“I’d love to foster, but I just can’t. My heart couldn’t take it.”
People reach out to me with questions about fostering all the time. And that quote is one of the main things I hear. And trust me, I used to feel that exact same way too. I love dogs so much and always wanted to help them. But the thought of letting an animal in need live with me, and then having to say goodbye to it once it was adopted, felt like it would be too much to bear. But in reality, having that much love and compassion for animals is what makes so many of us well suited to be fosters in the first place.
Once I really became educated on animal rescue, and how many amazing pets there are out there in desperate need of a loving home, I knew I wanted to foster. I toyed with the idea of it for years, but always came back to the thought that I just couldn’t do it because the goodbyes would be too hard for me. But then my sister, who is a major animal lover too, started to foster and I got the final nudge I needed to set my fears aside and foster my first dog, little 8 week old Vanessa.
Since then, over the course of 2+ years, I have fostered 19 dogs and 1 kitten, in addition to my own two bunnies that I adopted in 2011. I have learned so much along the way and the gift of being able to love so many little souls so deeply has been invaluable to me.
Fostering is one of the hardest things I do, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things I do too. I can’t even articulate how much purpose fostering gives me. And even though it can be tough work, it’s so worth it.
I’ve compiled all of the typical questions I get about fostering below so that if you’re ever toying with the idea of fostering yourself, this can be a one stop shop to answer many of your questions. 🙂 Here we go…
Wait a minute, I don’t even get it exactly. What is fostering?
Fostering animals is the same concept as fostering children, the foster parent cares for them in their home while they are waiting to be adopted. In my case that means I take care of animals in need, mostly dogs, in my home until they find their forever home. Fostering is beneficial because it allows the animal to get out of the shelter environment and get tons of love while waiting to find the perfect adopter. It is also beneficial because there are millions of animals in need, so when you allow one to live with you in your home, that frees up space in the shelter for the next animal in need. Sometimes animals need to be fostered because they’re really old, sometimes they’re really young, sometimes they’re sick, and sometimes it’s just as simple as them needing to get out of the stress of the shelter environment to get a little extra TLC.
How do you find your fosters? Is it all through the same shelter?
Almost all of my fosters have come from the shelter in NYC that I volunteer with. When I first decided I wanted to start volunteering with animals, I did a quick google search for shelters in my area and found the one I wanted to volunteer at. I signed up, went to orientation, started volunteering (where I’d walk dogs, clean cages and help with adoption events) and then started fostering about a year later.
How long do you have the dogs when you foster them?
The shortest I’ve ever had a foster was a few days and the longest I’ve ever had a foster was four months.
Don’t you want to keep them all? Isn’t it so hard to say goodbye?
Yes! I have contemplated keeping every single one of my foster dogs. I have truly loved each of them with my whole heart. But, that said, I’ve committed myself to fostering for now. So that’s what I’m doing.
The goodbyes can be hard, but they’ve definitely gotten much easier. My first foster goodbye was the hardest and I think I cried for three days after she was adopted because I missed her so much. But nowadays, I still sometimes get a little teary during the actual goodbye, but that’s generally it. I focus on the fact that they are going on to a happy life with their forever family and that we fulfilled our purpose together. I also always keep in mind that I’ve been through it many, many times before so I know that any sadness I feel will soon dissipate.
Which ones are the hardest to say goodbye to?
Definitely the dogs that “need” me the most. The ones that have been through horrible traumas that I’ve nursed back to health and then watched blossom into loving, sweet animals before my eyes, always get me the most choked up during goodbyes.
Don’t they poop and pee in your apartment?
Yes, some of them sure do. It’s just something I’ve had to accept. When they are very young puppies, they will 100% have accidents because they haven’t developed bladder and bowel control yet. And that goes for any puppy, from a breeder or shelter, if they are really young, they just simply aren’t old enough to be trained yet.
With most of the older dogs I’ve fostered, they’ve been easy to housetrain and some have come to me totally housebroken already. But it’s normal to have accidents at first. Think of it like this: they may have lived their whole lives knowing to go to the bathroom outside, but then they are forced to live in a shelter and they simply don’t always get the opportunity to go outside and relieve themselves. So they have no choice but to start going in their crates/cages. That can actually be quite traumatic for dogs who have been housetrained their whole lives and know they shouldn’t go inside. So they might be confused when they first come to you, but most of them will get the hang of it in no time.
And another good tip, get yourself a good carpet cleaner! I use this one:
What if they don’t stop urinating in the house?
This has happened a couple of times with my fosters, and they ended up having UTIs. Not because there is anything inherently sickly about them, but because wherever they came from probably didn’t take good care of them, which led to them developing an infection like a UTI. Once you get those UTIs treated, they stop having accidents. So if you have a foster or new dog who is having a lot of accidents, I would recommend having your veterinarian check for a UTI.
Who pays for the foster dog’s supplies? What about vet bills?
That will totally depend on the rescue you volunteer with/foster through. Some rescues are able to provide you will all the supplies you need, and some rescues simply don’t have the budget to do so, so you take on that responsibility yourself.
Most shelters/rescues pays for all vet bills.
What do you do with the dogs when you’re at work?
That depends. If they’re really mellow and well-behaved like Day-Day, I just leave them at home free to roam. With most other dogs I normally leave them in a crate. On the days I work longer shifts I always get someone to stop in and check on them.
Have you ever disliked any of your foster dogs?
Nope! In the beginning I’ve been overwhelmed by some, but as we get to know each other better I always end up loving them so much.
What’s the biggest transformation you’ve seen in a foster dog?
Two come to mind right away. First, Day-Day whose transformation was so fast. When I picked up Day-Day, who was blind, at the shelter he was covered in feces, his fur was completely matted, he was barking incessantly and acting aggressive. Keep in mind, when I picked him up he was in a cage with no air conditioning on a 95 degree day. As soon as we left the facility where I picked him up, he tried to lunge at a passerby on our walk home and then snapped at me while I was cleaning his fur. I felt so overwhelmed and strongly considered telling the shelter I couldn’t do it.
But once he settled into my apartment, felt cool air for the first time in days, got cleaned off, and realized he was safe, he ended up being the easiest, most well-behaved dog I’ve ever known. EVER. After that first day, when he had been so stressed and uncomfortable, he never showed any signs of aggression and I never ever heard him bark even once in the many months that I had him. This is a perfect example of the fact that just like people, when animals are in a stressful environment (aka a shelter), they’re not always their best selves. And sometimes it just takes a little love and TLC to make a world of a difference.
The second major transformation was with my foster Belle. So many of you followed along on her journey on my Instagram account. Belle came from a hoarding situation and was absolutely terrified of people. I’ve met many dogs that are initially fearful of people, but she took the cake. Belle moved from the shelter to my home because she cowered in fear when any human would come near her. While that’s not unusual when a dog first comes to the shelter, Belle never warmed up while she was there.
At my apartment she stayed in her crate (with the door open so she was free to come out whenever she wanted) for 19 hours straight. She couldn’t even look me in the eye until days had passed and anytime I would walk near her she would dart back in the crate. I tried to take her outside but she would become paralyzed with fear, completely unable to move. With lots of time, love and reassurance, by the end of our time together Belle was able to confidently go one walks, cuddle with me all the time and loved human interaction.
Belle had separation anxiety, right? What was that like?
Belle did develop separation anxiety once she finally attached to me. Separation anxiety presents itself as negative behaviors in response to being left alone. This was the most severe case I had worked with, as Belle would injure herself in her attempts to get out of the crate because she was so panicked that if I left, I’d never come back. I’m certainly no expert at working with separation anxiety, but I know it took lots of time, patience and acceptance to work with her to help her through her separation anxiety. Her adopters have put in a ton of time and love into working with her on these issues as well. Here is an article I referenced when working with Belle on her separation anxiety.
You seem to foster a lot of older, special needs dogs. Is that what all rescue dogs are?
Not at all! I happened to end up really liking working with senior special needs dogs (aka blind and/or deaf dogs) but shelters are inundated with puppies and young adult dogs too. In fact my fosters Stevia, Agave, Mickey, Vince, Watson, Pepper and Duffy have all been incredibly young puppies under the age of 10 weeks when I fostered them. With Watson being the youngest at just 6 weeks old!
What’s harder, fostering puppies or senior dogs?
In my opinion, definitely puppies! They are a ton of work…I always say puppies are like newborn babies because they poop, eat, sleep and also cry in the middle of the night. The only difference is that these newborn puppy babies can chase after you and have sharp little teeth to gnaw on you with! They’re little land-sharks. 😉 Puppies start teething at a young age so that is why they love to gnaw on people and things. It helps ease the itching sensation created by their teeth coming in. Puppies are always in high demand and will get adopted, so that’s part of why I’m such a proponent of adopting older dogs. Plus, they are way calmer and, for me, are way easier to manage.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from fostering?
Fostering has taught me so many lessons about patience, purpose and giving back to those in need. But I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is about the capacity to love so many so dearly. When my dog Cody died I couldn’t imagine loving another dog so deeply. I was absolutely heartbroken and his traumatic death rocked me to my core. But as cliché as it sounds, fostering truly showed me how much endless love I have in my heart and how much happiness I could feel in my life, even after going through something so sad. With each new dog I fell in love with, that love didn’t replace any previous dogs in my heart, it just added to it.
Loving a dog and being loved by a dog is unconditional. And for that, I consider myself a pretty lucky girl to have loved and been loved by so many.
I hope this information is helpful to you! If you are interested in fostering or volunteering at a rescue where you live, a quick google search of “animal rescue” and your city should yield many results. If you have any additional questions about fostering, feel free to leave them in the comments section below. 🙂
And if you liked this post, here are my other animal rescue related posts below:
- 8 Reasons to Adopt a Shelter Dog (Instead of Getting One from a Breeder)
- In Loving Memory of Cody: 6 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got a Dog
- My Foster Dogs
- The Amazing Day-Day
- Meet Oliver
- Meet Peachy