So, You Want to Become a Pet Foster Parent?

Pet foster parents free up space in rescues and shelters by caring for abandoned or sick animals in their home. Here’s how to get started.

Fostering a pet can be a rewarding experience. By: PaulJEverett
Fostering a pet can be a rewarding experience. By: PaulJEverett

Being a pet foster parent can be a rewarding experience. You get a furry friend for companionship, and the animals escape the crowded or loud shelter and rescue cages.

Homeless animals get a place to live while waiting for a permanent home. Injured animals have a safe and quiet place to recuperate, or a puppy mill survivor gets familiar with a home for the first time.

Fostering also helps keep open spaces in shelters and rescues for new animals. There are drawbacks to fostering, but the benefits outweigh them for most people. Here we offer an overall look at fostering and what you can expect.

Setting Up Your Home

Whether you’ve had pets before or are fostering for the first time, there are things you will need before you get started.

The items you need will depend on the type of animal you will be fostering. Dogs and cats will need bowls and beds while smaller animals such as guinea pigs, ferrets and birds require cages and specific types of bedding.

Nutrition is an important consideration for foster pets. Shelters and rescues might have a preferred brand of food, or your foster pet may have allergies or specific dietary needs. Many times food will be provided for you, but ask ahead of time in case you need to supply it yourself.

Medications and veterinary care should be provided by the shelter or rescue, but this can vary depending on their foster agreement or budget and yours.

Once you decide on the type of animal you will foster, you can gather or buy the items you will need. In some cases this may be provided for you, but it’s always good to prepare yourself in case there are no materials or reimbursement included.

Who to Help

Do you already have a rescue or shelter in mind? If not, don’t fret. Call around to local shelters and rescues to ask which ones are in need of foster parents. You may want to find a place close to home depending on the trips you will need to make for the animal’s vet care or medication.

Many shelters and rescues will have a website with additional information on their foster parent requirements. The following excerpt is from an animal shelter’s website for potential foster parents:

What do you need to become a foster?

  • Be over 21 years of age to foster and 21 to adopt
  • Have an extra room or space in your home to keep foster animals separate from your pets
  • Must make return visits as required for your foster pet(s)
  • Should have all personal pets up to date on all vaccinations and examinations

We will provide food and supplies for foster animals. Any food or supplies you can provide yourself is greatly appreciated.


Consider Your Own Pets

Although you may think your dog, cat, ferret or bird loves other animals and will welcome a new pet, this may not always be the case.

Introducing a new animal or species can be confusing or spark a territory war between existing pets, so the shelter’s recommendation of keeping a separate area for your foster pet is an important one.

Don’t expect your own pets to happily welcome your new addition, no matter how temporary the situation may be.

Can I Choose My Foster Pet?

The answer to this item will vary according to the organization you contact.

They will have their own preferences and procedures for foster parents. Some may allow you to choose the pet you wish to foster, while others might require an agreement that you will accept any animal they assign to you. Most places are pretty flexible, and some may let you specify the type of animal you want to foster.

If a family member is scared of dogs, then foster cats. If you prefer smaller animals, ask about fostering hamsters, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs and other smaller animals. Be honest and realistic up front so they know which animals you are willing to bring into your home. This approach is much easier than having to return an animal because it didn’t work out.

What to Expect

Depending on the type of animal you foster, you may end up with a well-adjusted, previously homed pet that does well — or a mill rescue who is afraid of grass.

You might have to administer medication to some foster animals, and you should let the shelter or rescue know if this is something you do not want to do.

Being an expert in the species you are fostering is not a requirement. You should, however, have a general love and interest in animals enough to recognize signs of illness or distress. After fostering a few times, this may be easy to recognize, but it can be worrisome for the first-time foster parent.

What’s the Catch?

There is no catch. You bring an animal into your home, provide it with a loving family, and with any luck you are given the food and vet care expenses covered.

What you’re not prepared for is something every foster parent fears: having to say goodbye.

Foster fail” is a common term for a good reason. Many people integrate their foster pets so thoroughly into their lives they don’t want to give them up. Others allow them to go to their new homes and anticipate the next foster pet. This is perhaps the most difficult part about fostering; at some point you may have to let them go. There is also the possibility of the foster pet dying because of advanced age or illness.

To get insight from a 35-plus foster parent of mother cats and their kittens, we offer this post by John Bartlett discussing his take on fostering:

The Plight of the Foster Care Provider

The first thing that people typically think about when they hear that someone is fostering kittens, puppies, etc. is “cute fuzzy babies!” It’s hard not to feel like rainbows and flowers when you’re looking at a tiny creature that only recently came into this world, still unable to care for itself.

For the foster care provider, we feel the same way, but we also face a world in which the skies occasionally darken. It’s not easy fostering animals; you dedicate many hours of your own time, pouring a little of your very soul into each tiny creature, only to say goodbye to them a couple months or so later as they are adopted into what we hope to be a good home. Then there are times that the foster is too sick or too weak and, despite our best efforts, pass from this world.

Sometimes we’re told to distance ourselves to prevent from being hurt but that’s not possible, and we couldn’t even if we tried. People foster because they want to make a difference for an animal, to give them a better chance at finding a home to live out their lives with love and contentment. To best prepare the fosters for such a future, we have to spend time with them, interacting with them, showing them that it’s okay to trust people, to love people — which wouldn’t be possible if we kept our distance.

Fostering is chock full of rewards though! Watching the animal open their eyes for the first time, taking their first steps, learning to run before learning how to stop — the milestones of their development met. Watching a semi-feral transition from being extremely fearful to curling up in your lap to sleep and watching the eyes of their adopters light up when they first hold their new family member.

They fill our lives with glee as we take care of them until the day comes when we say goodbye – a day that is always bittersweet. For the first time fosterer, they look into their heart & soul, to see if it is strong enough to endure it again. If they find it so, they start the process anew. For some, their heart couldn’t bear to part and they adopt their fosters – we dub them “Failed Fosterers,” but there’s never any malice in it for we secretly wished we did as well.

If you’ve always wanted to foster but knew you wouldn’t be able to let them go, there’s hope for you yet! Some shelters (such as Purrfect Pals) has a classification known as “Permanent Foster” for cats that have ongoing issues such as medical which makes then unadoptable. These fosters will remain in your care for the rest of their lives, and vet care is provided by the shelter at no cost.

If you want to foster but you can’t foster newborns, there are many adults that need some time in foster care as well. These are cats who need a little TLC to become healthy or fare poorly in a cage and don’t show themselves well to potential adopters.

If interested, contact your local shelters for to see if they have such programs in place.

[Original post; reprinted with permission]

Watch John’s current foster pets on his live video feed here. He rarely takes breaks between litters of cats, so you can almost always find a mother cat and around four kittens on the video feed every day.

If the kittens are sleeping, there is also a DVR function that allows you scroll back to an earlier time in hopes of catching some fun kitty playtime.

Because John almost always has a mother cat with her kittens, this is especially handy for kittens who have been found or abandoned. Often John successfully adds an orphaned kitten to his existing foster cat family.

The video below shows a new kitten, a Siamese mix named Honey, being added to one of his foster cat families (skip to 6:50 for a faster view of the new kitten):

YouTube player

Can’t foster? Considering volunteering at an animal shelter or rescue.