Fostering is Being Happily Heartbroken

What does “Fostering” a dog even mean?

For those of you that are newer to the rescue world, I would like to explain what “fostering” is and what it requires. When you sign up as a foster, you are agreeing to take a dog into your home that typically needs food (a.k.a. groceries), medical care, basic training, attention, and most of all, LOVE. There are different forms of fostering; some of which may or may not be the right choice for you. The 3 main types are as follows:

  • Temporary Fosters are dogs that only need to stay with you for a predetermined period of time. Sometimes their long term foster is out of town on vacation, and they need a place to crash for the weekend. Becoming a temporary foster is a great way for you to “try out” fostering, and see what it means to have a four-legged companion in your home.
  • Long-Term Fosters are dogs that need a stable home from the time they leave the shelter to their adoption date. Most rescues have a “holding period” where the dog is required to stay in the foster home (before they are promoted for adoption on the rescue website.) I’ve personally had foster dogs go to their new home 2 weeks post-intake and I have had other fosters in my home for up to 6 months. In my opinion, being a long term foster is the most rewarding, because you get to see the dog blossom from a sometimes “shut down” version from the shelter to a exuberant, happy, well-rounded dog.
  • Hospice Fosters are dogs that don’t have much time left. Hospice cases are the hardest emotionally. These are the unfortunate dogs projected to have a minimum lifespan left, whether due to old age or a medical condition. These dogs are typically older, and just need a place to live out their golden years. When dogs have a life expectancy of less than a year, they are not usually considered a candidate for adoption but rather a “hospice foster.” These dogs will live with you, until they cross the rainbow bridge.

Why are foster homes needed?

Many rescues do not have a kennel or facility to hold dogs that are available for adoption, and that’s where foster homes come into the picture. The two rescues that I volunteer with, Cause for Paws of NC and German Shepherd Rescue & Adoptions, are both foster-based rescues. In order for a dog to be pulled into the program, they need a place to go and foster home to work with them on basic training.

Additionally, shelters have foster programs too! For example, the Wake County Animal Center Foster Program needs fosters to help alleviate the ever growing issue of space within the shelter. Sometimes perfectly good dogs are euthanized in open intake shelters because they simply do not have any room left.

Whether you want to foster with a rescue or a shelter, you are saving a life. You are saving a dog that would otherwise not have a chance at finding their forever home.

“Foster parents maximize the number of animals rescued, they also help to care for animals that would be difficult to care for in a shelter or kennel environment: puppies and kittens who are not strong enough to fight germs, orphaned kittens and puppies, animals recovering from major surgery, or animals needing one-on-one behavior rehabilitation, socialization or a break from the shelter environment.”

Stephen R. Walston, “Animal Foster Program FAQs” Wake County Animal Center, February 20, 2014, accessed August 19, 2019. 

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Fostering is definitely not all butterflies and rainbows everyday, so I’m hoping I can shed some light on some of the pros and cons of fostering.

There have been many crate escapes over the years, many shoes eaten and many blinds ruined.

Pros and Cons of Fostering:

Pros (The Good)

  • You don’t have to worry about expenses, as they are paid for by the rescue, including vet bills, food, medical care, flea/tick/heartworm prevention, supplies, as well as boarding and training (if needed.)
  • You will become a better dog handler and trainer by taking on dogs of different breeds, ages, behavioral history, and socialization levels.
  • You allow yourself to meet other dog rescue enthusiast and become part of the family. I have met some amazing people through the rescues I volunteer with, some of which will likely be friendships for life.
  • You find the joy in all types of dogs and get to experience different breeds. How else would you know if you liked characteristics of a breed, unless you get to experience them hands on? I personally love German Shepherd Dogs, but their quirks aren’t for everyone.
  • You can’t help but feel good about yourself. Volunteering your time to better the universe always feels good, doesn’t it?
  • You get to enjoy the perks of pet ownership without the commitment or financial burden. Are you paying back student loans, and want to see what it’s like to own a pet? Fostering is a wonderful way to “test run” the reality of pet ownership.
  • You save a life. There is nothing better than pulling a dog from a shelter to foster. You are really saving TWO lives; the dog that you are fostering, and the space you made for the next dog that will reside in that same kennel.

Cons (the bad and the sometimes ugly)

  • You will lose personal items. Learn to crate train your new foster as quickly as possible. I learned the hard way. Rest in Peace: Chaco sandals, blinds, couch cushions, area rugs, and countless socks.
  • You will get up close and personal with pee and poop; accidents will happen. Dogs do not come automatically house trained and need guidance. Your foster will have accidents, be patient.
  • Your personal pets will not always get along with the new dog; dog fights might happen. Slow, proper introductions of your foster and personal dog are critical to keeping both dogs safe and happy.
  • You might experience health issues with your foster dog. Sometimes the first round of dewormer does not completely leave your foster dog “worm free.” It’s your responsibility to monitor your foster dog for any physical signs of potential health concerns or any changes in behavior.
  • You will come across training issues that you don’t know how to fix. You are not a professional dog trainer and you are not a failure if problems arise. The rescue will have resources for local trainers to help you with any behavioral issues.
  • You will be “happily heartbroken” at some point, when you have to say goodbye. Happily heartbroken is the best way to describe the feeling of leaving your foster dog with their new family. You are ecstatic to see the family so happy, and the dog so excited; but your heart breaks to walk away from a dog that you have formed a bond with over the past few weeks and sometimes months. This is HARD.

How can you help?

Have you finished weighing the pros and cons? Have you decided to foster a dog? If so, congratulations! Fostering is one of the most rewarding experiences I have been lucky enough to encounter.

If you are interested in fostering, then contact a local rescue group or shelter near you. Typically, there is a foster application to ensure they fit you with the appropriate animal for your home. For example, if you have small children, then they would not match you with a dog that is fearful of children. Foster programs want to set you up to succeed, so there is an approval process and sometimes an interview and/or home visit.

If you would like to foster with either rescue that I volunteer with, then please navigate to their foster applications below:

7 thoughts on “Fostering is Being Happily Heartbroken

  1. Yes! This is such an accurate post.Thanks for sharing the reality of what it means to foster. You and your foster dog learn so much during the process. My blinds have seen better days, but my heart has never been so full.

  2. This is such good information. Knowing the pros and cons will help so many. Thank goodness for all the loving foster parents.

  3. Oh, the pictures of destruction over the last 10 years LOL. But oh, so worth it! Thank you so much for putting this post together. ❤

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