Those who can’t, foster.
A twist on the old adage about teaching doesn’t fully capture the pet fostering phenomenon any better than it captures what makes for a great teacher. But there are undeniable similarities. Chief among them, just as some teachers are active in the fields in which they give instruction, many pet fosters are active in the broader pet rescue and adoption process too. In fact, fosters are likely more active in this sector of the pet industry than the average pet adopter. Or at least, they become more active once they get the fostering bug.
“I got this email about the organization needing foster homes for puppies, these puppies that were coming in from West Virginia,” says Colleen Learch, who pleaded with her husband. “We ended up fostering two ridiculously cute puppies who we loved and we found a great home for…and we decided to do more of it.” That’s how Learch got involved with the Arlington-based Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation seven years ago. She now serves as the all-volunteer organization’s outreach and communications coordinator, as well as part of its network of foster families.
In its simplest definition, a pet foster is one who provides a temporary home for a dog and cat, and works with a rescue organization to find a permanent home with an adopter. It’s more than just a rewarding experience; it’s critical to the whole rescue process.
“We can’t save dogs without foster home — it’s that simple!” City Dogs Rescue puts it bluntly on its website. Fosters help the nonprofit organization, an offshoot of City Dogs daycare and boarding facility, learn about a rescued dog’s personality and training needs, which are critical in helping them find a “forever home.”
“It is really rewarding to see that animal go to a good home,” Marika Bell of the Washington Humane Society says, “and to know that you’re saving, not only the life of the animal that you’re bringing into your home, but you’re opening up space in the shelter so that another animal can come in. So you’re saving at least two lives when you become a foster. And then the more times you foster…”
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Of course, not everyone can be a foster — and not everyone can part with that cute little creature they bonded with over the course of a couple weeks or a couple months. “I don’t think any foster would tell you it’s easy,” Bell says, “because you do get attached to the animal.” Of course, if you can make it work, most rescue organizations allow you to keep the animal you foster. But even if you could, Laura Goodman, of the Feline Foundation of Greater Washington Inc., encourages every new foster to look at the bigger picture, viewing the whole process as a quest to find a pet “soul mate.” “Save room in your family for your soul mate kitty,” she says. “Don’t keep that wonderful kitty who has blossomed to the point of being ready to meet their soul mate…just to spare them the discomfort of moving to a new home.”
“Fostering is a wonderful way to discover whether you like the companionship of a kitty,” Goodman continues, quickly adding, “It does require some commitment, though,” ideally fostering a cat until Goodman can find an adopter.
Bell says the Washington Humane Society often has need for more dedicated, long-term fosters to help with bottle-feeding kittens, or providing other kinds of care. The organization will provide all the basic training you need. And all rescue organizations cover the expenses associated with fostering pets.
In addition to fostering directly, WHS also recently launched a website through a pilot program of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, fosteradcpet.com. “It’s almost like a social network for fosters,” Bell says. “If somebody is looking for short-term care for their animal, but none of their friends and family can do that,” she explains, “they can go to fosteradcpet.com, join that club — it’s free — and let people know that this animal needs fostering for a certain period of time.”
The goal, of course, is to improve pet retention and decrease the number of animals who wind up in the shelter or in homes where they’re neglected or treated poorly.
And ultimately, that’s the whole goal of fostering.