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A Beginner’s Guide to Fostering Pets

Fostering animals can be a great experience, if you do some prepwork first. By Roslyn Ayers, PetSafe Web Content Specialist

Fostering animals is many things to many people. You might have found a stray dog who needs to stay in your fenced-in backyard for a few days. Maybe your local shelter has asked you to keep a litter of kittens for a few weeks during kitten season until more space opens up. Or perhaps the shelter has had a very old cat for several years and you want to give him a good home for his remaining years.

You may have read my 8 reasons to foster. In this post, I’ll describe how you can foster animals and share some tips I’ve picked up over the years. Foster kittens and puppies can get into less mischief in a bathroom.

Tip #1: Bathrooms are ideal foster rooms for young puppies and kittens because accident cleanup is easier on tiled floors.

1) Know your physical limits.

There are 3 basic limits to fostering animals: space, time, and other responsibilities. You need to have a space for your fosters; a spare bedroom or screen porch is the perfect foster room. The size of the pet also affects how much space you’ll need; a bathroom would be too small for a large adult dog, but it would be perfect for a kitten or puppy.

Make sure you have enough time in your schedule to socialize and take care of a foster pet too. You may have other commitments, such as a job that takes you away from home for long periods. If you have other pets, make sure they will still get plenty of room in the house and playtime with you. Figure out your limits by asking yourself:

  • What size pet can I handle?
  • How do I feel about fostering on short notice?
  • Do I prefer short-term or long-term?
  • Does my landlord forbid certain breeds or set a maximum number of pets?
  • How many animals should I foster at a time?
  • Could I deal with an animal who might have medical or behavioral issues? Foster a Feline Leukemia positive cat to make a difference in their short lives.

Tip #2: If you’ve got a separate room and don’t mind long-term fostering, consider fostering cats who test positive for Feline Leukemia. “Feleuks” live 2-5 years and are rarely adopted, so fostering gives them a few years in a great home.

2) Know your emotional limits.

Some people don’t foster cute kittens because they’ll be tempted to adopt them. Others choose not to foster injured, sick, or old animals because they would be too sad if the animals died. You know best what “gets to you” and what to stay away from, and you’ll get a better sense of this after your first few fosters. It’s also a good idea to take breaks between fosters so you don’t feel overwhelmed at the thought of always taking care of unwanted pets. You’ll also appreciate your own pets more.

3) Put your limits and expectations in writing.

Make sure you’re clear on how many animals you can take at a time and how long you can take them for. You don’t want to be stuck with an animal you don’t have time or room for. Most people foster through a shelter or rescue group, so make sure  you pick one you trust. They will probably have you sign a fostering contract, and you should keep a copy of this too. They’ll tell you what you should expect and what they expect from you. Some questions to ask them include:

The hardest part about being a foster parent can be giving them up. Tip #3: Put your personal rules for fostering in writing and get each family member to agree to them.

  • How long will I keep each animal?
  • Should the fosters be integrated into my household or kept separate?
  • Who will pay for pet supplies such as food, cat litter, dishes, and leashes?
  • Who will take the animal to the vet and pay for medical bills?
  • What kind of training and behavior assessment will I need to do?
  • Will I need to bring the animal to adoption events?
  • Will potential adopters come to my home?
  • What if I am unable to foster anymore? Fostering certain dog breeds or types can help you identify what's normal and what's not normal about your foster's personality.

Tip #4: Some people prefer to foster certain dog breeds, such as Yorkies or Westies, because they feel they know a lot about their foster’s personality already.

4) Start small.

I recommend fostering a healthy adult cat or dog for a few weeks first. The longer you keep the foster, the harder it can be to return them. You can increase the length of time per foster gradually, as you learn your limits.

Cats are probably the easiest pets to foster, since they require less space and no potty breaks. Then again, if you’ve already got a dog, adding another dog to your daily walks might not be so tough, provided they get along and both have good leash manners.

5) Think big.

Fostering is a great way to save many animals’ lives. Many people refer to themselves as “failed fosters” because they adopted their fosters instead of giving them back. Don’t be tempted to adopt a foster unless there’s a very good reason to. If you're worried about their potential adopter, the shelter or group you work with can tell you about their adoption standards so you’ll know what kind of forever family your foster pet will go to. You can help the shelter find a good home for your foster animals by asking friends and family.

Tip #5: Have a foster you want to adopt? Ask your friends and family if need a new pet. If they decide to adopt, you can still visit your favorite foster. Don't pressure them into a decision though.

It happens to everyone; you foster a great pet and decide you can’t bear to give them back. That’s fine if your pet has just passed away and you're replacing a “spot” in your furry family, or if you have plenty of room for an addition.

The problem is when adopting a foster means you don’t have the room or time to foster anymore. Think about it this way: in the 10-20 year lifespan of the pet you could adopt, how many fosters could you keep in that time if you didn’t adopt? How many lives could you save just by giving a few pets a little extra time? If you foster one cat a year, that could be as many as 20 cats saved by fostering instead of the 1 cat saved by adopting. If you foster four dogs a year, that’s 60 dogs saved. Compare those numbers before you consider adopting a foster.

Do you foster animals? Post any other tips for first-time foster families in the comments!

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Everyone can be a foster if they make the effort and acknowledge their own limitations and special interests. Whether you choose to help puppies and kittens or provide hospice care to an animal in need, you are teaching your children valuable lessons to last a lifetime.

Great post - with wonderful photos.

Elise, Fostering definitely helps teach responsibility!! Thanks for reading!

[...] the past 8 years I’ve had a chance to foster dozens of puppies, raise guide dog pups from 7 weeks to 18 months of age, and encountered puppies [...]

I’m very proud to say that me and my wife adopted our amazing greyhound Sammy earlier this year. Jane and I had a lot of trouble at first because we were dealing with an abused greyhound. It was a bit intimating at first, he was relatively mellow at points, but he had some serious behavioral issues around guests and certain family members. We were clueless what to do and after seeking some advice from a close friend, we were referred to an online class with a guy named Doggy Dan and he worked miracles. It was like having an online Cesar Milan and after a few weeks of being trained our Sammy has significantly improved His behavior! We are looking forward to adopting more pets soon! Ill post the website here if anyone is interested, but I promise its worth your while!-—-

I want to say this is a wonderful assessment. I’ve been fostering a variety of pets for over 14 years. It’s sometimes an emotional rollercoaster, but so rewarding to know you helped an animal. In many cases they haven’t known the love of a human so it takes time. That brings me to a particular point…

Definitely know your limits, but think of the rescue animal that you choose to foster as well. Remember that many rescues need foster homes because they don’t have a shelter facility. Please do your best to commit to the animal you take in. Some pets take longer than others to be discovered by their forever family. Please try to remember each pet is unique and it’s better to house them until they are adopted. Often times rescues fill up quickly and there may not be another open foster home at the end of your decided foster time. Try to hang in there a little longer for the pet.  If you know your time limit is shorter, try to only foster highly adoptable pets such as socialized small dogs, young kittens, or maybe a puppy.

As this article says, research your rescue before you decide. There are some wonderful rescues out there :-) Make sure you understand their policies and expectations ensure it matches your availability, beliefs & needs.

Fostering can be such a rewarding thing if you go into it prepared. My children are 22 & 15 so their life has been full of learning responsibility and they are both very compassionate, especially when it involves the animals.

I am an animal lover and would be the happiest I could be if I had the space and the facility to foster some animals in need. In trying to do my part in helping animals, I have applied a few times on line to volunteer at the local MSPCA. I haven’t had the fortune of having been contacted back. Why do you think it may be? I have the time. I also wonder if I would be able to deal with the reality that a dog I could be walking and caring for today, may be put down tomorrow. Any advise? Many thanks!  ~Denise~

This is a fantastic, concise, “bare bones” guide! I foster Great Danes for North Mississippi Great Dane Rescue. When people tell me they couldn’t foster because they wouldn’t be able to let them go, I always tell them it’s about knowing their limitations. We have 2 Danes of our own and can only foster puppies under 8mos. These are also the most expensive to foster due to their high food consumption and need for chews. We foster 1 at a time and consider ourselves to be like a boarding school. With this mindset, it is a little easier to let them go. I cry each and every time a foster leaves, and I make the adopter(s) promise to email me pics and updates. There have been times when we’ve been tempted to “fail” but it would mean giving up fostering. So, with that in mind, we let them go to these wonderful families

Fostering has taught us so much about behavior and training and has made us better pet parents to our personal Danes. Even if you only foster once, you are saving a life and touching the hearts of the forever family in ways you don’t even know. Some will decide to pay it forward and foster one themselves. It’s all about the bigger picture!

This is awesome, we foster for Paws to the Rescue at Marion County Animal Shelter and have fostered about 40 animals in the past two years.  It is something that is so rewarding, when your foster gets adopted, or goes to a rescue to find their forever home.  I have had litters of puppies, dogs with medical issues and short and long term fosters.  My longest foster was 8 1/2 months. I do keep up on as many as I can cause I love seeing how they grow up and integrate into their forever homes.  I have integrated some into my pack and others have not been here long enough to integrate. My saying is fostering is the bridge between what was to what will be.  It truly saves lives.  Yes I am sad when they go, and they are happy tears.  I always give my pack a break in between fosters so they can have the full reign of the house back for a little while.

Any advice on how I can learn to trust that there are actually people who will provide a living home? What I mean is how can I get out of the mentality that no one is going to love this foster cat as much as I will. No one is going to provide as loving at home as I will. I guess I have known “loving” people who have adopted animals, then discarded them in one form or another.. so I guess I have trust issues?

Must say Thank You so much for all if the invaluable information. I have wanted to Fosterfor a long time and I, too, have been concerned about not beig able to let go. Great advice to abide by.
Blessings to you for All you have done, are doing and will eventually do in your future, for the beloved fuzzheads!

My boyfriend has a harder time fostering then I do, mostly because he gets very, very attached very quickly (and admittedly it is SO hard not to).  We already have 6 of our own, and it’s especially hard when you bring a new one in and they integrate beautifully with the others.  My one “rule” I tell him to constantly keep in mind is to never think of them as “ours”.. I tell him there is a family out there looking for them and it is our job to keep them safe and love them until they find each other.  It doesn’t necessarily make it less sad when they leave, but it does make it a happy occassion to know that they are where they were meant to be all along.

Do you have any info on fostering in minnesota

Most shelters are very short on staff and don’t get a chance to check their emails/online applications/phone messages.  Tending to the animals and dealing with the people who show up there are their top priorities.

If you are serious about wanting to volunteer, GO THERE.  You can fill out the application in person.  You may even be able to start that day.  Jump in with both feet.  You won’t regret it.

Some shelters / rescues require that the animal is returned to them if the adopter can no longer care for it.

Do your research on the shelter you foster for.  Or if you take in strays yourself.  Have them keep in contact and tell them, “If at any point they can no longer care for the cat, it MUST be given back to you.”

I think the most important part of this article is the last two paragraphs.  I have fostered for a few different shelters & rescues, but lately, I foster dogs that I rescue myself.

I have been a foster failure, but only when I knew the dog had too many issues to safely be adopted out. 

So many people say, “I could never do that because I would not be able to give them up.”

My response:  There is always another dog living in a horrible situation that NEEDS a foster home.  If I adopt them all, who will help the next dog?

Twice I had picked up my new foster the day my old foster was adopted.  They NEEDED out of their situation.  It killed me to not be able to help them sooner.

I am currently fostering 2 female sibling dogs (and 3 stray cats), all indoors. The dogs were feral.  I have had them since January and I will have them for many more months.  They are housetrained (with a dog door) and get along great with my two dogs.  They don’t completely trust me yet.  I can’t get a leash on them without them panicking.  They do sleep with me at night and it is the only time that they allow me to pet them.  When I approach them in the house it, literally, scares the poop out of them.

They are amazing girls.  I can see glimpses of the confident dogs that they will be.  They have come a LONG way, but they have a long road to travel before they will be ready for adoption.  I can’t help but think of how many others I can’t help, because my ‘spots’ are full…and will be for a LONG time to come.

If you are on the fence about fostering…jump in with both feet.  It is the most rewarding thing that I have ever done.  To see the change that you made in that animals life…what their fate may have been if you didn’t foster them…to see them SO happy with their new family.  To know, because of YOU, they got their chance at a ‘Happily Ever After’.  It is priceless.  Take the plunge!

What I’ve found with fostering is that you can pretty much tell within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone whether or not they are someone you would like to adopt to. Definitely within the first few minutes Some of the strongest gut reactions I’ve had have come during the application process.

Hi Monique
I know EXACTLY how you feel.  I have been fostering for my local SPCA for many years and the hardest part for me is when they go back to the shelter for adoption. Not because I’m going to miss them (Which I do, greatly) but for the exact same reason…scared that they won’t be treated right.  I have nightmares worrying about it.  Remember, for every 1 bad pet owner out there, there are 100 amazing pet owners that will love and respect the animals.  Know that others (like me!) care and love pets like you do and will do everything they can do to give a loving home.  You need to do a little research on the organization you choose to foster for.  Know and understand what their policies are for adoption.  Do they actually check references is my biggest one, and I know that they do which gives me peace of mind. Know in your heart that the majority of people out there are good people.

Sleep well and foster on!!

This was very helpful! I am trying to convince my parents to foster, and I am almost positive they will say yes after these tips!

I have decided to foster this summer and these tips really helped! THANKS!

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