Fostering a rescue dog is one of the most helpful and rewarding things an animal lover can do. The Petco Foundation has stated that if just 2% of U.S. households fostered a shelter pet, there wouldn’t be any unnecessary euthanasia. Now that we have your attention, here’s everything you need to know about fostering a rescue dog, from finding the right match to “failing” in the best possible way.
First and foremost, be sure that you’re permitted to have a dog — and what kind and/or size. “It’s important that a foster is allowed to have certain breeds. Many apartment complexes or condo communities can restrict by breed. Some forbid having a pet at all,” says Kelly Reeves, Co-founder and President of Paw Prints in the Sand Animal Rescue in Newport Beach, California. Even if you own your own home, you may be part of a homeowner’s association, so be sure to check the by-laws for any restrictions applying to dogs.
Next, are you ready to commit to caring for and having the dog in your home for a month to possibly a year or more? Will you be able to make room in your schedule and not just your Instagram feed for quality care and time? Ponder any lifestyle changes that may be on the horizon as well.
Karen Bury, a volunteer and foster for Fur Babies, a small, not-for-profit rescue in New York operated out of foster homes around the state, counsels potential fosters to hold a household meeting. Get together, and she says, “Ask yourselves, ‘Is the whole family on board — including extended family members who may be called upon to help at times?’ Are the children mature enough to understand that you’re taking care of the pup and making them ready to find a forever home? Do you have the time to devote to care that can include training, medical care, and love for the dog without anyone in the household feeling left out?’”
Understand that many fosters will not immediately be the ideal pet. Lisa Faulkner-Dunne, Vice President, fostering and community outreach at The DAWG Project in Dallas, Texas, says, “Expect the dog to be scared or shut down, sometimes for a few days, sometimes a week or more. Foster families need to know that rarely is a foster dog going to walk in their door and immediately be part of the family.” Make sure you’re going to be comfortable giving your new roommate a bit of time to decompress.
Related: Bringing Home a New Dog – Tips to have a Pawsome First 30 Days
There is no road map to successful fostering. Dogs, just like, people, are unique individuals, so there is no set process. Thus, for foster families, “The best mindset should be to expect the unexpected,” says Bury. Reeves agrees. “[They should] be prepared for anything. Don’t expect the perfect foster pet,” she says. “There is always going to be the possibility of health or behavior issues.”
Murphy Weil, rescued by Bailey Gives Back
While social media can be the best place to discover your new summer jam, it isn’t necessarily the best place to identify the right rescue organization for you. Sure, start there (because you’re on it right now, multitasking while reading this, amirite?), but then do your due diligence.
Bury says, “The internet, as we know, is not always reliable. You can have one person who is upset that they didn’t get the dog they wanted because the family wasn’t a fit and that one person can slander the rescue organization unjustifiably.” Reeves advises potential fosters, “Find out who has fostered for the rescue in the past and ask what their experience was like. I know of plenty of rescue groups that seem reputable on paper or social media, but they’re not.”
Don’t forget to mine your immediate circle for help in connecting with the right rescue. “Asking friends and family to recommend places where they’ve fostered or adopted is a good route to take,” advises Faulkner-Dunne.
Rachel Weil, founder of Bailey Gives Back, a 501c (3) rescue group in Los Angeles, California, says, “Making sure the organization is a 501c (3) is a good start.” And to confirm the legitimacy, Faulkner-Dunne recommends checking a group’s rating on Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities.
Applications are a standard part of the adoption process. They can be lengthy, but they are necessary. Weil states, “Reputable rescue groups always take applications for their adoptable animals.” Most, if not all, will ask for at least three references. Find people who can attest to your love for animals as well as those who can confirm you’re a person of good character and integrity.
Like most dedicated rescue operators, Weil insists on home visits for all her potential adopters or fosters. Take time to be sure you can and have made room in your home for your foster dog. This includes pet-proofing your home and being able to show you have a family care plan for your new buddy.
Related: 8 Steps to Prepare Your Home for a New Dog
If this is your first time fostering, it could also be your first time opening your home to a rescue dog. So, obvs, you may not have a vet. Find one.
While legit rescues typically cover healthcare costs and have a veterinary practice they work with at discounted rates, an emergency can arise. Having a local-to-you emergency care vet at the ready can mean the difference between life or death. “If there is a situation where the foster lives too far from the vet of record or in an emergency, the rescue group does cover those bills,” reveals Bury. Be sure to confirm the rescue organization you choose has a similar policy.
Related: Tips for Finding the Right Vet for Your Pet
Rescue organizations typically have photos of all their adoptable/fosterable pets on their websites and social media. Browse through photos and read bios to see if the pet is right for your family. As you talk to the rescue, trust their expert opinions on which dogs would be the best fit — for everyone involved. “Fostering the right pet is important,” says Weil. For example, she says, “If you work full-time, taking on a pet needing extra attention would not be a good idea.
Making space in your home for a foster dog doesn’t mean moving to a mansion. Size should play into your overall lifestyle. Of the myth that larger dogs can’t live comfortably in an apartment, Weil states, “This is just not true. Rescue dogs come in all shapes and sizes and are just so happy to have a home and be by your side no matter what type of living space you have.”
Related: Search Dog Breeds by Size and Other Characteristics
Time for another look at your lifestyle. Are you a very active person (We’ll wait while you check your FitBit; take your time!)? “We would not put an older, sedate dog with someone who wants to run with a foster dog every day,” admits Faulkner-Dunne. Weil and her rescue recommend younger dogs for active families, but for someone older or who works from home, “a senior or special needs dog would be a great fit.”
Don’t get too hung up on a dog’s breed; it’s their temperament and personality that will make for an enriching experience for all parties. However, if you have your heart set on a particular kind of dog (except a mini Frenchie, because you’ll have to get in line behind 123456789 people), you’re in luck. “Some rescues specialize in small dogs or are breed-specific,” reveals Faulkner-Dunne. However, “You may be approved to foster more quickly if you are flexible in size or breed as it would open up more options.” If you want a specific breed, such as a power breed dog, Reeves says, “We prefer that the foster have experience with the breed.”
Kids and dogs go together like ice cream and, um, more ice cream, right? Not so fast. Shelters and rescues often have rules about not allowing people with very young children to foster a dog. This could be due to the potential for issues concerning both parties. “If a home has very small kids, fostering a small breed dog may not be a good idea as the dog could get hurt,” Weil says. Faulkner-Dunn adds, “We wouldn’t put a nippy Chihuahua with a family with smaller children.”
Related: Best Dogs for Kids
If you have other animals in the home, you’ll need to reveal this to the rescue in the application process. While a volunteer will meet them during the initial home visit, it’s a good idea to inquire if your pets can meet a potential foster ahead of time. And remember, you should do slow introductions again when you bring the foster dog home to the pack. Keep in mind that a well-run rescue will screen dogs to see if they are dog-friendly, dog-selective, cat-friendly, or cat-sharp.
In addition to food, shelter, socialization, basic training (in some cases), taking the dog to vet appointments, and exercise, “We want fosters to treat the dog as they would their own — love them, exercise them, help them learn new things, enhance their world,” says Faulkner-Dunn. Bury notes, “Patience is critical because it takes some time for some pups to learn to love and trust.”
“Every rescue is different; it’s important to know what each respective rescue’s expectations are when it comes to fostering and what that includes,” says Reeves. However, most will ask that you help network the dog. At The DAWG Project, Faulkner-Dunne says, “We ask fosters to share the pet on social media. And walking your foster while the dog is wearing an ADOPT ME bandana has also worked as a way to find forever homes.”
Related: How to Take Great Dog Photos
Many rescue groups hold adoption events from time to time, be it at a park or a Petco. Depending on the rescue, attendance is often mandatory (but it is recommended you participate as it can speed the adoption process and help socialize your dog for additional meet and greets). If you’re unable to attend, Fur Babies, for example, will try to arrange an escort for your foster. “All our volunteers always help each other out with anything. If someone cannot drive, we would pick the pup up and take them,” says Bury.
If you’re feeling like you simply cannot part with your foster and want to be his forever home, congratulations. You failed as a foster — in a wonderful way. It can happen after a few weeks or months. Or even immediately, according to Reeves, a three-time foster fail herself. “Within twenty-four hours of [a woman fostering a dog just saved from death row], she decided to adopt [the dog] and keep her forever. It was our fastest foster fail in history.” Under certain circumstances, a foster family may not be able to fulfill its obligations. If that happens, “A reputable rescue group always takes a dog back should the situation change, and the family can no longer care for the dog,” says Weil.
Hurley, adopted from Project Second Chance in Alexandria Virginia
Depending on your needs and if you already have dog supplies, rescues typically give you everything you might need for your foster dog. Faulkner-Dunn believes almost all rescue organizations do. “We provide a crate, food, collar or harness, and leash,” she states. If you don’t need the supplies, however, you can decline them, and they will go to another foster home in need. Bury, for her part, purchases her supplies as a donation to the rescue. “There are just not enough donations to sustain a rescue,” she admits.
It’s typical for rescues to share at least one update of a foster dog in its forever home with the foster family. Fosters can see the happiness that their help and generosity created. Some adoptions wind up being very open with fosters and adopters following one another on social to keep in touch or even having playdates or visits. Bury, who has and continues to foster multiple dogs and has never gotten a request for a “closed” adoption, shares, “When you match the perfect family with your foster dog, the feeling is amazing. And then you’re ready to save another dog’s life.”
It’s a fact: Fostering saves lives. Faulkner-Dunne says, “Fostering is the absolute most important key ingredient to rescue success. Without fosters, there is no rescue.”
“There are so many rewards in fostering, with the main one being that you’re saving a life,” Reeves says. “A once unwanted and possibly abused or neglected pet gets to know what it’s like to be loved and in a safe environment.”
Faulkner-Dunne, whose rescue is always seeking fosters and volunteers, proclaims, “Foster families are heroes.”
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The Ulti-Mutt Guide for Rescue Pets and their Pawsome Pet Parents.