Advice From a Fourteen-Time Foster Mom
When Sarah from Foster Dogs NYC asked me to write an entry on fostering, I agreed… but I secretly thought I’d have very little to contribute. After all, I’ve just been doing this for a short while, so what do I know?
Well, we recently hosted our 14th foster dog, so I figured I should be able to come up with a few tips we’ve learned along the way… If anyone is on the fence about fostering, I hope this helps!
1) Bringing a strange dog into your home isn’t as scary as it seems
Our first foster was a terrified little Shih Tzu, but the first night I was more afraid of him than he was of us. It did seem odd to have a strange dog whose background you know nothing about in your home. I kept picturing the 80’s movie “Gremlins” (and, just to be safe, didn’t feed him after midnight… You know, just in case). I was almost surprised the next morning when I went to check on him, and he woke up, tail wagging, happy as a clam. It gets easier each time, and nowadays, not having a foster dog seems weird!
2) You do not need to adopt your foster dog
I remember my husband’s response when I told him I wanted us to foster a dog… “Soooo we’re getting a second dog?” He figured that we’d bring a new dog into our home, and that the rescue organization wouldn’t try or be able to find a home for it… and we’d be stuck with it. I’ll admit even after doing some research I wasn’t 100% sure he was wrong…
Not only did our first foster dog get adopted within a week, but it turns out you (the foster caretaker) are more valuable to a rescue org as someone willing to foster temporarily than as someone who is looking to adopt one dog one time.
3) You are valuable to a rescue organization, even as a short-term or temporary foster
My husband and I travel. A lot. For our Havanese “Charlie,” that often means trips to my parents’ house or to the homes of friends for a sleepover. But asking friends and family to take one dog is very different than asking someone to take two. Be realistic with the rescue upfront in terms of your availability; if you’ve only got a week to foster, that may mean the difference between life or death for a pooch!
4) Ask for help where you need it
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by local organizations that have been willing to help out and support our fostering. Our first foster pup came out of Brooklyn AC&C matted and dirty; our groomer gave him a free haircut and grooming to make him look handsome and perfect. (Photo below)
Our dog walkers have given us a massive discount on additional walks and services. A local day care has given us discounted (and in some cases, free) day care to help with a pup that was having trouble adjusting and had separation anxiety. Plus, a local pet store donated food and treat samples.
5) A dog’s behavior in the shelter is not always an indicator of their real-life behavior
The shelter is a terrifying place, so it’s not fair to use their behavior there as the indicator of a dog’s personality. A dog labeled fearful/aggressive solely because he growled at shelter staff is not necessarily a dog that would growl in any other environment. Don’t overthink behavioral evals from the shelter.
6) Yes, you will be able to part with this dog when a nice home is found for him/her
I’m all-for foster-failing (adopting) your foster dog if that’s really what is best for you and your family. But I can’t tell you how many people I come across who say “I would love to foster, but I’d be too sad when they got adopted, so I don’t.” So, some poor little dog is going to be euthanized, alone and terrified in a shelter because you didn’t want to be sad when it went off to a happy and wonderful home? I can come up with a lot of reasons not to foster but that just isn’t one of them.
Yes, you might be sad for a little while when your foster dog leaves you, but put on your big girl/boy pants, watch one of those Sarah McLaughlin ASPCA ads (they’re on TV all the time) and then go find yourself a new dog to save! Visit www.fosterdogsnyc.com and click on the “Foster Me” category!