Much like Pet Insurance, fostering is something we have done in the past, but don’t currently.
Unlike insurance though, we have a much more extensive history when it comes to hosting foster dogs. The portly little lady pictured above was our most recent temporary resident. Elsie (aka Elsanor), a malti-shi-something mix, twice surrendered, 10 years old, deaf as a post, with a penchant for demand barking. Oh, she was a charmer that one. The Elsinator stayed with us for a little over a month before finding her perfect home. She has her own serving staff of cats and retirees to see to her needs.
Other than her highness there, I can count 10 other dogs who’ve stayed with us for any length of time since 2002. That number doesn’t include dogs picked up from shelters and transported to other foster homes or dogs taken on early morning adventures to the mobile spay/neuter clinic. There have been a number of other short-term stays.
I often get asked about fostering. It goes something like this: “How do you do it? I couldn’t do it! I’d keep them all.” or “Isnt it hard not to get attached?”.
The truth of the matter is you do get attached and it is very hard. I’ve blubbered over every single goodbye I’ve ever said to a foster dog, regardless of how confident I was about their placement. You are supposed to love them and be their advocate. That’s in the job description. Fostering is like getting tattoos. If it didn’t hurt, everyone would do it. Also, its a little stupid. You are signing up for pain, and will undoutedly be left with a permanent mark.
It’s not for the feint of heart, and it’s not for the weak of will. In my world, it is not ‘test-driving’ a dog. For me the point of fostering has always been to find the dog a home better than my own. I will admit, that perhaps has not always happened. That aside, it’s about the dog. It’s not about you. There is always a need for more foster homes. Fostering is so much better for the dog and the potential adoptee than the shelter environment. If we could handle the bulk of our homeless pet problem this way, countless situations would be improved. It’s my favorite kind of volunteer work. The kind that happens in your house. If fostering is something you’ve given some thought to, here’s what I would encourage you to think about before you commit.
Who To Foster For? The most important question. All rescues have pretty much one thing in common: They need foster homes. Beyond that though, it’s a world of difference. Familiarize yourself with their adoption and fostering procedures before you even enquire. Personally, I won’t foster for an organization that doesn’t do home checks. I refuse to send a dog in my care to a new home sight unseen. I also want ultimate veto power in saying no to a potential adopter. That pretty much disqualifies most shelters and there aren’t many rescues who support those policies. Those issues are more important to me than getting the dog placed quickly. Other people might want to know the dog could go somewhere else if it’s not working out in their home or that the dog will only be with them for X amount of time. Whatever it is that’s most important to you, discuss it with the organization before hand.
Money Concerns. Foster dogs are another mouth to feed. Organizations will generally cover vet care and medications. In some cases, rescues who really have it together will also provide flea meds, id tags, and some supplements. Those are few and far between in my experience. I insist on buying all my fosters a new collar and tag. It’s standard equipment upon admittance. After what they’ve been through, its the least I can do. In most cases, I feed them the same diet as my own dogs, unless dietary restrictions have been noted. I’ve bought jackets, beds, and tempting treats all for dogs who were not my own, which were mostly sent with them to their new homes. Some of this is optional. Grooming I paid for was not. The point is do you have the money to feed and care for another dog? How comfortable are you waiting for reimbursement? How does the rescue handle that? More questions to ask the rescue and yourself.
Time Suck. It’s not just money. Foster dogs require vet trips. You may have to go pick them up from faraway shelters or homes. If you insist on home visits, those can eat up entire evenings or even days with no guarantee it will work out. There will be lots of email correspondence, phone calls, picture taking, and soul searching. They need to be worked into your day to day dog routine. How long will this go on? Who knows! I’ve had foster dogs for 2 weeks or 2 months. Our longest term “foster” dog was with us for 18 months, until he passed. The rescue and I determined he was too old to be adoptable, after he was already here.
Pack Dynamics. What about your own dogs? Are they going to take kindly to an interloper? Adding a new dog to the mix always causes a shift in the group, no matter how slight. Do you have your dogs under control enough to handle that? Do you know what kind of dog would fit well with your pack? I know better than to foster female dogs, since I already have 3 divas. Elsie was the exception to that. Being old and mostly lazy she wasn’t much of a threat. Around here, small dogs fit in better than big dogs. Certain breeds better than others. What is your criteria? My dogs are very used to transient residents. We have a whole introduction routine that we’ve perfected over the years. Still I make sure to tighten up the ship behaviorally if a new dog arrives or leave.
Giving Them Up. You’ve taken this dog that someone threw away, and loved it and cared for it and bathed it and walked it and generally completed your fixer upper project. Now give it away. Go ahead. The reality is you can not keep them all. Even if you could, that is not the point of this mission. The point was to save this dog from an unfortunate fate. You did that. Good work. Someone is going to appreciate this dog, hopefully for the rest of it’s life and beyond (*fingers crossed*). They will appreciate the dog though. Probably not you. That’s just as it should be. Your emotion is secondary, so don’t let it keep you from doing what you set out to do. Find the dog the best home you can, a home better than your own, and then let it go. Go home and lick your wounds and cry for your lost love. Remember that dog forever and always, and think fondly of it. Even if that is the only or the last foster you ever have, that’s fine. Know that in a long line of failures, you were the person who changed their luck.
So much to think about! And it’s always going to end in (your) heartbreak. Why would anyone ever do this? My answer is Buster, Cassidy, Tucker, Tiffany, Miles, Billy, Cooper, Hershey (especially Hershey), Kirby, Chloe, Texas, and Elsanor.
Good dogs with happy endings. I am very proud of the role we played in making that possible. Completely worth the tears and the time and the money, because that’s not really what I remember. I remember picking up mostly raggety, sick, scared, dogs from nefarious circumstances and slowly watching them heal and bloom. I remember when I saw the application for just the right home for them. I save the emails I’ve gotten from happy families, with pictures attached. If it’s about the dog, then it’s totally worth it.
If it’s so wonderful, why dont we do it now? Hello!?! Six dogs, people! 6!