Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fostering 101

By Montana

Fostering shelter animals is unlike anything I've ever experienced.  There's something about seeing animals go from sad, broken, unwanted, used to happy, lively, little bundles of love despite whatever they may have suffered from before. Fostering brings me a sort of happiness I have never found in anything else. I couldn't give it up for the world.  You could say its a bit of an addiction.

Steve, my little spaz of a Boston Terrier, who was
with me all of TWO days before he was adopted . 
So you may be wondering, what is fostering?  Fostering a shelter animal involves taking an animal from a shelter or rescue and bringing it into your home and caring for it as if it was your own until the animal is ready for adoption.  Often times, shelters have animals that cannot be adopted out for one reason or another, such as puppies that are too young to be vaccinated or animals that are recovering from medical procedures.  There are also  animals that need a little bit of extra help before finding their forever homes, like basic obedience training, or learning to trust people again, or medical conditions that would do better in a home environment.  Shelters also have animals that are simply "unwanted" for one reason or another  (owners were moving, or pregnant, or just didn't want a pet anymore or insert any other excuse for getting rid of a pet that was supposed to be a lifetime commitment).  One thing is true for all of them, they would LOVE to finally have a family to call their own.  That's where foster parents come in.  We take animals and help them find
their forever homes.  Fostering animals is a big commitment and not one to be taken lightly.  It involves dedication and hard work, but the reward is indescribable.

As a foster parent, one must consider many things before taking that leap. 

Is your family ready to foster?
When considering fostering, it isn’t always easy.  Talk with your family and make sure everybody is prepared and accepting of the new responsibility.  You must also consider the new financial responsibility.  Are you ready to take on feeding another mouth?

 Do you have kids?
If you have kids, it does not automatically disqualify you to be a foster parent; it just means you need to pick a foster that is pet friendly.  The staff at the shelter can help point you in the right direction as to which animals are kid friendly. 

Kaila, my personal dog, looks on as foster pup Gizmo
pounces on our foster Rukka's head. 
Do you have other pets?
Similar to the children question.  You just need to find an animal that will get along well with others.  If you have cats, you don’t want a foster that will terrify your cat.  Or if you have a big beautiful macaw, you don’t want an animal that will eat it in one gulp.  Once again, ask shelter staff for help to point you in the right direction.  They know the animals best.

What is your housing situation? 
This question is important to consider in order to ensure you find the right fit for your house.  Unless you have copious hours of the day to devote to exercising, you wouldn’t want to bring home a super hyper large breed dog into a tiny condo or apartment. 

Do you have a yard?
This question is important when fostering dogs.  If you don’t  have a yard or if you live second floor or above, you’ll have to consider options for your dog to potty throughout the day.  You can take them out ever couple of hours, or use potty pads, or the fake grass patches.

How long are you willing to open your home to a foster animal?
You can foster for a specified amount of time, or until the animal finds a home.  I personally like to foster until the animal finds a home.  It provides me with a sense of accomplishment and I like to see the progress my fosters have made in their time with me.  This is something you can also talk to shelter staff about if you decide to take the leap and foster.

Do you have the time to deal with an animal that may have issues?  Do you have the patience to work through those issues with the animal?
Most shelter animals have had poor past life experiences.  Many of the shelter animals have suffered abuse, neglect, and/or malnutrition along with the obvious abandonment by previous owners.  Some animals need more help than others need.  Some just need basic obedience and potty training.  One must be willing to spend the time and have the patience to teach the dog basic manners and that the house is not for going potty.  And trust me, it’s hard not to scream when you clean up one pile of pee just to turn around and see another.  But that’s the life of a foster parent and in the end, when there are no more puddles, it is beyond rewarding. 
Now there are other pets  have no issues and just haven’t found their homes yet.  Then there are others, which are called special needs fosters, which require a bit more time and a bit more care.   

What is a special needs foster?
My first special needs foster, Wesson, who suffered from
demodectic mange
A special needs foster is an animal that needs just a little bit more love.  This could be in the form of medical needs (broken bone, heartworm positive, mange, etc) or socialization (learning how to be a dog or cat, learning how to get along with others, or to not fear people).  These fosters typically require a more time and more work.  Most of the time, that means giving the animal medication daily, or a bath once a week with special shampoo, or taking him/her to new places to meet new people and learn that new situations are okay and not scary.  It’s not so much that special needs fosters are “harder” to deal with, they just require more of a commitment on your part. 

Will you be able to take your animal to adoption events once or twice a month?
This usually comes in the form of taking the animal to Petco or Petsmart so potential adopters can meet your foster animal and hopefully are adopted to go to their fur-ever homes.  Not all shelters have adoption events, but many do!  You can find out by consulting their website, or asking shetler staff. 

So, you’ve decided that you’re ready to take the leap into fostering.  What now?  First, find a shelter or rescue you’d like to foster for.  You can check online to find rescues in your area.  I usually foster for the Oahu SPCA.  The next step in the process for the OSPCA is to fill out an application online (http://www.oahuspca.org/pages/fosterform.html) or in person.  Next, go down to the shelter and talk to someone.  Tell them about your home and your life (kids, other pets, housing situation, how long you’d like to foster, etc) and they will be able to point you in the right directions, suggesting some animals that may fit your family.  Just like when determining if fostering is right for you, there are many factors to take into consideration.

Bring the whole family (including Fido)!
When you go to pick out your new foster, it is especially important that everyone is a part of the process.  See how the animal interacts with you.  What is he/she like?  Hyper, calm, submissive, dominant?  Make sure to pick a foster baby that will fit your home, but do keep in mind that the behavior you see at the shelter is not always the behavior they will exhibit at home.  Ask one of the staff or volunteers for more information.  They know the animals best!  Make sure you bring your kids! 
Rukka, my first foster, cuddled up with my personal dog Kaila. 
By bringing the kids, you get to see how they interact with the animal, as well as how the animal interacts with them.  Sometimes things click, sometimes they don’t.  Same goes for Fido.  Make sure your furbaby (or furbabies) get along with your new foster.  No, it isn’t always going to work.  But it’s best to find out while still at the shelter rather than in your home.  And, by meeting at the shelter, your dog is on neutral territory and doesn’t feel like he/she has to defend his home or his humans.  If it doesn’t work at the shelter, it probably will not work at home.  If you feel even the least bit uneasy about the decision, sit and think on it, and come back another day.  There are always animals looking for loving foster homes. 

Ask questions!
Ask questions about your new foster baby!  Ask about their past, temperament, age, special characteristics, favorite toys or past times.  If you decide to foster a special needs animal, ask what the requirements are (special diet, daily medication, weekly baths, limited activity, etc).  Volunteers and staff members spend a lot of time with the animals and have come to know them well.  Most would take all of them home if they could! Don’t be afraid to ask.  There is no such thing as too many questions. 

Make sure the animal fits your lifestyle.
It’s important to make sure the dog you choose will suit your lifestyle.  If you are an active person, an active dog would be right for you.  However, if you spend most of your day at work and just want to relax when you come home, an active dog may not be the right choice for you.  However, if you are the kind of person who wants to go hiking on weekends and jogs daily, you probably don’t want to pick an animal that can’t keep up with you.  Make sure to take into consideration your job and home, if you have a hectic home with constant commotion, you probably do not want to pick an older dog or a timid dog that needs to learn to come out of its shell.  It’s all about the right fit for you and your household. 

So , you have your new furry friend loaded up and you’re on your way home.  What now?  What should you expect from the new foster?  Remember this is a new place and new situation for him/her.  Be patient.  Take your time.  Realize it will take a while for him/her to accept his/her new surroundings and be comfortable.  It’s important to make sure you and your family are on the same page when it comes to your foster.  There are some tried and true ways to make your foster’s stay more comfortable for everyone involved.

Create a safe haven for your foster
Little Gizmo thought her crate was just
too big and  felt safer in Andrew's pocket .
Moving from the shelter to a new temporary home can be hard on some animals, especially those that are timid or who have special needs.  Try to create a safe haven for them in a quiet low-traffic area of the home.  This doesn’t mean they should be isolated in a room; it just means that their spot should be quiet enough but not isolated, that way they can observe the activities of the household and participate in them as needed.  For our foster dogs, that means they get their own crate with a blankets and a dog bed in separate corners of our living room. There’s just two of us in the household, and he’s gone most of the day at his job, so it’s usually only me home.  By being in the living room, they can observe our behavior, but they aren’t the center of attention.  No one goes in their crates, except for them.  That means no one reaches in to pull him/her out, or even to pet the foster dog.  The only time I go into our dog’s kennels is to wash their blankets and sanitize the crates.  For a cat, this could mean creating a high place with a soft bed and some cat toys.  By creating a safe haven, if the animal is allowed to acclimate to its new surroundings at its own pace.

Set rules (and make sure everyone enforces them)
Make sure you have rules clearly outlined for your new foster baby and make sure everyone in the family enforces them.  Trying to acclimate to a new environment is stressful enough without trying to figure out the rules when one person says “yes you can be on the furniture” and the next says “no you cannot!”  Determine where the animal is and is not allowed (rooms, on the furniture, in the bed, etc)  and what the rules are (must sleep in a kennel at night,  can't beg when family is eating, etc) and STICK TO IT!  It's only fair to you, and to him, to set rules and stay with them.  It makes everyone's life easier in the end. 

Set a schedule!
One of the easiest ways to help create good habits is to set a schedule.  Try to keep your new foster on the same schedule from day one if possible.  Feed, walk, and play with him/her at regular times.  If you are fostering a dog, try to schedule potty breaks at the same time every day.  While it may not always be possible to do this (due to work or other commitments), try to make it as regular as possible.  Yes, that means weekends too!  This will help the animal acclimate to your home and reduce the number of accidents in your home. 

Remember, accidents happen
This is all new to your foster and to you.  I think the saying goes, expect the unexpected.  Your foster may have a strange aversion to certain things that you may not have noticed while at the shelter (hats, balloons, shadows, men, etc).  Your foster may also have separation anxiety and you will never know until the first time you leave him/her alone and you get texts and calls from your neighbor asking what you’re doing to your new pet.  You may also find that your new pet refuses to go potty where you want him/her to, or that he/she chews on walls, or claws up furniture, or tears up the carpet.  Just remember, it’s not the end of the world.  Though it may seem so at the time, things can be fixed and replaced.  Patience (and a close eye) is key.  Just like children, these animals need someone to teach them and show them the way they are supposed to behave and correct their current problem behaviors.  And remember, there are resources out there to help you if you’re struggling with your foster.  Feel free to email us or leave a comment with any questions or concerns you may have. 

Lyra, one of my foster puppies, fournd her forever home at a
Petco adoption event
Once you feel your foster is ready to find his forever home and you’ve been given the all clear from the shelter, there are many options to find his new family.  One of the easiest ways to do so is to attend adoption events.  Adoption events are typically hosted at a pet friendly store (such as Petsmart or Petco) and animals from the shelter and animals that are in foster care are brought to the location to gain exposure and hopefully
find their forever family.  Typically, the events are on weekends and run from 2 – 4 hours.  You will bring your foster and hold his leash and answer any questions potential adopters may have,  usually the basics such as age, breed, sex, temperament and so on.  If someone decides to adopt your baby, they’ll begin the application process, facilitated by the lead volunteer. 

Another option is to network online via social media sites like facebook, the shelters website, and even craigslist.  By posting a picture and information on your animal on sites that are widely used, it increases the chances of being seen by someone who may be interested in adopting the dog.  Often times when someone sees the dog online, they’ll want to meet him in person before deciding to adopt (be wary if they want to adopt without meeting the dog; adopting a dog solely on looks is not a wise choice).  They will contact you either via the site they saw the dog, or through the adoption coordinator for the shelter.  From there, the two of you can arrange a time and place to meet so they can interact with the dog and see if he is a good fit for the family.  Just like an adoption event, you’ll answer any questions they may have and help them determine if the dog is right for them and their family.  It’s a good idea for the dog to meet everyone in the family (human and four legged companions) if possible.  This decreases the chance of  issues arising  between new pets and old pets, as well as between the animal and other human family members. 

My two current fosters, Roscoe and Dodger.  Their just so
cute.  How could I NOT talk about them? 
Another option is word of mouth.  I love my  fosters.  I talk about them ALL THE TIME.  Anyone who knows me can probably tell you how many dogs I have, what breed, and who did what this week.  I talk about them to anyone and everyone that will listen (aaaand a few who don’t particularly care, but are too polite to walk away).  By telling someone about the dog, they may tell their friend who tells a friend who’s looking for a dog about your foster.  Maybe that will be your fosters forever home.  Maybe not.   Point is, get the dog out there!  However that may be.  I take our fosters everywhere.  Dog parks, beaches, shopping centers, drive thru fast food places, friends houses, etc and always tell people their up for adoption.  Sometimes they even wear bandanas that say “ADOPT ME” so as to catch people’s eye.  The harder YOU work to put your dog out there, the more likely he is to find a forever home.


Once someone has decided they want to adopt your lovely foster, they'll have to go through the adoption process as set forth by the shelter.  Every shelter is different so be sure to ask them what their procedure is.  For the Oahu SPCA, first step is to fill out an application.  The new parent can fill out the application online or in person, from there, shelter staff will review the application and consult with you.  If you both feel that it is a good home for the foster, they will be approved and  the new parent will have to go down to the shelter and pay the adoption fee.  Once the adoption fee has been paid and you've been given the "all clear" from shelter staff, foster fido may be given over to his new family.  Sometimes, the new family will come to your house and pick the animal up, sometimes you may drive to drop him off, sometimes you may meet at the shelter or another specified location that is convenient for both of you.  It all depends on what you and the new parents decide.  Then its time to give foster fido a kiss and send him off to his new home to become the newest member of their family pack. 

Often times I get asked, isn't it hard to let them go?  The answer is yes and no.  It's a double edged sword for me.  Yes, I get very attached to the animals that I bring in, no matter how long or short they are in my household.  I love them all, very very much.   And yes, it is sad to see them go,  but I know I am only a stepping stone for them.  I'm someone to teach them basic manners, show them love, help them heal, be it psychological wounds or physical,  and prepare them to succeed in the "real world" so to speak.  It's always hard to say goodbye.  But, when I know it is the right family, I feel good, it makes me happy.  I know I've done the best I can and I've reached my goal of getting one more animal out of the shelter and into a great forever home.  Because of me, one more animal is now loved, cared for, and out of the shelter and into an awesome home. Now that he is in a forever home, I can move on to the next dog that needs my help, and trust me, there will ALWAYS be another dog that needs help.  And the process starts all over again for me.  Go down to the shelter, find dogs that may be a good fit, do a test run with our two, bring someone home, love, care for, feed, and then find a forever home.  Its an endless loop for me.  I love it and I wouldn't trade it for the world.  My dogs give me purpose. And I know I can't save everyone, but I will try.  Fostering is my way of giving back.  It's a win win situation.  I create space at the shelter by bringing a foster into my home, the foster gets experience living in a home, and I feel great AND I get lots of doggy love (who can deny the awesomeness of doggy kisses?!).  
This little doll started out as a foster
and ended up a permanent member
of our pack.  

For me, there's nothing more rewarding than taking a dog, especially ones that are often overlooked for one reason or another, and turning them into an easily adoptable animal through a bit of love, patience, and training.  Fostering is an experience unlike any other.  I urge any animal lover to try it at least once. Be it a puppy, or an older dog,  cat, kitten, anything.  You'll fall in love with fostering.  No matter what they've been through, they still love unconditionally.  And it rubs off on you. Who knows, you might just fall in love and find the newest addition to your own pack! 

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