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January 14, 2010 10:12 AM   Subscribe

What is fostering an animal like?

I've been toying with the idea of fostering an animal as a way to help out. I already have 2 cats and a German Shepherd, so I don't want to adopt on a permanent basis. I guess I have just general questions about how the experience goes, like:

- is there a rigorous approval process to become a foster home? What's it like?

- who takes care of vet bills?

- is there any sort of compensation for daily upkeep?

- if someone wants to adopt the animal, do I have to allow them into my home to interact with it?

- is it really hard to give up the animal in the end?

- do you think it would be psychologically damaging to me/my pets/the foster animal to have a nice home (I try to make life as awesome as possible for my pets) and then get moved around?

- what if the foster animal just isn't working out?

Also any personal experiences you want to share would be great.
posted by sickinthehead to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
We have fostered puppies in the past and it depends on what organization you are fostering for and you will probably have to do some research on rescue organizations in your area and call around to see what individual groups say. The one we worked with covered all vet bills and food, but additional stuff like toys and treats were generally on us.

We volunteered with the group for a while doing transports and pet store days for a while before we decided to foster and then they just checked out our house briefly and gave us some puppies. I think they try not to make it too difficult because more steady foster homes mean more dogs they can rescue.

Attachment depends on how long you foster for and the temperament of the dog. Puppies are a lot of work and we rarely had them for longer than a month or so (if that) so giving them up wasn't a terrible burden. We had one dog who was an aussie/lab mix and nothing, and I mean NOTHING, tired that dog out. We once took her on five walks and a trip to the dog park for a couple of hours and she never got tired. She lasted about a week and a half before I had to have my life back and I asked them to foster her elsewhere.

If the group gives you shit about a dog not working out, you probably want to foster for a different group. Fostering a dog is a service (one of love for sure), but rescue organizations are also about people and if the group you are helping isn't accommodating to your needs then find one that is.
posted by Kimberly at 10:19 AM on January 14, 2010


All my answers refer to my experience with Oldies But Goodies Cocker Spaniel Rescue. None should be taken as official group policy, cause it's off the top of my head.

- is there a rigorous approval process to become a foster home? What's it like?

There's a personal interview with the potential foster person, plus an application, plus verification that you're allowed pets in your residence, plus home inspection. Questions are generally straightforward, and include stuff like (in no specific order): (a) household? (eg if there's small kids, no fostering is allowed) (b) past pet ownership, (c) any pets you've given up in the past? (d) pets you have now? (e) what would you do in this scenario (dog barks a lot; dog pees inside; etc)

- who takes care of vet bills?

The group has specific vets they use; bills go straight to them, but should be okay'ed beforehand.

- is there any sort of compensation for daily upkeep?

In theory, I think the group would cover food/grooming, but I always felt that's an obligation I could/should cover. Other people may feel differently.

- if someone wants to adopt the animal, do I have to allow them into my home to interact with it?

I've always met the person first at a public place, be it just randomly while I walked her, or we set up a meetup after they saw the dog on the website, or randomly at an adoption show. (The group (and I assume most groups) does near-weekly adoption shows at Petsmarts and whatnot around the area that I'd bring the dog to). If I was doing the homecheck/interview as well, I'd bring the dog with me as well.

- is it really hard to give up the animal in the end?

Yes, it is. You just have to remember that (a) this dog is going to a permanent, good home, and (b) that's one more dog you can then foster and pull out of a shelter/save. And it's fun to meet a new dog, and see its quirks and traits and everything.

- do you think it would be psychologically damaging to me/my pets/the foster animal to have a nice home (I try to make life as awesome as possible for my pets) and then get moved around?

Dogs are very resilient (I assume other animals too, just no experience). They may react to missing you at first, but they'll get used to it. And with your checking, you/the group is making sure it's going to a good home.

- what if the foster animal just isn't working out?

Then you figure out what's wrong, and work with the group to try to fix it. If it still doesn't work out, then the group takes it back. I had a foster with a barking problem; big issue for me in an apartment. Someone else in the group who lives in a standalone house took her; barking problem no longer an issue.


Fostering is great, and rewarding, and all that jazz. Seriously. I wish my building allowed me to have two dogs so I could still do it.
posted by inigo2 at 10:41 AM on January 14, 2010


You can also look at fostering animals oustside of the ones that have been rescued. We currently "foster" dogs currently going under training as guide dogs for the blind (from here). You should look around your own area for a similar association that trains service dogs.
We take care of the dog on the weekends only, so that they can get a break from the kennel. To answer your specific questions:

-is there a rigorous approval process to become a foster home? What's it like?-other than a home visit, and a couple of interviews, no.
-vet bills--taken care by CGDB
-compensation for daily upkeep?--no, but we only have them on weekends, and the CGDB provide food. toys, bowls, leashes....
- if someone wants to adopt the animal, do I have to allow them into my home to interact with it?--doesn't apply here for service dogs
- is it really hard to give up the animal in the end?--yes, even part time, however, it's part of the deal
- do you think it would be psychologically damaging to me/my pets/the foster animal to have a nice home (I try to make life as awesome as possible for my pets) and then get moved around?--my own experience is that dogs in particular are quite adaptable.
- what if the foster animal just isn't working out?--we can always get another one, but this has not happened yet.

I know that this is different from fostering full time dogs from resuce organizations, but it is an option, and it's fantastic.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 10:46 AM on January 14, 2010


A lot of the experience depends on the organization you are working with.

1) I fostered a pregnant cat and her resulting litter from a private shelter. There was no approval process. I merely emailed an inquiry, and within seconds got a desperate response asking if I would consider a pregnant cat. A week later, the cat was dropped off. That was it. I was dumbfounded. They were desperate.

2 & 3) Vet care was included, but at a vet that was a good 30+min drive away. No daily compensation. I was given a travel cage, a litter box, a scratching post and some food and litter, with the promise to get more delivered as needed. I ended up with another bag of food, but I ended just paying for the rest myself. It was the least I could do.

4) Ideally, yes. I wasn't comfortable with this, so I met potential adopters at a local pet food store the shelter had a relationship with.

5) Extremely. I ended up keeping mommy cat and 2 kittens; I just couldn't give them up. This however, is not the norm. I had a troubled litter and lost 4 of the kittens to illness, the last 2 at 6 & 7 weeks. I cried for hours. I got another kitten adopted, and it broke my heart. The rest I kept. However, now that I have these three, I imagine it'll be easier the next time, because I already have my feline family. Part of my problem for me was going back to a pet-free lifestyle; I just didn't want to do it. That being said -- the more you find homes for, the more pets in need you have room to help.

6) Any care you can give an animal in need is A GOOD THING. A loving home, nice or not, is what is needed. It's millions of times better than a cage in the shelter. Pets do have trouble with change, but it's always less stressful than being in the shelter.

7) If there are problems that can't be solved, you return the animal to the shelter. Sometimes, it just doesn't work out. It's a fact of life. If they give you grief, they're not the organization you want to work with. They should appreciate your time and love, and will most likely have another needy animal available that is more suitable.

These are my experiences. I friend of mine has very different ones. She volunteers at the local SPCA, and recently started fostering as well. A "state-run" shelter has many more rules, but also has their shit together, for the most part. There's a process for everything. Vet care, food, travel arrangements, adoptions... everything is taken care of. And yes, she's had to return fosters that didn't work out. One was pooping all over the house, and she couldn't deal with it. It wasn't a big deal, and now she has another crazy cat running around the place.

When I do it again, it'll be with a larger, more organized shelter. But I will most definitely do it again -- it's been an amazingly rewarding experience (and also is the reason I now own and love to pieces my 3 amazing cats.) I can't do it again until I move into a bigger place, but once that happens, I've already earnmarked the spare bedroom as a foster-space.
posted by cgg at 10:50 AM on January 14, 2010


I have fostered cats. As I wad already a volunteer, I had already gone through the vetting process, but it is much like people descibe it.

We had vet bills covered, less a copay per appt (mother and kittens were a single appt). Some food and all medicine is covered. Litter was not covered.

I allowed people into my home, but had the option of returning the cats to the shelter and having them adopted from there.

It is very hard to give them up, but it is worthwhile, to me. You know they are prepared for a permanent home, and that it is due to you.

Any good foster program will try to solve your problems but will take back the animal if need be.

I loved fostering and wish I could continue right now. I intend to do it again as soon as possible.
posted by jeather at 10:53 AM on January 14, 2010


Based on my limited experience?

- is there a rigorous approval process to become a foster home? What's it like?

Just to make sure you are genuine and have a safe place to keep the animal.

- who takes care of vet bills?

Often the organization.

- is there any sort of compensation for daily upkeep?

No.

- if someone wants to adopt the animal, do I have to allow them into my home to interact with it?

You could take it to their home or to a park.

- is it really hard to give up the animal in the end?

It depends on the relationship. I have a friend who fostered several animals and gave most of them up easily except for one with which the friend became emotionally involved -- they just clicked -- and the friend now wishes that they'd kept that animal even though it has gone to a good home.

- do you think it would be psychologically damaging to me/my pets/the foster animal to have a nice home (I try to make life as awesome as possible for my pets) and then get moved around?

Maybe (see above) but the alternative for the animal is euthanasia so for the foster-animal it's not a difficult choice.

- what if the foster animal just isn't working out?

You can send it back to the agency. As Kimberly said, find an agency you are comfortable working with. In your case they should only send you animals that get on well with dogs and cats. In some cases dogs do better with a home that already has a dog, and in other cases, not.

Here's a website that lists many animal shelters that you could talk to.

http://www.petfinder.com/
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 11:00 AM on January 14, 2010


- is it really hard to give up the animal in the end?

Yeah ... and in fact I ended up keeping the dog I fostered.

One thing I didn't expect --- but you should --- is how an animal will "make itself at home" in your house, and for me it was really hard to give him up after that. The little guy I fostered immediately staked out a favorite spot on an old, beat-up love seat in my study, and it just broke my heart to think about giving him up after he had settled in like that. I concluded that I was not a good foster parent.
posted by jayder at 11:01 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


My roommate and I fostered a pregnant cat and later her 5 kittens for a total of about 2 months. It was great. We had phone conversations with the org. beforehand to establish that we were experienced cat owners and not nutters, and they brought the cat over to our place so they could subtly check up on us & our house. The cat was very sweet, really liked being around people and had no behavioural issues. They gave us some free food and a little eye medication when one of the kittens had a small infection. The fact that she was a foster meant we didn't get too attached to her or the kittens, and we were ok with giving them back when the time was up. I'd do it again for sure, that was a fun summer.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:08 AM on January 14, 2010


Our best friends have fostered Goldens for many years. Since we have dinner together (with all our dogs) at least once a week, I can chime in. They have a large alpha dog who rules the roost. Her presence is very helpful in getting the fosters acclimated and their dogs do not seem to mind having the fosters at all. Over the last ten years, they've kept one other smaller dog from the hundreds they've fostered. The dogs have run the gamut from very sweet and great to very annoying and needy. The more attractive dogs only stayed for a month or so, the ones with issues can take much longer to place in a forever home. They have returned a few dogs that they just couldn't handle, but not very many. The organization takes in any dog that even remotely looks like a Golden and the fosters have been very diverse over the years. All their vet bills are paid by the org, and any special food needs are also. Since they already have two dogs, my friends foot the bill for regular food. They have two sons who are teenagers now and helped out a LOT with the dogs. Their main responsibility, besides the room and board, seems to be determining the individual personalities so potential owners get an accurate idea of what kind of dog they are getting. We've all really enjoyed the process, and it's neat to see where the dogs have gone. New owners send pictures and letters to the organization so they can see how the dogs ended up. It's very rewarding.
posted by raisingsand at 11:41 AM on January 14, 2010


Answering from experience fostering dozens of dogs, some for days, others longer:
is there a rigorous approval process to become a foster home? What's it like?
Each organization has different requirements, but at a minimum they will want to know that your yard is securely fenced and that you can spend quality time with the dog.

- who takes care of vet bills?
We have always paid these out of pocket, and have never been reimbursed. In some cases, it has been very expensive. It is just something we do because helping dogs is very important to us.

- is there any sort of compensation for daily upkeep?
Not in my experience.

- if someone wants to adopt the animal, do I have to allow them into my home to interact with it?
Why not? If they aren't the kind of person you would invite into your home, then they aren't the person you would want to adopt the dog.

- is it really hard to give up the animal in the end?
That depends on your experience with the dog, but generally, I tell myself that they are going to be very happy in their new home - it is what's best for them, not for me, that counts.

- do you think it would be psychologically damaging to me/my pets/the foster animal to have a nice home (I try to make life as awesome as possible for my pets) and then get moved around?
Your goal is to move them on to a home that is even better than yours.

- what if the foster animal just isn't working out?
The rescue group should have a policy to answer this.

Animal rescue and fostering are rewarding, but you have to be a real animal lover. There are lots of challenges. Your routine will be disrupted. The newcomers often have a hard time adjusting, or get upset tummies, or need lots of special care based on their previous circumstances. I have five dogs now, all of whom were fosters that never moved on for one reason or another - either I was too attached, or they were not adoptable (homely, but loving dogs are not in high demand). My one-eyed Yoda and Fatty the Ham are not winning any beauty contests, but I have come to love them.

You may want to consider doing transport work - it is less of a commitment, but you do get to interact with some lovely - and if I were to be totally anthropomorphic - grateful dogs.
posted by tizzie at 11:56 AM on January 14, 2010


Also, specific to your situation, when we had Shepherds of our own, they generally interacted well with our fosters after the initial "you had better believe I am the boss here" phase was over.

We have had fosters who were not safe with cats, and while they were with us, our two cats had to put up with being kept out of parts of the house, etc. Ask the rescue group if they know of the dogs temperament with cats - they might not, but it's worth a question.
posted by tizzie at 12:01 PM on January 14, 2010


Can I tack on a question, since I've wondered about fostering, as well?

Is the expectation that you're finding these animals a home, or does the organization as a whole do that, while you're just caring for them? I wouldn't mind keeping animals on a temporary basis, but not if it's officially OR de facto my responsibility to find them an adopted home.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:38 PM on January 14, 2010


Usually the organisation does that, but you're generally expected to help out some -- let your contacts know (email, facebook, twitter, etc), write up a very nice description of the animal for petfinder or your org's website, take photos and videos, talk the animal up to potential adoptees. It will depend somewhat on your shelter, but you shouldn't be required to do the heavy lifting for the animal.
posted by jeather at 3:40 PM on January 14, 2010


Is the expectation that you're finding these animals a home, or does the organization as a whole do that, while you're just caring for them?

The group I've worked with does a few things:
1) Website with each dog listed. They take pictures when they can, but if you get a good one they'll put it up and will put up video you take as well. They put a write-up as best they can, but usually the foster is better suited to write about the dog b/c they'll know it better. This is how a lot of people pick the dog they (think they) want. They'll then go to the....
2) Regular adoption shows at local pet stores. These are listed on their calendar. The dogs that are scheduled to come are listed as well. You are expected to bring the dog to them on a regular occurance (every few weeks), and especially if people have emailed about your foster.
3) Puts the dogs on the various online adoption lists (Petfinder, etc).

I also will spread the word amongst my friends, and walk the dog with a big, bright "Adopt Me" bandana, which has worked on one occasion (though maybe that's different living in a city).
posted by inigo2 at 3:49 PM on January 14, 2010


- is there a rigorous approval process to become a foster home? What's it like?
There should be - but it's not as rigorous as you might fear. If you can demonstrate that you have a safe home for current pets and aren't a flake, you should be fine. I'd also advise you to use your own approval process before you sign up with a group. There are plenty of sketchy, sometimes well-meaning but sketchy, groups out there.

- who takes care of vet bills?
The rescue group is technically responsible, but if you would like to take care of the bills they can give you in-kind donation receipts for your taxes.

- is there any sort of compensation for daily upkeep?
I have never seen or heard of a rescue that has funds for that - although it's not usual for the rescue to provide food.

- if someone wants to adopt the animal, do I have to allow them into my home to interact with it?
I think this is best, but I don't know that it's ever required. My "best practice" is to take the dog out on a leash to meet the potential adaptor in the front yard, then go into the back yard to play and show them what the dog knows, and then come into the house to hang out.
BTW, I am not high enough on the food chain to approve anyone. If someone is coming to look at animal in my care, the rescue group has already approved that person and thinks they are a match for the dog. After the meeting, the rescue will want to talk to me about what I thought of the chemistry.
FWIW, I really love to take fosters out and about and tell everyone who even glances at the dog about the dogs availability and how to contact the rescue. (This, and dealing with my reactive dog in public, are the only times I'm extroverted. So that's another mental health bonus for me.) Need to get one inigo2's "ADOPT ME" banners....

- is it really hard to give up the animal in the end?
You have no idea how wonderful it is to see an animal, perhaps an animal who came from a bad situation and was a mess, find a happy home. You have, no doubt, seen TV footage of puppy mill or abused dogs being crated up and hauled off to the local shelter covered with filth and disease. Some of those dogs are now bouncing around the dog park, healthy and happy. It's nice to be part of that. It's also touching to see an owner-surrender who was maybe too smart, or too busy, and full of drive for the first family finally find someone who understands how much that dog has to give and can really develop his talents.

- do you think it would be psychologically damaging to me/my pets/the foster animal to have a nice home (I try to make life as awesome as possible for my pets) and then get moved around?
If you have a pet who has a problem accepting new animals, than fostering is probably a bad idea. My animals enjoy their new friends and it's very good for the foster - no matter what kind of background he or she comes from - to have the socialization.
Being able to foster a dog with cats is a plus for the dog - a dog who has lived with cats can be advertised as getting along with cats instead of "unknown."

- what if the foster animal just isn't working out?
Any credible group will want to work with you on this and, if necessary, get the foster animal out of an uncomfortable situation and into a situation where the animal can thrive. When you start out, they'll probably give you owner-surrenders who, although they may be a little overweight and spoiled, are not difficult to manage. If you believe you are not in a position to take dogs who have serious medical or behavior problems, no good rescue group will ask you to.

As other's have said, you may want to ease into this by doing other types of volunteer work.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:11 AM on January 15, 2010


Need to get one inigo2's "ADOPT ME" banners....

They really do attract attention. I got mine from the rescue group, but from a quick google it looks like you can find them online pretty easily.
posted by inigo2 at 9:56 AM on January 15, 2010


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