It’s no secret that there is a significant number of homeless animals in the U.S. One recent report found around 7.6 million animals enter shelters each year. Unfortunately, it’s also clear there aren’t enough shelters or places in shelters to cope with the demand. This makes pet foster parents a vital tool on the road to adoption.
In many ways, this arrangement can be mutually rewarding for both the animal and you as the foster parent. The pet gets the opportunity to experience invaluable love and attention in a home environment. You get to enjoy the presence of another life in your home and build some incredible memories. That’s not to say it’s always easy, though. It’s important to take some time to understand the challenges before committing.
Let’s take a look at some of the key elements to consider about becoming a pet foster parent.
Is it the Right Time?
It’s important not to leap into becoming a pet foster parent. It’s true that there is certainly a huge number of animals in need of places to stay before adoption. However, going to the wrong foster home at the wrong time can cause additional trauma to the pet and stress for the foster parent. While you have the best intentions in offering your home, it’s vital to ensure first it’s the right time for you to make this commitment.
There are several elements to consider in this regard. These include:
Fostering a pet takes a significant commitment of time. You’re bringing an animal into a place that is strange to them at a time in which they may feel vulnerable. They’ll need you to support them through their initial introduction to your home, day-to-day activities, and in meeting potential adopters. While not every foster pet will require the same level of care, it’s important to be clear on whether you have enough time available.
Living with a pet is a significant financial commitment. This is no different when you become a foster pet parent. Unlike those who foster human children, you’re unlikely to receive any form of financial compensation. Though some shelters may provide a certain amount of food or access to veterinary care, this is not always the case. As such, you need to be sure that this is the right time financially for you to take on the commitment of fostering an animal.
Is Your Home Prepared?
When you become a foster pet parent, you’re not just offering your time, energy, and love, you’re also welcoming an animal into your home. As such, it’s important to make sure your home is prepared for their arrival. This means assessing and adapting the space to ensure it can meet your foster pet’s physical, psychological, and emotional needs.
This should begin by establishing areas that need to be pet-proofed. There are some general techniques you can utilize to protect both your foster pet and your home. These include keeping toilet seats closed to prevent the pet from drinking household chemicals and securing any medications in inaccessible places at all times. If you keep houseplants, it’s important to research whether they’re poisonous to pets and move them to a safer space if necessary. Any heavy bookcases or standing furniture should also be secured to the walls to mitigate the potential for a rambunctious foster pet to knock them over and injure themselves.
Alongside the more general forms of pet proofing, you’ll also need to prepare your home to meet the unique needs of your foster pet. Some animals may live with anxiety or find the presence of loud noises or other stimuli overwhelming or stressful. If you live in a city, it may be wise to install some soundproofing or light dimmer switches to provide your foster pet with a more comfortable environment. If you are fostering a pet with mobility challenges, you will also likely need to make accommodations for them. This might include rearranging furniture to minimize obstructions or even placing steps up to the window sill for an elderly cat.
Can You Train a Companion?
In some circumstances, one of the responsibilities of a pet foster parent is to ensure the animal is in a position to be rehomed. This may involve training your foster pet to become a suitable companion for a future adoptee. Indeed, a pet that has been trained in certain areas can help to make them a more viable prospective pet for a forever home. As such, one of your considerations needs to be whether you are in a position to provide some rudimentary training.
This doesn’t mean you need to be able to teach the pet to perform tricks or even be unfailingly obedient. Rather, you should be able to work with them on the essentials. Toilet training is especially important with younger animals, though some older pets that have gone through traumatic experiences may need some help here too. Dogs, cats, and even birds might also need some behavior diversion training to stop them from biting or scratching furniture or people. These activities take time, patience, and some knowledge to do well.
Obviously, not everyone will have expertise here. Some shelters will run or provide access to courses for their fosters. If not, it may be wise to seek out assistance from a local training provider. Though, at the very least it’s sensible to get some guidance on basic foster pet training from reliable online sources.
Are You Emotionally Prepared?
An area of consideration many inexperienced potential pet foster parents overlook is their emotional readiness. A foster pet requires not just tangible forms of support, but also genuine love and care. This is something they have likely not received a lot of for some time and is essential for rebuilding trust and confidence. Therefore, your emotional availability is one of the minimum requirements to foster a pet.
While it’s true that pets can be great for your emotional and mental health, in these instances the pet’s well-being must come first. There’s no shame in admitting you’re not at a good place in your life or even that your own emotional state doesn’t leave much room for you to take care of another emotionally vulnerable being. However, it is vital to be honest with yourself about this and hold off until such time you can dedicate yourself fully.
It’s also worth remembering foster pets may have gone through significant traumatic experiences. As such, they may exhibit behavior or feelings consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not just a challenge for the pet, but you may also find their symptoms distressing. It’s vital to take some time to think about how prepared you are emotionally to both provide support to an animal with this experience and to look after yourself.
Can You Facilitate the Transfer?
Being a pet foster parent is a temporary arrangement. While you’ll love and care for the animal as though they’re a member of your family, the intention is to support them on the way to a forever home. You should consider how you can best approach and handle this process.
This is not always easy for people. You may have to arrange to meet with potential adopters, provide updates on their progress, and handle the logistics of the transfer. There are certainly some tools that can help on a practical level and allow you to be a good representative of the shelter. For instance, sending a thank you card with a photo of the pet to new adopters is a considerate and practical act. Firstly, it’s a more personal keepsake to express your and the shelter’s gratitude at a key moment in the animal’s journey. You can also put your phone number in the card so the family can contact you for any assistance or advice they may need.
Nevertheless, you’ll find there is another emotional component in this process. It can be difficult to part with a pet that has spent weeks or perhaps months with your family. It can be worth talking to your shelter or to more experienced pet foster parents about approaches and techniques to help you here.
Becoming a pet foster parent can be a rewarding experience for you, the animal, and the shelter alike. Nevertheless, it’s important not to leap in before you’re ready. Seriously review whether it’s the right time for you to accept the responsibility. Prepare your home, explore training methods, and understand the challenges of facilitating a transfer to a forever home. By committing a little extra time and energy now you can make certain the foster process has the most positive impact.