What You Need to Know Before Becoming a Dog Foster Parent
For those interested in the animal rescue world, you may think the only way you can help is through volunteering at a shelter or adopting a pet. But, there is another aspect of animal rescue that is just as important: dog fostering.
Fostering a dog is very rewarding. Knowing that you have given a dog a second chance at life is absolutely priceless. But, there are some things to consider before you become a dog foster parent. Do you have the time? Are you able to help them through a medical treatment, if necessary? Will you be able to return the dog once the fostering is over?
Here are some things to know before you decide to become a dog foster parent.
What is does being a dog foster parent mean?
Fostering a dog involves taking in a homeless dog, often from a shelter, for a specific amount of a time. It is different from adopting in that fostering a dog entails either returning the dog back to the shelter or finding them an alternate home.
Many shelters or rescue group will try to find fosters for dogs that are ill, have behavioral problems, or are at risk of being euthanized. Fostering gives the dog a second chance and greatly improves their chances of getting adopted in the future.
But, fostering a dog is more than just “babysitting”. You will have to provide love and care for the dog. You will need to devote time and patience to your foster – especially if they are sick or have behavioral issues.
Some things to know about fostering
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent at your local shelter, check out their website or make a visit for information on their foster program. From there, you can fill out a foster application. The majority of shelters or rescue groups require you to fill out an application to ensure you a good fit for their foster program. The application asks questions like where you live, your employment status, whether you have other animals, and any other relevant information.
Once you are approved as a foster, you can begin your journey as a foster parent! Many programs allow you to choose the dog you would like to foster. Shelters or rescue groups typically have certain dogs that are in need of fosters – mainly those that are in desperate need of getting out of the shelter. These can be puppies, adults, or senior dogs. But, if you see a dog that catches your eye, don’t hesitate to ask – shelters need all the help they can get!
Foster programs will almost always provide the necessary supplies for your foster dog(s). For example, they will provide you with dog food and any other supplies you may need – like pee pads, blankets, toys, or medications (if necessary). Not all programs can provide everything, though, some can just provide the food and medications. Regardless, it is not expensive to foster a dog. You ask for hand-me-down dog toys and use old blankets if you are unable or don’t want to purchase new ones.
The different types of fostering
There are a few different options when it comes to fostering a dog. The most popular form of fostering is taking a dog out of a shelter or rescue group and providing them with a loving home for anywhere from one week to one year. Foster dogs are often those that are at risk of being euthanized, have an injury or illness, or have behavioral issues. Being out of a shelter environment helps the chances of these dogs getting adopted. Shelters are a stressful place and many dogs that exhibit behavioral issues there will completely transform in a home. If they are sick, a foster will provide them with a safe and nurturing place to recover.
Another form of fostering is short-term fostering for city shelters. Some rescue groups will take dogs out of city shelters and transport them to in or out of state rescue groups. The transports are scheduled weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. So, these groups rely on short-term fosters who can provide a temporary home for the pups while they wait to be transported. Sometimes these groups have their own space where the dogs can stay, but they are not nearly large enough to hold all the dogs they pull from the shelter. Fosters for this group will often have the dogs for anywhere from one day to one month.
Short-term fostering is great for people that don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to a long term foster. It is also a great option for people that travel often.
Where will you foster the dog from?
Are you looking to foster a dog from the city shelter or from a private rescue group? Both will have different foster options. Many shelters will post dogs in need of fosters on their website or social media pages. If you are planning on long-term fostering, make sure you can dedicate enough time. A foster parent can have a dog from one day to one year (or more).
Will you foster a puppy or an adult dog?
Whether you foster a puppy or an adult dog is a personal preference. Some people enjoy fostering puppies while others prefer fostering an adult dog.
Puppies are obviously cute and fun but they are a lot of work! Fostering a puppy will require a lot more work and time than fostering an adult dog. They wake up every couple of hours, whine and bark, love to play, and will get into anything they possibly can.
Adult dogs may require less time and work than puppies, but they are not perfect! Adult dogs can have a harder time adjusting to a new home. This can cause unwanted behaviors like chewing, barking, or digging. Furthermore, depending on their emotional and physical state, they can be tough to handle. They may be skittish or shy, especially if they were physically abused. Or, if they are ill, they may be reserved or quiet.
There are pros and cons to fostering both puppies and adults. Try fostering both and see which one you prefer.
Consider the size of the foster dog
If you are fostering a puppy, this isn’t necessarily an issue. But if you are planning on fostering an adult dog, consider their size. Are you able to foster a small dog? A large dog? This of course depends on your available space and the time you have to dedicate to a foster dog.
Will you be fostering through a medical treatment?
If you are planning on fostering a dog through a medical treatment such as heartworm treatment, an internal illness, or a physical injury, you will have to be prepared. The shelter or foster group will provide the necessary medications for them as well as the required vet visits. (You will have to transport the dog to the vet, though).
Fostering a dog through heartworm treatment can quite literally save their life. Heartworm treatment lasts about three to four months. You will have to keep the dog sedentary throughout the treatment (the easiest way to do this is to keep them in the crate and only bring them out for bathroom breaks and feeding time) and bring them for their treatment. Treatment typically involves two rounds of immiticide shots one month apart. The first round is one shot and the second round is two shots back-to-back. They will also need several medications including antibiotics. Some will also need pain medication as the needle is very large and can hurt them!
It should be noted that some illnesses are contagious. Sarcoptic mange, for example, is a contagious skin disease. It is especially contagious among dogs, so it is not recommended that you foster a dog with sarcoptic mange if you have other animals in your house. Demodex mange, on the other hand, is not a contagious skin disease and should not be an issue if you have other dogs in your house.
Kennel cough (or an upper respiratory infection) is also contagious. Kennel cough is a very contagious respiratory disease. Dogs suffering from kennel cough will have symptoms such as a runny nose, a cough, a loss of appetite, and lethargy. If you are fostering a dog with an upper respiratory infection, make sure to keep them separate from other dogs in the house until they are better.
Some dogs will need fosters to help recovery from surgeries or from physical injuries. Spending their recovery in a home will help them recuperate faster!
How long are you looking to foster a dog for?
Not all shelters or rescue groups have a specific time frame for fostering a dog. Your foster may stay with you for just a few days to more than a year – depending on the terms. Before looking to foster a dog, figure out how much time you have. Are you going on a vacation within the next few months? Are you starting a new job? Moving? Consider all these factors before committing to a foster.
If you do only have a short amount of time, you can consider short-term fostering. Many groups will work with you if you only have a limited amount of time. Even the smallest amount of time can mean the difference between life and death for a dog!
Will you be fostering more than one dog?
Shelters will often need fosters for litters of puppies. This could mean up to 10 puppies – depending on the litter! Sometimes this will include the mother as well. Of course you are not obligated to take the entire litter and the mother, but do figure out if you’d like to foster more than one dog. You can certainly foster just one dog from a litter – every little bit helps!
If you would like to foster more than one dog, kudos to you! Shelters and rescue groups need all the help they can get. Fostering more than one puppy can certainly be a handful, but it’s also very fun! Plus, having more than one puppy means they can play with each other and keep each other entertained.
Make sure to take into account if the dogs you are looking to foster have any medical issues. If you are fostering multiple dogs with medical issues, you have to do double the medications and treatments. It’s a bit easier with puppies, but adult dogs can be a bit more difficult to handle.
Do you have any other animals in your house?
Having other animals in your house may complicate a foster. Some dogs – and cats – get along great with other dogs, but some don’t. If your dog doesn’t get along with other dogs that well, fostering a puppy might be the best bet. Though puppies are very rambunctious and high energy, they often bounce from one thing to another. They may be bothering your dog for one minute then chewing on a toy the next! That might make your existing dog feel less anxious or stressed.
If you have the space, keeping the dogs separate is also an option. If your foster is suffering from a contagious illness, you may have to keep the dogs separate regardless. You certainly wouldn’t want to risk exposing your current dog to kennel cough or sarcoptic mange.
Will you have time for a foster dog?
Although you may only have a foster for a specific amount of time, they are still a dog and they definitely require time and energy. Do you have the time to bring a foster dog into your home? This is even more crucial if you are fostering a puppy (or litter of puppies). Puppies require a lot of time, energy, and patience!
Are you willing to try to find them a new home?
Unless the shelter specifically requires you to return the dog to them, many will ask for your help in finding the dog a new home. This may mean contacting potential adopters and scheduling meet and greets. Are you able to drive them to a potential adopter’s home? That may mean multiple trips to their home. There may also be more than one person interested in the dog, which means more trips. This is another thing to consider when potentially fostering a dog.
Be prepared for the unexpected
As with anything in life, there will always be things that happen unexpectedly. Be prepared if your foster dog comes down with a cold, injures themselves, or gets loose. If your foster dog becomes ill or gets injured, take them to the vet immediately. Most foster programs have a specific vet they use for both emergencies and non-emergencies.
If you are fostering a puppy that has just received their first round of booster shots, they may have worms in their stool. This can be normal, but if you are even slightly concerned, contact the veterinarian the foster group provided immediately. In fact, if your foster puppy is exhibiting any abnormal behavior, contact their vet immediately. No worry is too small!
If your foster unexpectedly bolts out the door and is nowhere to be found, the first thing you should do is call the shelter or rescue group. Any shelter dog will be microchipped, so it the dog is found, there is a good chance they will be returned to the shelter. Shelters or rescue groups may post on their social media accounts or organize search parties to help find the dog.
Prepare to do a lot of extra cleaning
If you are planning on fostering a puppy (or puppies), be prepared to do a lot more cleaning than normal. If there’s one things puppies are – other than cute – it’s messy! Be ready to do a lot more laundry – puppies don’t always know the difference between a pee pad and a blanket. Make sure to have some extra paper towel rolls on hand and a lot of towels.
Adult dogs can also have accidents in the house, especially if they are nervous, anxious, or stressed. Adult dogs can also get into they shouldn’t if they feel worried or out of place.
Are you planning on eventually adopting your foster dog?
Some foster parents don’t start out with the intention of adopting their foster dog. But, the more time they spend with them, the more attached they grow and find it impossible to part.
Also known as a “foster fail”, adopting your foster dog is very common – especially with long term fosters. It’s hard not to become attached to your foster after spending so much time with them. Many foster programs allow you to adopt your foster, but some do not.
For example, the short-term foster groups have a strict “no adoption” policy. The dogs they are transporting are already promised to certain rescue groups. Many of these rescue groups advertise the dogs before they even arrive! While it is very easy to become attached to a short-term foster, there is often an agreement in place which states you cannot adopt them.
Will you be able to return your foster back if you are not adopting them?
Possibly the hardest part of fostering is having to bring them back! If you absolutely cannot adopt your foster, you will have to return them to the shelter or bring them to their forever home. Having to return a dog that you have become attached to is very emotional. Will you be prepared for that? The more times you foster, the easier it (might) get, but it will still be difficult to give them up. Just keep reminding yourself that you made a tremendous difference in your foster dog’s life and they wouldn’t be where they are today without you!
If you are unable to adopt a dog from a shelter but still want to help in some way, consider fostering. Becoming a dog foster parent can mean the difference between life and death for a shelter dog. A dog that is scheduled to be euthanized can be saved by a foster. A dog that is sick can be saved by a foster.
Any shelter dog can be saved by a foster.