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North Hills Monthly

Fostering Helps Shelter Animals Adapt to Home Life

Nov 30, 2017 01:16PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch

Gertrude and Louise

It wasn’t long ago that millions of animals were put down in shelters every year. In 1997, nearly 64 percent of animals that went to a shelter were ultimately euthanized, according to American Humane (AH). While that number has dropped to about 23 percent, approximately 6.5 million pets still go through animal shelters every year. 

While the best way to help these animals is through adoption, many shelters realize that a long-term commitment isn’t for everyone. That’s why they offer volunteers the opportunity to foster shelter animals, taking on dogs, cats or even rabbits until the shelter can find their new “furever” homes. 

“Taking an animal into your home and providing it with shelter and care for a predetermined amount of time—or until a home is found—is one of the most rewarding things a person can do,” said Alexis Simonow, foster program coordinator of Humane Animal Rescue North Side. “When you start fostering, we will match you with an animal that suits your lifestyle and home. Your time and commitment level can vary depending on your schedule and the shelter’s needs.”

The main function of a foster home is to provide a safe, loving environment. For the most part, this entails caring for a foster as you would care for your own pet: offering affection, socialization and exercise to keep the animal happy and healthy. 

“No matter what kind of animal you foster, all foster homes provide the valuable service of socializing the pet and getting to know its personality,” Simonow said. “Establishing a relationship with the animal by getting to know it in a stress-free environment like your home is important in helping us do the best for that dog or cat.”

Another benefit of fostering a shelter animal is that it costs little for the foster family. “We make sure foster homes have all the resources they need to be successful, from food, leashes, toys and a crate to regular veterinary care and training,” said Kristy Pszenny, admissions and foster care coordinator at Animal Friends. “You won’t make any money fostering dogs, but you will be hugely rewarded in play time, snuggles, and the indescribable feeling of knowing you are helping to save a life.”

While one of the greatest rewards of fostering is watching a rescue bloom into a pet, it’s not without its challenges. “Foster animals sometimes need to learn the basic rules of living in a house including housetraining, appropriate greeting behavior with humans, and appropriate play behavior with other animals and their humans,” explained Humane Animal Rescue East End Foster Program Coordinator Julia Blake. 

“As you gain experience as a foster, you may be asked to take on an animal with more challenging behavioral or medical needs, including hospice care, which is challenging and rewarding in a completely different way,” she added.

Humane Animal Rescue volunteers Nancy and Mark Wolfe love the challenge of special cases. The Ingram couple’s foster journey began seven years ago with three small kittens. “All three stayed permanently,” Nancy Wolfe laughed. 

She added that they became involved because they had the time and the space. She said, “We felt like it was something simple that we could do to help.” 

The couple eventually progressed to different types of fostering involving small litters and cats of all ages who needed a little extra care, including those requiring bottle feeding or who suffered from respiratory infections. 

“It is such an interesting and wonderful experience and I would recommend it to anyone,” said Wolfe. “The shelter is such a compassionate and supportive network for whatever the animal needs. And while it can be hard to say goodbye after spending weeks or months caring for a rescue, I know that if I don’t let them go, I can’t help anyone else!”

Fostering does come with one big hazard that might also be one of its biggest rewards—you just might fall in love! “Foster failures” abound in the rescue world as I personally know, because I am one myself. My dog, Holly, was supposed to be a temporary foster dog, but I soon realized I couldn’t imagine her being a part of any family but mine.

It doesn’t matter if you’re retired, a college student or have a busy family life—the shelters offer training to anyone with extra love to give. 

“It’s important for our animals to be socialized with people of all different schedules and lives,” said Pszenny. “There really are few people who don’t fit the foster parameters!”

For more information on fostering an animal, visit and