Foster Homes Fill Critical Need for Animal Rescue Organizations
Jun 30, 2019 10:27AM
By Vanessa Orr
Molly, photo by Vanessa Orr
While I love dogs, I am not particularly fond of puppies. They are loud, messy, ridiculously rambunctious and not always the best at sleeping through the night. And this is why I choose to foster them.
For many shelters and animal rescue organizations, fosters are an integral part of their operations. People open their homes to temporarily provide a place where animals can stay while they wait to find their forever families. In some cases, fosters are needed because a shelter is getting overcrowded; in others, it is to give respite for an animal that doesn’t do well in a shelter situation. Still others foster to help rescue organizations that don’t have a brick-and-mortar building.
“We wouldn’t be able to save all of the animals that we do without our fosters,” explained Lynda Manko, executive director of Animal Lifeline, which operates out of Homestead, PA. “We’re completely foster-based; we don’t have a shelter of our own. In order to take animals out of high-kill shelters in other areas, we have to have a place to put them.”
Animal Friends, located on Camp Horne Road in Ohio Township, had more than 1,170 animals in foster care last year and its volunteers provided more than 230,116 hours of foster care.
“Fosters are critical to our shelter because we care for up to 250 dogs, cats and rabbits on-site, and when they go out to homes, it allows us to bring in that many more,” said Animal Friends Director of Communications Shannon Clarke. “It enables us to care for so many animals beyond our walls.”
Fostering provides many benefits. Not only does it provide an immediate home to an animal in need, but it also gives that pet a chance to adjust to a home setting.
“For many animals, growing up in a shelter is all they know,” said Manko. “They don’t learn social skills or manners sitting in a cage or receive potty training. Once they get with a family, they can learn to become socialized, well-behaved dogs. It especially helps if the foster has another dog that can show them the way.”
In addition to providing behavioral help, fosters can also provide much-needed medical supervision. “We are limited by what we can do in the shelter for animals with medical needs,” said Clarke. “We have a great medical staff, but sometimes the situation is so severe that animals need round-the-clock care—like neonatal kittens that have lost their mother. Our fosters can be our eyes and ears with these animals and provide the type of care that ensures the best chance of survival.”
Fosters can also provide an opportunity for animals who have trouble with shelter living to thrive in a different environment. “The shelter setting is very stressful and can be detrimental to certain animals,” said Clarke. “We had one very hyperactive dog that was doing poorly here but did much better in the relaxed, calm environment of the foster’s home.
“They worked his behavior plan until he was ready for adoption—but then realized that they couldn’t give him up,” she laughed. “That happens more often than you’d think.”
Are You a Good Foster Candidate?
Bringing a foster pet into a family can have its challenges, which is why Manko meets with prospective fosters to determine the type of dog that would work best. “I talk with them about what they think they’d be comfortable with—a large or small dog, a puppy versus an adult, and what type of home they have—whether they have a fenced-in yard, or what their landlord would allow,” she explained. “If they have another pet, it’s important to make sure that the foster will be welcome—puppies can be annoying to an older dog, but that same dog might be fine with another adult.”
Depending on the situation, fosters may be for the short-term—a month or so—or require a much longer commitment. The organization provides everything the foster parent needs, including food, puppy pads, medicine and veterinary care. “All we expect our fosters to provide is love and attention,” said Manko. “We want them to nurture that animal so that it is ready to go into a loving home.”
At Animal Friends, those interested in fostering take a class on the subject before being put on a list to be matched with the appropriate animal. “We also work with them to help decide what type of situation is best, whether that’s fostering dogs, cats or rabbits, kittens or puppies, or animals in hospice or with medical needs,” said Clarke.
While some organizations discourage fosters adopting the animals they raise, others are fine with those who just can’t part with their temporary pets. “We’re open adoption; if we approve you to foster, we’d be thrilled to have a dog placed in your home forever,” said Manko.
“We probably have about an 80 percent foster fail rate at Animal Lifeline,” she laughed. “Some people continue to foster and continue to fail. I know of at least five people who have adopted more than one of our dogs.”
Ways to Avoid Foster Fails
In my case, the reason I choose to foster puppies is simple; I really love senior dogs. So it’s easier for me to part with the little ones after I’ve raised them for awhile because I’m ready for a break from the noise and the mess. And so are my two older dogs, who while patient, aren’t sad to see them go.
“Most everyone who fosters has some animals that they are okay with giving up, and others that they hate to see leave,” said Manko. “Puppies are especially messy, and people may say they won’t do it again, but a couple months later, here they are asking to take more home. It’s kind of like giving birth—you say there’s no way you’re doing it again, but a year later, you’re ready to have another.”
“I remember a 75-year-old gentlemen I met at a transport who was bawling his eyes out over letting go of his foster beagle,” she added. “I told him we could probably work it out so he could keep her, but he said no.
“He told me, ‘I cry every time one of them leaves, but if I keep her, I can’t open my heart and home to another one.’ And that’s the way you have to look at it. You’re creating a life-saving opportunity for an animal so that they can go on to become another person’s everything.”