Q: Dear BooneDogs:
My family and I are thinking of fostering a shelter pet, but we’re not really sure what’s involved. We’re not sure if our home and lifestyle are even suitable for fostering, and we’re not even sure what — dog or cat, kitten or puppy — we should consider fostering. Can you help us?
A: Because I have been fostering shelter dogs, puppies, cats and kittens for over 20 years now, I am often asked the same questions by a variety of people.
Some ask, “Why do you foster?” or “How do you find the time?” Others want to know, “How do you choose the right animal?” and “How do you know if they’ll get along with your pets?”
As with adoption, fostering shelter pets is not a decision to be made lightly. A great number of questions must be asked and answered appropriately before even considering fostering.
The Human Components
• Ability. One of the first questions anyone interested in fostering should ask themselves, as well as their families and anyone else sharing their home, is “Can I foster?”
Fostering a homeless pet should never be considered unless the home environment is happy, safe, healthy and spacious enough to nurture the foster pet adequately and retain sanity among the existing member(s) of your home!
If you are in a situation where allergies or other physical health issues, mental health issues, career instability, stress, financial difficulties, housing or space restrictions are prevalent, fostering will not be an option for you at this time. The health and welfare of all existing individuals in your home — human and animal — must be considered before bringing another creature into the mix.
• Time. Human components notwithstanding, your next question should be “Do I have the time?”
Fostering a shelter pet is a 24/7 job for the entire duration of the foster. Although you may not be physically interacting with the animal 24 hours each day, you will be responsible for the pet’s safety, comfort and general well-being for those 24 hours, and this responsibility alone can be exhausting!
If your work or family schedule is already so hectic that adding another time-consuming responsibility will only create more stress, do not consider fostering at this time.
Crate training can be a wonderful training tool while fostering, but crating a dog for more than eight hours a day is cruel, abusive and can lead to severe behavioral problems for the pet and intense feelings of guilt for you.
The number of actual hours of personal attention a foster pet will need will vary greatly from animal to animal, but you can expect to spend anywhere from three to seven hours a day interacting with the pet — and even more if you’re planning to foster young puppies or kittens.
Teaching a dog or cat the lessons they will need to learn to become happy, thriving, lifelong members of another family is the essence of fostering, the reason we do it, and this takes time and patience.
The Animal Component
• What. If you and your family feel you all have the time and ability to provide a dog or cat with the socialization, exercise, positive stimulation, supplies, regular feedings, health care, vet care (as necessary) and training he or she needs to become a happy, healthy addition to someone’s home, you next need to determine “What do I want to foster?” and “Why?”
Any animal considered for fostering should be healthy, disease-free, fully vaccinated and behaviorally sound, but these are not the only considerations.
For instance, although I love cats, my husband is severely allergic to all members of the feline race, so I can no longer bring cats and kittens into my home. I’ve even tried fostering and bottle feeding newborn kittens, thinking they would be “too young to produce many allergens,” only to find out that my theory was totally incorrect, the proof lying in several trips to the emergency room for my husband. Not fun.
Next, because I am a certified canine trainer and behavior counselor, I decided it would make sense for me to primarily foster dogs, so I asked myself, “What kind of dogs am I interested in fostering?”
In addition to caring for three of my own dogs, I also care for an assortment of other four-legged creatures, and I continuously have people of all shapes, sizes and ages coming in and out of my home. Therefore, I know that I can only foster dogs who are known to be non-aggressive with other animals or children and who do not possess a high prey drive.
In general, these happy, healthy, non-aggressive dogs are the ones I recommend fostering. Minor behavior problems, such as separation anxiety and housetraining issues, can usually be dealt with through a little time, effort and knowledge, but aggression issues are very serious and can be deadly!
Because most of the shelters and rescue organizations I work with can easily find homes for the pure-bred and small dogs in their care, I have chosen to primarily foster medium-to-large mixed breed dogs (many shelters have waiting lists for purebred dogs, especially the toy breeds; please ask your shelter for more information on the situation in your area).
I specifically look for those with wonderful temperaments and who have excelled on their behavior evaluations, but who might otherwise be overlooked due to looks, breed or color. It is no secret that thousands of wonderful “black lab mixes” and “shepherd mixes” are euthanized in shelters across the country every day simply because there are so many of them, and they tend to be totally overlooked.
Hence, many of my foster dogs tend to be lab or shepherd mixes, between the ages of 1 and 3, which is when they are most likely to be surrendered.
Other foster families I have worked with prefer to take in specific breeds or whatever it is that seems to work best for them, their families and their existing pets. It is very important to do the research before you bring an animal into your home.
For instance, if your family is not very active, you probably should not bring a young, energetic border collie home. Remember, fostering does not work if it’s stressful for anyone involved, including existing pets. If bringing a young puppy or kitten into your home puts stress on older, established pets or presents a danger, you may need to reconsider what types of animals you foster, or you may need to reconsider fostering altogether.
Saving another animal’s life while jeopardizing or reducing the quality of another’s is never justified.
To be continued next week.
BooneDogs is a weekly column provided by Melissa Bahleda, a certified canine behavior counselor and the founder of PARTNERS! Canines, a non-profit shelter dog rescue organization located in Boone.