Considering Fostering A Pet: What to Consider

    So you're an animal lover, and feel you could do more to help homeless pets... and want to do more. Then fostering pets could be for you but I must warn you my friend, the sense of pride you'll get in  knowing you're saving a life and fulfilling a philanthropic calling, can become addictive!
    Before you know it you may eagerly be taking on a litter of puppies or kittens, or a hard-to-place pet, or once your 1st foster is gone you'll feel the nagging urge to 'do it again,' despite the promise you made to yourself to take a break in between foster pets. Reason being, simple: doing something good feels good and good feelings are ones we want to experience over and over. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with this. It's far better than say, wanting another 1, 2 or 3 glasses of wine or wanting to fall in love over and over again since it feels good too.
    So, off the bat, let's get that straight: fostering pets is a good thing, a rewarding and positive life activity... even if you do become addicted to it!
    And with shelters across the country bursting at the seams, over-crowded with unwanted pets and most still euthanizing for space, there's clearly far more demand than supply when it comes to qualified foster parents!
    There are, however, some critical considerations to keep in mind when considering fostering:

Do you have room for a foster pet

This question is relative since everyone has a different perception on how much space is enough. I have a foster parent now that shares her Miami Beach 1 bedroom with her own small-breed dog, along with a nursing litter of 4 pups, the mommy dog and another foster puppy- and she's comfortable and happy with that arrangement. Get this... she even manages to transport her fosters to and from the shelter on a scooter since she doesn't have a car! It may sound crazy but, for this fearless foster mom, it works.

    Another full time foster mom that has fostered well over 450 dogs over the years has 3 different rooms strategically set up in her home to have multiple litters in her care at any given time. She's willing and able to 'foster in volume' and has her game so organized it'd make the finest of assembly lines envious!

     I, on the other hand, prefer to foster one dog at a time.

On the rare occasion you'll catch me with 2.
  Since we have 4 dogs of our own and live in a 1 bdrm apartment, that's what's feasible for us.
   I also personally prefer fostering adult, medium-sized dogs. They're typically house-broken and far lower maintenance than puppies. They pull at my heartstrings more since I know they 'had a life' before being abandoned. That's such a sad thought and I want to give them a chance to start a new life through fostering.

Do you have time for a foster pet? 

    Time is not as relative a concept as is space. Foster pets will require time. That being said, I work and have pretty much always worked full time (40 hrs./week) when fostering and have never felt my foster pets were neglected due to my work schedule. Many of our foster families work full time. You will need to get your foster pet on a schedule, your schedule, as soon as you bring it home. It's a good idea to bring a foster home when you're getting ready to have a day or two off (weekends) so you can get the pet adjusted to your home schedule before heading right back to work. When speaking of time for your foster you also must consider the time it will take you to get the pet adopted (unless you're fostering a pet slated for transport or an organized adoption). After-all, the pet can't get online and post its own depiction or go out for a walk and find its own new owner... it needs your help! 

     The good news here is: most shelters have come a long way with helping promote their foster pets for adoption hence, help out tremendously with the entire adoption process.
     That being said, you should still plan on being able to: attend adoption events (most organizations have regular adoption events you'll be invited to attend with your foster pet), post a nice depiction with pictures on sites like, etc. (if the shelter doesn't do this part for you), network your pet on social media like facebook and instagram (people LOVE adopting a pet they know is already house-broken, good with kids, etc., this type of info gives foster pets a huge advantage in being adopted quickly!).
    Worth mentioning- if you're very busy or cramped for space felines can be a great option to foster, we all know cats are less demanding than dogs!
    Lastly, if you take home bottle-fed babies, you will be awoken several times a night to feed your foster pets!

Are you emotionally prepared to foster (and let the foster go)

    This is a hard one. I never want to discourage people from fostering but sometimes I have to simply say, "No, you cannot foster this pet because I know you really want to adopt this pet."
    I can spot the 'foster failures' a mile away now... of course sometimes I'm wrong but, typically, once I explain how I know prospective fosters are really prospective adopters they admit I'm right and go ahead and adopt the pet on the spot.
    And foster failures are not a bad thing. As an Adoption Counselor I'm never going to be mad or upset when a foster decides to adopt. 
   But, it's not ideal to have indecisive foster parents on the books for the following reasons: 
-When a pet is being fostered it's basically in 'limbo,' not fully 'outcome' from the system, lingering somewhere in the middle of being homed and homeless- it's a nightmare for record-keeping and creating accurate shelter statistics.
-It's not fair to the foster coordinators since 'on the fence' fosters can lead to a large backlog of work, it's really not fair to the pet to go into a fostering scenario with the idea of  "I might keep you" either.
  Again, it happens, and I'd rather someone take a pet under these circumstances than not take one at all but- if you're considering adopting the pet before you even get it into your car... make it easier on all of us and go ahead and adopt rather than foster!

Do you have the money to foster?

    Unless you're taking on a pet with serious medical issues or taking on many at once, fostering really doesn't require much money. Most shelters now-a-days cover all foster-pet-related-expenses (including food); they're even treating heartworm-positive dogs in foster care now, which was unheard of a decade ago!
    If you're not willing or able to invest much in a foster take only one at a time and choose a pet without (serious) medical issues.
    Regarding 'chip ins' or collecting donations for foster pets, I'm personally not a fan. I wouldn't feel right asking for donations for something that I willingly took on. If you want to raise money for rescued pets then do the grit work- start a 501-C3 to make it all legit. That being said, I do not judge anyone that feels comfortable requesting donations to cover the care of foster pets, every situation is unique and, 'to each his own'. 

Are you putting your own pet's health at risk by fostering?

    If a yes or no answer must be given here then I'd have to say yes, technically you are. However, over the 10 years I've been fostering I've cared for dozens of dogs with upper respiratory, a.k.a., kennel cough, and mine have never caught it (many dogs leaving traditional shelters do have kennel cough). I've also had a foster puppy break with parvo (heartbreaking) and my dogs never caught it, as was the case with a distemper puppy. I would never knowingly take home a dog with distemper or parvo, nor should any dog owner, unless you have a serious isolation area and extensive knowledge on these diseases.

General rules on health risks: 
-The younger the pet, the more likely it could be incubating a serious illness
-The longer it has spent in the shelter the more likely it's sickly, if it's a pet that has been in the shelter system before and was returned to shelter (for whatever reason) it should have better immunity to common shelter diseases (unless it's still very young)
-If your own pet is from a shelter or adoption center it should have better immunity to diseases common in shelters, and regular, annual vaccinations increase your pet's odds of staying healthy though they don't offer a guarantee.

    You could compare the risks to that of babysitting a child that goes to daycare every day with your baby at home... sure there's a chance your child will catch that 'daycare icky cold,' but he or she will survive.  I am not a veterinarian and these opinions are based on my own extensive experience fostering, that of other fosters and years spent working and volunteering in high-volume shelters.

    In a country that still euthanizes an estimated 1.5 million shelter pets per year (, much room for improvement remains. 
Pet overpopulation and unwanted pets are community problems that require community solutions. 
By fostering you can become an immediate and intricate part of the solution. 
    Hopefully this information has been helpful to those of you considering fostering, and prompted others that weren't considering it to do just that!

Note from the Author: This was initially written in 2013, during my time working as an Adoption Coordinator (and Foster Coordinator on the side!) at Miami Dade Animal Services.