Many people have the time, space, and desire to have a pet. However, pets are a lifetime commitment, and sometimes you just know that realistically you aren’t at that point in your life where you could permanently take care of a pet for its lifetime. Perhaps you already have pets of your own, but you’d like to help more. Maybe you have a lot of time, but not enough money to realistically afford having a pet. In any of these cases, being a foster parent may be an option for you.
Fostering pets generally involves an organization bailing the pet out of a kill shelter, then you will keep the pet temporarily, for a specified or unspecified amount of time. The animal will be treated as your own pet while at your residence, and then will be either transferred to another foster home or adopted into a permanent home. By fostering, you are giving shelter pets an extended amount of time to find a home. Some pets also don’t do so well in a shelter environment and fare much better in a home environment that a foster home provides.
Before you jump into fostering, you’ll want to consider what kind of pets you’d like to foster and what kinds of pets you are realistically able to foster. There are rescues out there for just about any type of pet. You could foster various breeds of dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, birds, reptiles, etc. I personally have found fostering rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats quite rewarding.
Once you’ve decided what type of pet(s) you’d like to foster, look around for a rescue near you. A good place to find a rescue is www.petfinder.com. Some rescues will say right on their page that they need more foster homes, while others will not. Some may not be able to have you foster right away, depending on their resources. I’d recommend volunteering first with the group if you can, just to make sure you agree with their practices and like the group. If you end up not liking the group’s policies, fostering is going to leave you with a bad taste rather than a warm fuzzy feeling.
After you find a rescue, there are some things to check into. If you want to foster pets because you would love to have pets, but do not realistically have enough money to care for them, see what the rescue provides. Don’t just assume that the rescue is paying for everything, check first! Some rescues give you all of the supplies, pay any vet bills, and in addition give you money as well for your time. Most however, don’t pay you to foster. You are most likely going to be fostering as volunteer work, out of the goodness of your heart (which is really how it should be anyway, if you won’t enjoy caring for animals, don’t get into fostering). Most rescues at least provide you with the most essential supplies. I’ve volunteered as a pet foster parent for two different rescues. Both provided the pens/cages and at least some of the food and bedding. I was expected to provide part of the food (especially the perishable stuff, like vegetables). I knew this going in, so I was expecting to pay a bit of money out of my own pocket. Rescues often have policies about vet visits. These are usually very reasonable. Just to make sure you aren’t a hypochondriac, most rescues ask that you phone someone in charge before you head to the vet if it isn’t an emergency. This will ensure that the rescue pays the vet bill, not you. It is important to ask about any such rules before you begin, so you don’t end up paying for something you thought you wouldn’t have to pay for. Another thing to check into, is how much driving (if any) will be required of you. Some rescues require you to bring your foster pets to adoption days, while others do not. Some rescues bring the pets to you and pick them up when they’re getting adopted, while others expect you to pick up the animal and possibly even do the last step of the adoption process in your home. Again, something to check into ahead of time so that there are no surprises. Rescues should be more than happy to answer any of your questions before you begin fostering.
In addition to you asking the rescue questions, the rescue is also going to ask you some questions. Don’t take this as a sign they won’t trust you, it’s just part of the process that needs to be done. You are going to be caring for animals that they worked hard to bring out of the shelter and will work hard to get into permanent homes. They just want to make sure you are going to properly care for the animals and see if you need an additional information on the care of the species and/or breed that you will be fostering. They will want to know things such as: where you plan to keep the animals, if you’ve had any previous experience with animals, and how long you will be able to foster animals placed in your care. If you will only be able to foster for a certain amount of time, let the rescue know this in advance so that they are aware that the animals will need another place to live after this time period. If you have had a great deal of experience with animals and would be interested in fostering even special needs animals, let them know this as well. The rescue just wants to learn as much about you as they can so that they can not only ensure their animals will be in great hands, but also so that they will know which animals will be best for you. If you go out jogging every morning anyway, a dog that loves to run may be a good match.
Fostering pets can be quite rewarding. I have been fostering animals since 2002. I have had nearly 100 animals go through my doors and it is always exciting to see them get adopted into their new (hopefully) permanent homes and finally have a family of their own. Fostering isn’t for everyone though. If you know you are going to end up getting attached and adopting all of your fosters yourself, maybe fostering isn’t for you (at least, after awhile it won’t be, because your house will be full!). If after going through the process and learning about fostering for a rescue, you find you don’t actually have that much time, considering volunteering instead. You can often sign up to only volunteer at events or even volunteer from home online. There are many different ways that you can help homeless animals, fostering is just one of them.