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It’s hard to imagine someone not wanting to take care of their pet. As animal shelters across the country continue to fill up, we can’t ignore the truth. One way to help overcrowded shelters is to adopt and give a rescue dog a second chance at a forever home.

But adoption is not the right decision for every family, that’s why many adoption centers and animal shelters allow fostering dogs as a way to volunteer.

A foster program allows you to take responsibility for a shelter dog for a short amount of time while providing a home environment instead of a kennel. The foster dog lives with you while waiting for his or her forever family to find them. You take care of him or her as if they were your own pet while being responsible for bringing the dog to adoption events and meetups with potential adopters.

Most programs require their foster volunteers to complete a foster application before turning a pet over to you. This ensures the safety of the rescue dog and gives the organization background information and contact details, so you can communicate as needed throughout your foster arrangement.

But before you begin researching foster opportunities in your area, we recommend knowing these nine facts about fostering dogs. They will help you make better decisions and enter into a foster experience with clear expectations.

9 Things to Know Before Fostering Dogs

  1. Decide ahead of time if your home is a potential forever home.
    Entering a commitment to fostering dogs is easier when you set clear expectations of the outcome. Decide if you are willing to adopt the dog you are fostering or if it is a strict “foster-only” situation. Knowing this before you bring the dog home will make it easier to rehome him or her with a forever home.
  2. You will both need time to warm up to each other.
    Dogs and foster families need time to get to know one another. Whether a puppy or an adult dog, he or might be scared in a new environment or be hesitant to trust you. You may not know the life experiences they have had before coming into your care. Expect the first few days to be challenging, especially as you both adjust to new routines.
  3. You or someone in your household could get hurt.
    Anytime you introduce a new dog to your family, you introduce the risk of someone getting hurt. All dogs have the potential to bite, scratch, or attack. On the other hand, your existing pet may exhibit signs of possessiveness or aggression when faced with a new dog in his or her domain. 

    Before fostering dogs of any kind, check with the rescue organization to see who is responsible for covering medical needs if a pet or human gets hurt. Also, ask if the rescue group has done any type of assessment to help match the right dog to your family.
  1. You can return a foster dog if you aren’t a good fit.
    It’s okay to return a foster dog before they are adopted. You are volunteering your time and resources to give a dog a safe place to play, sleep, and grow. You are not signing up to endure pain and suffering. If you ever feel like you cannot maintain control over the dog you’re fostering, or it poses a threat to you or others, don’t hesitate to work with the rescue organization to find the dog another foster family or shelter solution.
  2. Ask questions about the foster dog’s medical needs.
    Foster animals can have questionable medical records. It’s always a good idea to ask about a dog’s medical needs before agreeing to be its foster parent. You’re the only one who can determine your comfort level with administering medications and adhering to a strict veterinary care schedule. Having a clear understanding of a foster dog’s medical needs will help you make the best decision for both you and the dog before getting in over your head.
  1. You will need to adjust your schedule.
    When you bring home a puppy, your schedule revolves around crate training, sleepless nights, and preventing puppy destruction. The same goes for bringing home a foster dog. You are committing your time to this animal, so expecting them to adapt to your lifestyle quickly is a recipe for disaster. Expect to adapt your schedule around the dog’s needs for a few weeks or for the entire length of their stay, whether that means adding in more daily walks or coming home on work breaks to let them outside.
  2. You might consider a quarantine period to protect your existing pets.
    If you have other pets at home, you may want to introduce them to the foster dog slowly. A foster home is full of new (and sometimes scary) experiences, from different sounds and smells to unfamiliar people. Waiting to introduce your foster dog to your pets may help with socialization and will also give you time to ensure vaccinations are up to date for everyone.
  3. You may be responsible for pet expenses.
    Speaking of vaccinations, you may be responsible for your foster dog’s vet visits, dog food, toys, and accessories. Speak with your rescue organization before agreeing to foster to get a clear picture of what you are responsible for when you bring the dog home. Some organizations provide food and bedding for your foster dog, but you may be responsible for any enrichment activities or treats you want to use during your time together. We always recommend asking questions ahead of time, no matter how hard or uncomfortable they are, to protect yourself and the dog you’re hoping to help.
  4. You may become emotionally attached.
    When you’re fostering dogs, it’s hard not to get emotionally attached. That’s why it’s not uncommon for foster volunteers to try and adopt their foster dogs. Before you agree to be a foster parent, consider how you will handle relinquishing the dog back to the shelter or another home. Do you have a support system that can help you manage the disappointment or loneliness you may feel? Will you be able to feel happy for your foster dog finding a forever home that isn’t your own? 

Returning your foster dog for adoption gets easier over time, but if you feel like you’ll struggle with it, think about adopting a dog versus fostering one instead.

How to Get Started Fostering Dogs

A simple Google search can help you find foster programs near you, but you can also contact local animal shelters to learn about ways you can volunteer. Many counties have foster programs for orphaned and abandoned animals that you can participate in after completing a foster application.

While you wait to hear about your application, we recommend creating a list of questions to ask the organization before fostering dogs. 

Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • What dog food is the foster pet used to eating?
  • How often do you hold adoption events?
  • How will I know when someone wants to meet the foster dog?
  • Who is responsible for vet bills?
  • Is there a shelter-preferred veterinarian?
  • What kind of training activities are required?
  • What happens when someone wants to adopt the dog?

If you have questions about fostering dogs, don’t hesitate to ask! Foster programs are grateful for volunteers, and they want you to feel well-equipped during your time as a foster parent. 

And if you find yourself fostering dogs, you might want to join a pet parent community that can support you. Ruffly Speaking is an online pet parent community that provides easy-to-implement training resources, exclusive pet product reviews, and access to world-renowned pet experts who can answer any questions that may come up. You can join Ruffly Speaking here.

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