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What You Should Know Before Fostering An Animal

Sep 9th, 2022

Looking to foster an animal? Awesome!

Before you dive into the foster animal world and become the heroes we already know you to be (because superheroes always save animals!), there are a few things to consider. This isn't meant to discourage you, by any means, but rather to prepare you for some of the questions, concerns and topics that may come up during the process that are best addressed sooner than later.

Advice for fostering dogs and cats

What qualifications do you need to meet?

This goes beyond just filling out a standard application and attending any training sessions your local foster organization requires. The paperwork is the easy part, but the reality of looking after an animal also requires a fair bit of soul-searching. 

For one, does your home and lifestyle offer the flexibility required to take care of an animal, not to mention one that may have special needs? Do you have the time to put into caring for, training and nurturing an animal enough to qualify it for adoption? Do you have any experience owning a pet or caring for animals and, of course, can you or family handle the emotional upheaval that comes with caring for an animal that you don’t get to keep?

These are some big questions, and ones that should be taken seriously before you even begin the process of fostering an animal.

Consider the list of supplies

If you don’t already have a pet, then fostering an animal is going to mean a run to the store and some prep around the house. Be sure to check what supplies your foster shelter is willing to provide and what they require you to have before you go out and buy anything.

At the minimum, a typical foster dog will require:

  • High quality food
  • Flea and heartworm medicine
  • A dog crate
  • A leash, collar and/or harness
  • Bowls for food and water
  • An ID tag with your information on it

Most of the cats that end up in foster care are kittens or pregnant moms, so they will likely need:

  • Litter box and litter
  • Kitten toys
  • Cat food or kitten replacer
  • Nursing bottles
  • Cat carrier
  • Soft bed and blankets
  • Heating pad, especially for orphaned kittens

You also need to consider the supplies you’ll need to adapt to having additional pets in the house, like baby gates, cleaning supplies, pet-friendly furniture and the like.

Consider the cost

Some shelters cover all the costs that come with fostering an animal, including medication, food, toys and vaccinations. However, the policies differ from shelter to shelter, so you may end up covering some or all of the cost of your foster pet. 

Check your rental policy

If you live in a rental apartment or home, then check your rental agreement to find out if there are any restrictions that may prevent you from fostering. Some rentals have restrictions on the number of animals allowed, animal breeds, pet weight or pet size. Also consider if your rental will accommodate any additional noise from barking puppies or meowing kittens, or if there are pet-friendly spaces to exercise your animals nearby.

Will your pets be okay with a foster pet?

If your own pets can’t handle additional animals, then that will absolutely affect your decision. It’s no use trying to help another animal if you will be harming your own in the process.

If you’re able to separate your existing pets from your foster animals, then great! Cats should be kept separate as a rule, as they are introverted creatures by nature and are prone to stress around unfamiliar animals.  

Here are some things to ask yourself about your existing pets:

  • Will my pet cope with another animal in their space?
  • Will my pet still get enough exercise, socialization and attention?
  • Can my pet share toys?
  • Will my pet need to have separate food for the foster animal?
  • Are my pets healthy enough to introduce more health-vulnerable animals into the home?

Will you need to pet proof your home?

Pet proofing your home will not just keep your furniture and items protected, but it will keep your foster pets safe and your stress levels low. Kittens and puppies tend to chew on anything they find, and hyperactive dogs can do far worse damage. Evaluate your space and determine what you’ll need to do to accommodate any new additions.

This may mean setting up a baby gate to off-limit areas, adding child-proof locks to cabinets, covering furniture with washable covers, dedicating an entire room to kittens or vulnerable animals or removing plants that are toxic to pets. 

What exercise & training regimens can you accommodate?

Not only are you putting a roof over an animal’s head, but you are caring for their health and, hopefully, setting them up for success on the adoption market! This means keeping them both physically and mentally healthy, which means providing them with plenty of good exercise and a healthy environment.

You may also need to work on good manners with dogs, so anticipate at least some level of training into their stay with you. Ask the foster shelter if there is anything that they may know already or any commands they need to work on. The dog will be healthier and smarter, and you will have a calmer and happier pet! It’s a win-win!

Can you accommodate an animal’s special needs?

Oftentimes, foster pets are animals that, for whatever reason, cannot stay at a shelter. This may be due to a contagious disease like fleas, respiratory issues, skin conditions or parasites that can infect other animals. 

The animal may also be pregnant, and the shelter may not be clean, safe or calm enough to keep the mother and babies happy and healthy. Animals may also be under- or over-weight and require special food and exercise regimens, or they may be recovering from surgery and need a quiet, clean place to recover. 

Finally, your foster pet may have some trauma or mental issues that can’t be properly treated in a shelter full of other animals. 

For the animal's health and the health of your pets, you need to be absolutely sure that you’re willing to care for an animal’s special needs before you take it in. This may mean hourly feedings, daily flea baths, weekly trips to the vet, bandage checks, tough exercise regimens or weeks’ worth of gaining a skittish dog’s trust. 

Bottom line, know what you’re getting into beforehand!

Can you handle the emotional side of fostering an animal?

At the end of the day, you’re taking in an animal with the hopes of finding it a forever home with someone else (if you don’t decide to adopt it yourself). This can be an incredibly emotional time for foster parents, especially young kids who may not understand why their new best friend has to leave. 

So the question, then, is not just whether you can take in an animal, but can you also let it go?

Make sure you and your family are fully prepared to do the work, put in the time and let go of your foster pet so that it gets the best life it could possibly get, wherever that may be.

Also, be aware that you’ll have to answer questions from friends, family and strangers all the time

“Yes, this is our dog, but no we aren't keeping them. He’s a foster! Would you like to adopt him?” 

“No, this isn’t the same cat we had last week. That one got adopted!”

“Yes, this puppy is up for adoption, and here are the details.” 

“Nope, this is our cat, you can’t have that one — but you can adopt this one!”

You get the picture. You’re a walking billboard, so promote your foster pet and your local foster program!

In the end

In the end, there’s a lot that will happen on your foster pet journey that you just can’t prepare for, but knowing a little about what goes into it will help you and your foster pet in the long run.

Ask your foster shelter plenty of questions about the foster animal process to really learn how they run things, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need any!

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/mariamza

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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