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What To Know About Being A Foster Pet Parent

The pet adoption cycle seems like a pretty straightforward one, right? A pet finds its way into an animal rescue shelter— often right off the street or via owner surrender—and then a nice family comes along to rescue the pet to begin a heart-warming journey. There’s another vital link, though: foster pet parents.   

Pet foster homes provide a place for animals to stay when shelters don’t have the space for them. These volunteers ensure that a pet doesn’t end up in a dangerous situation living on the streets, and it also pulls them out of a shelter where euthanasia might be their fate. In addition, pet foster parents help with socialization and behavior training so that pets are primed and ready for a more successful forever home fit.

Many shelters rely heavily on foster pet parents, and in some cases it’s the only way they’re able to function. In the case of Rescue City—a dog rescue organization based in Brooklyn, New York—all their dogs are placed in foster homes before being officially adopted out. Curious about what it takes to be a foster pet parent, and eager to drive home the importance of pet fostering in general, we spoke with Libby Tolm, Foster Team Coordinator for Rescue City.

Purrch: How many fosters does Rescue City have in its network?

Libby Tolm: We’ve increased our intake over the last year, but currently we intake between 50 and 70 dogs per month. Before this increase, that number was closer to 30 to 40 dogs in foster care any given month. In total, we have about 1200 foster parents enrolled, though only about 60% are active fosters.

How long does someone have a foster pet in their care?

The duration usually depends on the dog and even the season. Typically, though, a dog is fostered between two to four weeks with some being adopted as quickly as within a week, and others taking up to six months. We’ve had some situations where a dog is formally rescued but then surrendered again. This usually happens in a case where a dog is very cute but needs more behavior training and socialization experience.

In what other ways do foster pet parents help prepare a pet for their forever home?

Regarding what the process looks like, at Rescue City we provide our foster parents with all the necessary training resources and coach them throughout the process as needed. When we start with harder cases, the foster parent assesses the dog’s behavior, tells us how the dog is behaving, and based on that we tell them what needs to be adjusted and corrected so they can continuously work on the behavior to make it manageable.

Also, we ask that all our fosters work on basic training commands and that they crate-train regardless of the dog’s age. We want to set them up for success in their new forever home. While many are work-from-home at the moment, a majority will go back to work and need to rely on dogs being properly trained.

Who makes an ideal pet foster parent candidate?

I would say a perfect foster parent is somebody who understand that every dog requires some degree of work and they’re willing to do that and to listen and follow the advice we provide. And of course, it is necessary that foster pets get plenty of TLC.

Our foster interview is fairly extensive, and we consider many factors. We check with the landlord (if applicable) to ensure pets are allowed, look at building requirements, and we get a reading on their experience level with dogs. We also want to make sure we’re aligned in terms of goals. From there, we match fosters based on that criterion.

The size of their home or whether they have a yard is taken into consideration, but only in terms of what type of pet we would put in their care. For example, we would pair a smaller dog with smaller apartment.

What can a person do to prepare their home and life for a foster pet?

Mentally, you will have some degree of distraction during day so if your work requires you to be present, I’d say fostering may be stressful for you. But other than that, we do provide all the supplies that fosters need. If they want to have extra supplies on hand, we always recommend they have a crate, bed, and grain-free food, as well as some toys.

Also, fosters should prepare for the full fostering period. It’s stressful for the dogs to move in-between. We can be reached anytime for support and as long as the fosters are willing to work through the challenges, we’ll be there to guide them.

What is something to keep in mind whether you’re a foster pet parent or an adoptive parent?

I would say someone who understands that a dog is a living creature, and that they have a character and behavior of their own. They will not just come to a house and behave exactly how you want them to. You have to put in the work, and you have to understand that the first week or two is stressful. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen a trend where people are looking for pet companions, but they don’t necessarily understand the hardships that come with it.  

If you’re at all curious about fostering a pet, we cannot encourage you enough to explore the option with your local shelters and organizations. There is almost always a need for foster parents, and while challenging, being that vital middle link is rewarding, too.

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