by Evelyn Lett
Fosters are the backbone of the rescue industry—without them, most rescues wouldn’t exist. Fostering animals serves many purposes: one of the foremost is that it drastically reduces the overhead costs involved in running a rescue. Fosters help a larger percentage of donations go directly toward paying for the costs associated with vetting each animal that goes through a rescue.
Foster homes also reduce the pressure on local government-run animal shelters that are often forced to euthanize healthy dogs or cats due to a lack of space needed for animals brought in as strays or surrendered by their owners. Additionally, injured animals that need to heal prior to being adopted can be given the luxury of time in a foster home that they may not always be afforded in an overcrowded, underfunded facility.
I’m sure we’ve all seen the pleas from rescue groups on social media searching for rescues, foster homes, adopters or pledgers. I often see something along the lines of, “All you need is love, and we provide the rest,” in regards to fostering. And in the most fundamental sense, yes, organizations provide foster families with crates, beds, food, toys, bowls, leashes, collars, litter, you name it—they provide it (to the best of their abilities)! But in reality, it does take so much more.
Fostering isn’t for everyone. It can be challenging, inconvenient, emotionally-draining and overwhelming, but it is just as equally heartwarming and self-fulfilling so much so that, if done correctly, it can change everything you ever thought you knew about dogs or cats… and yourself.
Fostering takes patience, sacrifice, commitment, absolute dedication, honesty with mental adopters… and did I mention patience? By no means do I want to turn anyone away from becoming a foster. I so hope that by sharing my experiences will shed light on a somewhat mysterious role that many people don’t fully understand.
Full disclosure: Fostering has changed my life and given me a feeling of having a greater purpose. Watching an animal transform from a terrified soul who’s never known love into a beautiful, confident pet who knows how to play, trust and express joy is humbling and extremely gratifying. And then having the opportunity to watch that same pet find their perfect family who needs them just as much as your foster needs them—it makes you instantly forget all the trials and tribulations, and you are inevitably left with every precious, loving memory of each foster once they’ve left the nest.
One aspect of fostering that can be intimidating to people is that it carries quite a bit of uncertainty. For example, my rescue, and many others, regularly visit rural animal control shelters where dogs are found as strays or turned in by their owners. After they’re held for five days, they become subject to euthanasia. When these shelters become full or have a particularly busy week, the animals are put under even more pressure to find homes, either by direct adoption or by being pulled by a rescue organization. These rescues serve as a type of temporary middle-man to get the animals fully vetted and treated, evaluated for personality and behavioral traits, and acclimated to living and being comfortable in a home.
The majority of these animals have completely unknown backgrounds. They may have never lived indoors; dogs’ listed “breed” is honestly just a best guess based on their physical appearance; they’ve never been taught any behavioral commands; they might have been abused verbally or physically; some have been unexpectedly separated from the one and only human they’ve ever known and are in mourning; and others just need a little extra TLC before going directly to a new home.
There’s never an “absolute guarantee” to any animal that you bring into your home, and often it can take several days to weeks to reveal your foster’s personality and any unusual “quirks” they may have. You must be ready to adjust your current setup and schedule to fit each individual foster animal, since no two are the same!
Fostering exposes the utter resilience of these amazing creatures we have chosen to share our lives with, and ultimately chosen to be members of our families. So please, be patient if things seem chaotic at first. Take a few deep breaths, gain perspective and think outside the box to address any specific issues that may arise. Remember your importance: you may possibly be the last chance this little furry kid has at their “happily ever after.”