Is Dog Fostering Right for Me?

For dog lovers, hearing about the six to eight million pets who enter shelters each year (according to the Humane Society of the U.S.) leads to a sharp pain in the heart. Adoption may be out - perhaps you already have a dog or two or can't commit to a lifetime of care. But there is a way to give these forgotten dogs a better chance - become a foster provider.

Fostering a dog is becoming a popular way of helping dogs in shelters prepare for a forever home. It might even save a dog's life as the shortage of space for keeping dogs in shelters is always increasing. The exact requirements for foster homes varies depending on the shelter or rescue you are working with but here are some basic guidelines.

Responsibilities

Daily Care: This includes feeding, grooming, exercise, petting time and playtime. This also includes health care. Most organizations will cover this cost but check to make sure.

Training: A foster provider is usually responsible for training. Shelter dogs come from varied pasts - many of them have been abused or neglected. The most common reason dogs are surrendered to shelters is behavior problems. Therefore, be prepared for dogs who are nervous, fearful, unruly, even aggressive. They will need patience and, sometimes, special training to overcome their issues. And you may have to do some basic training such as housebreaking.

Finding a Home: Again, it depends on the organization but sometimes dog foster homes are expected to help in the search for a permanent home. This can include putting an ad in the newspaper, posting your dog's information online, hanging posters in places such as pet stores, and attending adoption events.

Length of Stay: Make sure you and the animal shelter are on the same page regarding the length of fostering a puppy. If you take on an older dog, it's less likely he'll find a home as fast as a puppy will. Some shelters take dogs back once they're well-adjusted; others expect you to keep them until they're adopted.

In addition to knowing the requirements, before you become a dog foster home there are some considerations. Fostering a dog means changes in your household routine. It also means more time and energy and possibly an upset in your family's life. There are some considerations before you take on this task.

Considerations

Family Members: Make sure everyone agrees to fostering a dog. Discuss the added responsibilities, the benefits and the drawbacks. The shelter you work with should be able to help you find a suitable dog for your family. Keep in mind that many dogs from shelters are mutts. A good rule of thumb is to determine what the breed the dog most looks like then research that breed. He will likely act most similarly to the dog he mirrors.

Other Pets: If you have a cat, make sure your foster dog is good with felines. If you have a dog, make sure both your dog and the foster are not aggressive.

Age of Foster Dog: If you are interested in puppy adoption and fostering, your experience will be much different than getting a older dog. Puppies need all the basic training and sometimes special work with issues such as stopping nipping and chewing shoes. However, puppies are more malleable and less likely to have a bad past. Older dogs often have more health issues, may need help with things such as hip problems, and, again, are less likely to be adopted.

Dogs per Household Limitations: Double check your town's rules regarding how many dogs are allowed per household. Likewise, if renting, make sure the lease allows more pets.

Adoption: Will you be able to let the foster dog go when he gets adopted? Dog foster homes often find that they get so attached to the dog, letting him go is heart wrenching. Also consider that he might not find a home. Can you send him back to the shelter to await his fate there? Are you willing to adopt? A decision about this should be made prior to fostering a dog.

If you understand dogs and have the time, energy and space, it's a great service to become a dog foster home. Keep in mind that shelter dogs have special needs and you can't always guess how they'll behave.

If you decide not to become a foster provider, sponsoring a dog at a shelter can be a great alternative. Most organizations are really helped by as little as twenty dollars a month and you usually get to follow your dog's progress. But be prepared to sponsor a dog for life - some of the best pooches somehow get passed by.

Photo: JAGwired