The Different Meanings of Fostering

Ask any shelter or rescue what their number one need is, and it is almost always people willing to foster. While one may rightly assume shelters need food, vet care, or toys, fosters represent the greatest need. People ready to step up and provide a foster home for dogs or cats are very hard to come by.

While shelters do board animals in kennels, the experience of being isolated in a confined space can be highly stressful. This is especially true for animals who’ve been surrendered after living their lives in a home. For a rescue, having fosters willing to assist with an animal may mean the difference between supporting that pet or having to turn it away.

So, what exactly is a foster? A foster is a person who opens up their home to temporarily house/care for a pet in need. Fosters give the pet shelter, love, companionship, and structure. They also meet the animal’s needs for food, water, and medications (when need). For most fosters, the experience is very rewarding.

Generally, there are three types of foster care that one can participate in:

Temporary foster care lasts for a predetermined or fixed amount of time. This includes people that need care for their pets during personal healthcare crises or other emergencies to give them the time to get their lives re-established. It may be recovery from surgery, the need to be the primary caregiver to a parent on hospice, moving to another home, school, or military deployment. These are pet owners who do not want to permanently rehome or lose their pets. Still, they do not have reliable family or friends whom they can rely on to care for their pet. They can care for or commit to the needs of their pets during this critical time.

Once the fostering commitment is finished, the pet is returned to the owner.

Flexible Foster: The second type of foster is an open-ended foster home. This foster agrees to be a temporary pet owner to a dog or cat. You give him/her your love, guidance, attention, meeting their needs until the pet is adopted to a “forever” home.

This foster parent can identify animal needs that need to be addressed by seeing the pet in a home environment. These needs include socialization, exercise and leash walking, potty training, or crate training. Essentially, this type of foster works with the dog or cat to develop the skills needed for the animal to be successful in an adoptive home. It is vital for those who foster a pet to remember their involvement is essential. Still, guardianship is temporary to the animal in need. The number of animals that can be saved and rehomed via one foster can easily reach double digits in a year or two.

Foster to Adopt: The third type of foster is foster to adopt.

This is a person who is looking for a cat or dog to become part of their family and takes the pet as a 30-day foster to see if it’s a good match for both the pet and people. To see how the animal interacts with family, children, extended family/friends, and addressing any concerns before officially adopting the pet into their family. This also allows a person or family to assess if they are ready to own a pet and meet the dog/cat’s needs.

Sometimes fosters decide the pet they are caring for is an excellent fit for their lives. They were not foster to adopt, but open-ended foster homes. These are affectionately known as “foster failures” because their capacity to bring in another animal has diminished by one. While caring for a dog/cat can lead to a strong bond, foster failure is not the goal of fostering animals in need. We don’t want to discourage anyone from permanently adopting or fostering. However, it is incredibly gratifying to see an animal thrive in one’s care and be successfully adopted into a permanent home.

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