needs a reminder sometimes.
- What is a foster failure? – Every now and again, we hear of a family that takes in a dog or a cat and they fall hopelessly in love with them. This is what is referred to as a “foster failure”. The animal will go from foster pet to forever pet, and will join the family as one of their own. These are normally my all-time favourite stories. Don’t be surprised if your adoption officer already has the paperwork ready by the time your realise that your foster is a fail. They normally know before you do!