Fostering animals can be one of the most rewarding but difficult things to do to help local rescue groups. There are many rescue groups that rely on a network on foster families rather than having a shelter. Old Dog Haven, for example, is based out of the Seattle area and works with foster families and shelters in the Puget Sound area to help pull senior dogs from shelters and place them in foster or final refuge homes.

Deciding to become a foster home for dogs and cats is a big decision but it can be a rewarding one! You’ll be helping one pet after another get a new chance at life and settle into life at a home rather than dealing with the stress of being in a shelter. I should note that many rescue groups operate with shelters and there’s nothing wrong with them. But even with these kinds of organizations, a dog still might need to be in a foster family (i.e. for health reasons).

Becoming a foster home for rescues is rewarding but it’s still a big decision. You’re going to be opening up your home to a new animal that’s probably a bit freaked out and after some time, you’ll probably have to send the animal onto it’s forever home. I personally have never fostered a pet but wanted to share some resources and tips about what it means to be a foster home!

First and foremost, not everyone is able to be a foster home for rescue pets and that’s okay. Being a foster family can be difficult or time intensive at times and not everyone is going to have a flexible work schedule or abilities to help out. With that, it’ll be important to know exactly what you’re capable of providing as a foster family. For example, are you able/willing to help with training? Are you able to take in a dog or cat with health or behavior problems? Are you comfortable giving medications if needed? Being open and honest about what you’re able to help out with will be vital to having a successful fostering experience.

If you’re not able to spend a lot of time on training or exercising, fostering a young dog (including puppies) might not be the best option for you. Every dog will need some time to adjust to their temporary but still new home but fostering an older dog might be a better option if you’re not able to deal with the energetic ways of a young dog.

Another thing to consider is transportation. If a dog will need to go to regular vet check ins and you don’t have a car, that might not be the best fit. And some organizations will do adoption events at local pet stores or pet friendly venues. Being able to bring the pet to these events would help introduce potential forever families to them so it would be important to go! There are some organizations that help out with transportation but it would be good to know what they expect and what the pet might need.

One of the most important things you can do while thinking about being a foster family for a rescue is research both what it takes to be one and the local organizations that need fosters. I’d really encourage you to read testimonials from folks who have fostered before about all the things they’ve experienced and learned.

For example, a few years ago, Samantha Okazaki shared a few things that she wished she had known before fostering on the Today Show’s site. Similarly, Lindsay Stordahl shared some things to know before fostering a dog with kennel cough. And Alison Wilkinson shared the things she learned from fostering cats! These are just some of the many resources out there from people who have fostered about the things they’ve learned about the experience. There are so many others who’ve also written or shared their experiences of fostering.

After you decided that fostering is what you want and are able to do, the next step is to find a local group to work with! There are so many groups here in the Pacific Northwest that rely on foster families but find one that you like and think you could have a good relationship with. Read about the group online and see what others are saying.

Once you do decide to foster and find a rescue group you want to work with, you should definitely ask questions, both of the organization in general and of each animal they ask you to foster. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Who will be your main contact? If there’s any sort problem with the rescue animal, you’ll need to contact someone at the organization because as a foster, you’re not the owner of the pet.
  • Who will pay for supplies like food and veterinary care? Will you be expected to provide any financial commitments? Often times, the rescue groups provide food and other supplies and cover costs but it’s always good to ask.
  • How long do they expect you’ll be fostering a specific pet? Some animals might need longer care to get over an illness or injury before they’re able to be adopted.
  • How are potential adopters screened and who should you tell interested people to contact? As the foster family, you won’t be able to adopt the animal out yourself, as the organization will often want to screen the interested parties and there will often be paperwork involved. But you can definitely carry around business cards with the right information for those who are interested!
  • Does the specific animal have any special needs, like training or regular vet check ups?
  • Are there any health or behavior issues you need to know or work on?
  • Has the animal been house trained? For cats, this is as simple as training them to use a litter box but it’s just as important to ask for both cats and dogs.

These are just some of the many things you should be asking of the organization. Over at The Spruce Pets, Jenna Stregowski has a really great piece about fostering a dog and includes a much more in depth list of questions you should be asking. There are so many rescue organizations in the northwest that rely on foster homes but finding the right one for you to work with won’t just be calling up the first result in Google. Research the organization and see what one fits best with your philosophies and expectations.

Like with any big decisions, go into this experience with the best intentions and the right expectations. You’ll be helping and often saving the life of a rescue animal but it may not be easy breezy. Do the research into what it means to be a foster and read the stories and tips from others who’ve done it before.

Becoming a foster home for rescues often means eventually finding the best possible forever home for the pet and saying goodbye to the animal. But finding the right home and family for these rescues can also be such a wonderful thing. Saying goodbye might be hard but seeing how happy these animals are with their new families can make it all worth it.

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