September 8th 2009 12:55 pm
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By Laura Bender
Q) What does it mean to “foster” an animal?
A) Foster “parents” work with established rescue organizations to temporarily take homeless animals (usually dogs or cats) into their home, caring for them as they would their own pet.
Q) How long is an animal fostered?
A) It depends. Usually the animal is kept until it can be adopted into it’s new “forever” home. Some organizations may have a need for short term, emergency foster homes until space opens up at a shelter or another foster home. In some cases, a foster home is needed until an animal recuperates from surgery or some other medical condition. And many organizations seek foster homes for puppies and kittens until they are old enough to be adopted (usually 8-14 weeks, depending on the shelter).
Q) What if I bring an animal home and it doesn’t work out
A) Before fostering, you should make sure that the organization is capable of taking the animal back if necessary. But potential foster parents should know that the initial days and weeks of fostering a new animal can be challenging. Transitioning to a new environment can be stressful to an animal, and even previously housebroken pets may have accidents at first, and in unfamiliar surroundings dogs may display inappropriate chewing or barking. It’s particularly stressful for a sheltered animal to be brought to a home only to be returned back to a shelter environment—so unless you are willing to work through these common “issues”, it may best to focus your volunteer efforts working with animals at the shelter itself.
Q) How is fostering beneficial?
A) By fostering an animal, often you are freeing up a shelter cage so that another animal’s life can be saved. Fostering can also prevent behavior problems from developing. Often a well-mannered, suddenly homeless but previously loved pet will become so confused or frightened in a shelter environment that they begin to exhibit new, detrimental behaviors. These previously very adoptable animals can become very difficult or impossible to place.
Less socialized animals benefit just as much, as they become more trusting of people and learn important social skills. In both cases, fostering often makes an animal more adoptable, and as a foster parent you can provide feedback on how the animal behaves in a home—decreasing the chance the animal will be returned.
Q) What are the requirements to be a foster home?
A) Requirements vary by organization, but above all they will be concerned with making sure you can provide a safe environment for the pet. Almost all organizations require you to fill out an application and many require a home inspection and/or training session prior to placing an animal.
Q) Can I foster if I have children?
A) While some organizations prohibit or limit the age of children in a foster home, others welcome children as long as the child can be trusted to treat the animal humanely. If you do have children, or anyone with special needs (such as an elderly family member), make sure the foster organization is aware of it so they can choose a suitable pet for your home.
Q) Can I foster if I already have dogs or cats?
A) Yes, as long as your pets get along with other animals. Make sure the foster organization knows that you have pets—many shelters that house both dogs and cats will “cat test” dogs before placing them in households with cats. Always be very cautious bringing a new dog into a house with cats, even if they’ve “passed a cat test” or lived with cats before. It’s not unusual for a dog that is “friends” with one cat to view a new cat as prey.
If you have a dog at home, it’s best to introduce your dog to the potential foster dog in a neutral area (outside the sheltering organization usually works fine) before you bring the dog home, to see how they get along. Unfortunately, most cats do not appreciate a similar trip, so cat introductions may be best done at home.
If you do have pets, before bringing a foster into your home make sure that it has had a preliminary medical screening and received the appropriate vaccinations. Ask your vet what they specifically recommend. If you bring a new animal into your home before it’s been medically screened, it’s prudent to keep the animal in a separate area of the house (and yard) until a screening examination can be done.
Q) Isn’t it hard to give animals back?
A) Absolutely. After spending time in your home with your family, it’s likely you’ll become very attached to your foster pet. In fact, sometimes foster homes become permanent homes as the foster family decides to adopt the pet forever. However, most foster pets eventually get placed in new forever homes. While it’s sad to see them go, you have satisfaction knowing that they are going into their new home better prepared because of your efforts. And if the house feels empty after they’re gone, you have the opportunity to help another animal along the path to a new home.
Q) How can I find an organization that needs foster homes?
A) Most animal rescue organizations have a foster program, or can refer you to someone that does. Petfinder has a comprehensive list of rescue organizations, including breed rescues that can be searched geographically at http://www.petfinder.com/shelters.html
August 29th 2009 5:06 pm
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Saying Goodbye to a Foster Pet
Fostering a needy pet is one of the most important things an animal lover can do. It's also an emotional, often life-changing experience that isn't for everyone—even for those who can do it, saying goodbye is never easy. But, it also signifies one of the happiest events in the pet foster care system—a new family being created.
Here are a few tips to help you with the transition of letting go:
• It gets easier with time. For many people, the first time you say goodbye to a foster pet is the hardest—the second time is easier, the third, even more so. While you never stop caring for the foster animals that come into your home, you will soon realize that the sadness is often replaced with the satisfaction of knowing you were instrumental in saving a life.
Become active in the adoption process. Many foster parents enjoy taking an active role in the adoption process and find that it helps with the transition of saying goodbye. While every shelter has a different policy on how involved a foster pet parent can be, most shelters would be delighted to get as much information on your foster pet as possible. Is he very active or a couch potato? Is he socialized with other animals? This information may be invaluable to ensuring that your foster pet is matched with the right family.
Focus on the ultimate goal. It's only natural to find you have a stronger bond with certain animals and may even question whether or not to adopt your foster pet. At these times it's important to remember why you became a foster parent—it's about helping save a life. Shelters across the country are overflowing with adoptable animals, but in the absence of available foster homes, many have no choice but to turn to euthanasia. As a foster parent, it's vital to keep your original goals in mind and remain committed to helping foster pets find loving, forever homes.
Learn to celebrate. One simple action you can take to help alleviate the "letting go blues" is to celebrate the occasion. From throwing a little goodbye party to treating yourself to a special dinner, it's good to commemorate the fact that your foster pet has found a new forever home. It's also important to acknowledge your hard work. So go ahead, pat yourself on the back for a job well done and celebrate!
Don't feel guilty. After days, weeks or even months of bonding, it can be painful to say goodbye to a foster pet. You may even experience strong feelings of guilt for not adopting the animal yourself—this is to be expected. However, it's important to understand that while these feelings are natural for you, animals are incredibly resilient and adaptable—your foster pet will become part of his new family and be living happily ever after in no time!
Start or join a foster support network. It's very important for pet foster parents to communicate with like-minded folk. By joining a foster support network you'll be able to share advice and experiences, give support and even provide a shoulder to cry on.
Take a break. With the constant demands of foster work, you may begin to feel a bit burned out—and that's completely understandable. You may also simply need time to process your feelings in between fosters. It is important to recognize these feelings and follow through with the break. While you may feel guilty or pressured to immediately open your home to another foster pet, if you burn out completely, there will be one less foster home available—so take time!
Cherish the memories. Consider saving memories of your furry foster friends in a scrapbook. From photos, to reminiscent stories and other memorabilia—a foster scrapbook is a great way to capture the memories of your foster pets, while honoring the many animals whose lives you have directly helped.
August 22nd 2008 11:32 am
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You'd be amazed at the dogs that are dying everyday at the shelters....dogs that, if given the chance, completely blossom under the loving care of a foster home.
You'd be amazed to see them start to wag their tail, kiss your hand and stare into your eyes like you are their world.
You'd be amazed that such a loving and loyal dog could have possibly been near death at a shelter.
You'd be amazed that they weren't always being loved in a home....
Please consider fostering a dog, you'd be amazed at what you've been missing out on.