brunette woman in a sweater holding a brown dachshund

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying to Foster A Shelter Pet

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and the impact that it has had on the world that we live in, many local shelters and rescue organizations have reported a significant increase in applications for foster care.

While the influx of interested volunteers is great news, not every home that wants to foster will be an ideal fit.

What am I talking about? There are a few important questions that you should ask yourself before you consider applying to foster a shelter pet…

In 2018 alone, Canadian shelters took in just under 30,000 dogs and a little more than 81,000 cats according to the 2018 Animal Shelter Statistics report from Humane Canada.

Even more concerning is the fact that this number is derived from data collected by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and doesn’t include independent rescues.

In fact, those reported are really just a drop in the bucket when considering the whole picture!

Those involved in the world of animal rescue can tell you that the numbers are staggering and heartbreaking.

But there’s another side to this world, the side that motivates volunteers to keep giving their all day after day – that’s the thousands of animals that will find their forever home through the tireless work of those involved in shelters and rescue organizations each year.

But these happy endings can’t happen without hard work, dedication, resources and, of course, the incredible volunteers behind it all.

brown and white dog standing in front of a person's knee with a smile while being pet

What Does Fostering a Shelter Pet Mean?

If you are applying to foster, that means that you are volunteering to take a homeless pet into your home and provide him or her with the love, attention and care that they require.

While the most common foster arrangements are for cats and dogs, this could be extended to any type of pet depending on the rescue that you are working with.

The ultimate goal of a foster arrangement is to provide this animal with a safe place to live, the care that they require (food, exercise, love and affection) and the nurturing needed to help prepare them for adoption to their forever home when a family has come forward.

This is a very important part of the rescue world, one that allows organizations to save the lives of countless animals year after year.

Reasons Why an Animal May Be in Foster Care

There are many reasons why an animal may be best cared for in a foster situation.

First and foremost, placing animals in foster homes opens up additional spaces in a rescue for new intakes.

We’ll use your standard shelter as a model…

Let’s say that a shelter has been built with 30 cages.  If 3 volunteers offer to foster a shelter pet in their home, the initial impact is clearly that 3 pets will be saved and cared for until their forever home is found.

However, that is only the start of the ripple effect.

These 3 pets being safely placed in a foster home means that they don’t need the cages at the shelter itself, which means there are 3 open cages available to accept 3 additional pets in need of help.

This is the reason why foster care is so vital!

Better still, animals thrive with the love and care that comes from being placed in a home.

While shelter staff do their best to provide exercise and care for animals in a shelter setting, it’s can be challenging. Especially with a longer-term stay!

These animals can then become withdrawn or even irritable.

A foster home is better suited to provide the interaction these animals need.

close up of a person holding a white, black and orange kitten

There are, however, other special situations in which foster care may be uniquely important for a specific animal.

When an animal is brought into a rescue or shelter, they are carefully assessed for suitability to be adopted.  

While some will be ready to jump right into their forever home, others may fall into a ‘gray area’ of adoptability – where there is the potential for them to be socialized and become that ideal pet but they aren’t quite there yet.

Placing these animals in a home environment where a foster parent or family is specifically focused on that animal’s unique needs may make the difference between whether a dog can ultimately be adopted or not.

This provides animals that may be unsure of unfamiliar people and situations with the time and space necessary to slowly adjust.

There is something truly rewarding about watching a dog that was once fearful come around. This does, however, require a great deal of patience and compassion.

Finally, there are those who may be placed for medical reasons. This includes pregnant or nursing mothers, those with special medical conditions or animals that may be in the process of medical recovery.

A pet may require surgery or medical after coming to a shelter or rescue ranging from something as commonplace as a spay/neuter to a more complex procedure to treat an injury.

Just as we need to rest to recover after a surgery, so too do these pets!

Post-surgery, animals often require additional care and attention.

These foster homes are generally carefully selected to ensure that they are prepared for the unique needs of the animal that is being placed.

As these animals often require additional monitoring, appointments, treatments, etc., they require a home that can provide for their demanding schedules.

If Foster Homes Are So Important, Why Are Rescues Turning People Down?

Recently there’s been a lot of chatter about the fact that rescues are turning people down for foster placements during the COVID-19 crisis.

This has come on the heels of a big social media push for people to consider the opportunity to foster a shelter pet for companionship during this time of social distancing (and complete lockdown in some areas).

While the intention of the push was well-meaning, it failed to consider the big impact that this influx of fosters could bring when the world returns to its normal routine.

Many of those applying to foster right now are doing so for the period of time that they are home, but what about when they return to work?

Where are all of these animals going to go when their foster home placements are no longer available?

For this reason, many rescue organizations are turning down anyone that isn’t interested in continuing to foster after the COVID-19 crisis.

However, if you’re looking at a longer-term placement, don’t let this discourage you!

Communicate your intentions with your local shelter or rescue to discuss the possibility of getting the process started, even if it’s just opening the door of communication while we navigate the current situation.

small black and white puppy sleeping in a woman's arms

Before Applying to Foster A Shelter Pet, Ask Yourself These 6 Questions

#1 – Does your home provide the space necessary to isolate your foster pet?

While there are long term situations where you can introduce a foster pet to your animals, it is important to ensure that you have space available to isolate the animal from your pets in the beginning and potentially on an ongoing basis if needed.

Even if your current pet is generally pet-friendly, that doesn’t mean that your foster pet will be.

There is a chance that they will never be able to run loose together. Are you prepared for that?

Do you have the necessary space to accommodate that situation for an extended period of time?

If you are looking at getting involved with medical recovery, it’s incredibly important that you have a safe space that your pet can relax without the stresses of another pet.

We have done short-term medical foster by using our spare room for the animal that we were caring for at the time.

This needs to be somewhere that you can keep the pet safe and secure, but easily accessible for regular checkups throughout the day.

#2 – Is your schedule/lifestyle compatible with fostering?

While my husband and I genuinely enjoy getting involved, we have always limited our commitments to short-term medical recovery for a reason – our lifestyle doesn’t allow for longer-term placement.

We travel a lot to visit family members around the province as well as camping from April until October each year. This means long periods of time that we aren’t home to care for an animal.

While we do bring our dogs with us camping, uprooting a foster that is just getting used to being with our family and in our home would be incredibly unfair.

It’s time to be brutally honest with yourself.

While your heart is in the right place right now, will your lifestyle still allow for the commitment necessary tomorrow? In 5 days? In 5 weeks?

Remember: these animals need more than just a roof over their head and a place to lay down, they need exercise, love and human interaction.

#3 – Are you prepared to deal with the messes or damage that a foster pet may cause in your home?

While there is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with a shelter animal, it’s important to take note that they may misbehave while they are staying with you.

It could be that this pet wasn’t properly trained, to begin with, something that you can help with during the time that they are staying with you.

On the other hand, the pet may act out due to the stress of a new location.

There are definitely steps that you can take to minimize any potential damage, like puppy/kitten proofing the room you are putting the dog in and putting up/putting away anything valuable.

However, you can’t prevent everything. Accidents happen.

brown tabby lying down on a gray blanket

#4 – Do you have the means to transport the pet to the rescue/shelter’s vet in the event of an appointment or an emergency?

The good news is that the shelter or rescue will cover any medical expenses necessary for the care of the pet while you are fostering.

However, you will need to be sure that you have the means necessary to bring the animal to the veterinarian that the shelter or rescue is associated with.

These organizations often work closely with one specific veterinarian that is able to offer them both trustworthy care and veterinary advice for their animals as well as, in many cases, assistance in managing the financial aspects associated with the care of such a large number of animals.

This may come in the form of discounted appointments or maintaining an account where the organization’s supporters can donate directly to the veterinarian to provide for care.

#5 – Do you completely trust in the shelter or organization that you are considering getting involved with?

This is SO important. There are hard decisions associated with the care and adoption of animals that come through a shelter or rescue organization.

This includes, but isn’t limited to, making decisions regarding medical care and selecting a suitable ‘forever’ home for the pet.

As a foster parent, you are providing care for this animal, but you don’t have the authority to make these bigger decisions.

Do you trust the individuals in charge enough to make these decisions for an animal that you have developed an emotional connection with?

If not, it’s time to reconsider who you are looking at getting involved with…

#6 – Are you emotionally prepared to return the pet when the foster period is over?

One of the most difficult parts of being a foster parent is saying goodbye.

While you enter into the world of foster care with the intention of it being a temporary arrangement until a forever home has been found, over time you can become emotionally attached to the animal that you are caring for.

Prepare yourself to feel all the emotions and potentially shed a few tears along the way.

Try to remember that your part in this journey has helped to unite this incredible pet with their forever family – You played a part in creating a happily ever after.

short coated black and white with a happy expression

Still Interested? Next Steps…

If you haven’t already connected with a shelter or rescue organization in your area, it’s now time.

You can try searching online or reach out to your veterinarian for a recommendation.

Petfinder offers a great database. Take some time to do your research and learn a little about the organization as you make your decision.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Any reputable organization will encourage you to ask questions in order to ensure that you’re fully aware of the commitments you are agreeing to.

Open communication is the key to a great partnership.

Did you find this helpful? If so, share it on Pinterest! 

brunette woman in a sweater holding a brown dachshund with text suggestion 6 questions you ask yourself before applying to foster a shelter pet

Rescue parents: Do you have any advice for those considering applying to foster a shelter pet? Share your best tips and considerations in the comments below!

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  1. This is such a helpful and important post, thank you for sharing Britt. The idea of getting a pet whilst at home a lot might sound like a great idea, but there is so much to consider in the long term. These are really sensible questions to ask to ensure that fostering is right for both the animal and foster parent. Thanks for sharing this information (and adorable photos!) <3 xx

    Bexa |

    1. Honestly, I hope that this time does help some people recognize that fostering is a good fit for them – but a lot of people are just looking at the current situation and failing to look past that at the bigger picture. Not that I don’t understand their line of thinking, we’re all craving companionship of some form while we’re stuck at home!

  2. I love your article! There is so much to take in consideration before fostering an animal and unfortunately, a lot of people are not informed. Thanks for all of your useful advice and information

    1. I love that people are SO well-intentioned – but definitely something that you have to seriously consider before committing to!

  3. A lot of people don’t realize all that is involved with adopting a pet. This is great for people to learn about that before they get in over their heads or have any unexpected surprises.

    1. Definitely! I LOVE being a pet owner and I have also LOVED my experiences in fostering, but it’s a big commitment that should be taken seriously. It’s not for everyone.

    1. My mother has specifically been fostering cats for a number of years now with a local cat rescue. We live a few hours away from her now, but I love watching all the pictures that she shares of the cats that she’s had come through her house!

  4. My kids want a dog so badly. Maybe we should try fostering one first to see if they would do a good job taking care of it

    1. As long as you’re willing to commit to doing the work if they don’t for the time you’re fostering, that sounds like it might be a great way. It’s also a good way to experience different breeds, sizes of dogs, etc. For example, I know people who were determined that they only liked owning one specific breed only to fall in love with another when fostering!

  5. Such good questions to consider! And a great post. Having a pet is a lot of work and it’s always best to make sure you are fully prepared to take care of a pet!

    1. It’s so true – there’s a lot involved when it comes to bringing a pet into your house home, fostering or adopting. We need to make sure that we are taking it seriously!

  6. thank you so much for sharing this! i am also rescuing and fostering but i am into kittens because my apartment is not spacious. I also have rescued dogs living now in the province. <3 thank you for bringing awareness!

    1. It’s such a rewarding experience, I have loved being involved in rescue work. Knowing that we could be part of their journey to finding their ‘forever home’ is truly special.

  7. This is such a helpful post! I never realised you could just foster a pet but there is definitely lots to consider before you do, thanks for sharing!

    1. It’s such a great way to help in the rescue process! A foster home can make a HUGE difference for those that aren’t going to thrive in a shelter situation for whatever reason.

  8. These are some good points. I think that when you adopt a pet is for a lifetime. You have to treat them like part of your family just like you will do with a adopted baby.

  9. This is an amazing and informative post. I would love to foster more animals. Our last foster actually became another member of our household. She’s a gorgeous cat who, after 2 months, is still being slowly introduced to our older cat.

    1. It’s definitely a process. I was lucky that Pippen was so accepting of Jinx when she came into the house. That being said, Indy came to live with us 7 years ago and he is just now starting to form a good relationship with Pippen. For a long time, they would accept and acknowledge that one another was in the house, but it ended there lol

  10. I am honestly, NOT a pet person, so I could NEVER foster a dog. However, my brother and his wife has fostered two and wound up adopting both! haha!

  11. I wish we could foster, but with having two boys and two dogs already it is just not possible. Also, had a friend just recently foster a pregnant pup and she had all her puppies in the comfort of a home instead of a rescue. Such an eye-opening post.

    1. My mother is a foster home for a local cat rescue and she actually specifically takes pregnant mothers. She has had so many litters come through her house, sharing pictures online for all of us to see. I give her credit for making that stage of each mama cat’s lives that much easier – They’ve got enough to worry about without having to worry about if they are in a safe space!

  12. So. Much. Yes. I’m also really concerned about those adopting right now. I work in a veterinary clinic and we’re getting a huge influx of new pets. Which is awesome, but what will people do when things return to normal? It’s definitely concerning.

    1. I think the desperation for some companionship now is leading to some people completely overlooking how big of a commitment this actually is. I really hope this doesn’t lead to a big influx of animals in shelters after the dust settles.

  13. Thank you for these tips! I once fostered a husky and when I returned him I bawled my eyes out. I was not prepared for that and decided that adopting was probably the way to go for me since I got so attached. Fostering is a sweet thing to do and I hope more will try.

    1. I give SO much credit to the people who do long term fosters. We only take short term medical stays in our house and that’s one of the reasons why – I don’t keep a foster here long enough to find myself super attached (not that I don’t fall in love with them still, it’s still hard). That being said, I am so thankful for those who do! Our boy Indy was staying with his foster mom when we adopted him and I’m still in touch with her. We share pictures and videos so that she can see what he’s up to all these years later!

  14. Having a pet is a lot of responsibility and so is fostering. Sometimes people do not grasp the entirety of it. This is such a helpful and important post! Those questions are very sensible and make complete sense. There is some long-term considerations to take into account!

  15. I love this post. It’s so important that people don’t just act on impulse. Animals are so much more than a small purchase. They are a lifelong best friend and commitment. Thanks for posting this!

    1. Thank you! I am a HUGE supporter of rescue and the foster system, but one needs to be willing to ask the hard questions to decide if they are right for it!

  16. I know that fostering a pet is meant to be temporary until they can find there forever home, but I’m assuming you can seek adoption if you want to be there forever home if fostering went really well?

    1. Correct, you can apply to adopt (and generally aren’t going to be turned down if the rescue already trusts you to foster). It’s quite common. We’ve had a few ‘foster fails’ (as they are often called) in our family. Most recently, my mother kept a cat that she was fostering. He was super shy and skittish when she brought him home and the process of socializing him brought them together.

    2. Correct, you can apply to adopt (and generally aren’t going to be turned down if the rescue already trusts you to foster). It’s quite common. We’ve had a few ‘foster fails’ (as they are often called) in our family. Most recently, my mother kept a cat that she was fostering. He was super shy and skittish when she brought him home and the process of socializing him brought them together.