Fostering is sweeping the nation for good reason. Many people can’t imagine giving up a foster dog, but fostering has become a popular way to make sure that you’re getting the right dog for your family. Other foster families keep giving up and taking on new shelter dogs because they see the incredible need and the good that they’re doing. 

Either way, fostering is a liferaft for shelter dogs. 

Why foster?

Save a shelter dog’s life

Dogs fostered from Animal Services or a local rescue opens up room for more incoming strays. Every shelter dog fostered makes room and saves lives. 

Shelter dogs who are developing behavioral or medical concerns due to the trauma of living at an animal shelter may be at risk of euthanasia at the shelter, but they can flourish in a foster home.

Try out having a dog

Fostering gives you the opportunity to get acquainted with dog ownership in a safe, structured, and non-committal way. Getting a dog is a huge decision, but fostering is temporary and allows you to get a feel for what you want in a dog. 

Get to know the real rescue dog

A nervous dog who won’t show his personality in the shelter reveals himself to be a cat-loving goofball in the home. A shelter dog that barks or paces turns out to be a lazy couch potato when given some time to relax. A rescue dog that seems indifferent at the shelter is a loyal velcro dog at home.

Watching a shelter dog relax and blossom into the dog that they are meant to be is a unique and deeply rewarding experience.

Taking a new dog into your home is always a risk, but by going slowly and using the support offered by rescues and other volunteers, you can mitigate the risk and be rewarded with an amazing experience for your entire family.

Rescue dogs of every size, age, and energy level are looking for loving foster homes. Don’t have a rescue in your area? Rescues can work together to get a dog to you. 

On the fence?

Consider fostering a rescue dog who has already been in a foster home or is currently in a home. Fosters often can’t keep a dog until adoption, so dogs may go through several fosters before being adopted. By fostering a dog who has already been in a foster home, most of the big questions will have been answered for you.

Everything that you need, including a crate, food, blankets, and walking equipment is provided for free. There is absolutely no cost to you. 

Volunteers do their best to provide a support network for foster families. Worried about someone to walk the dog while you’re away? Wondering about what you’ll do if you want a weekend getaway? Other volunteers can help. Just talk to the organization that you foster through about your concerns and be sure to join social media and mailing lists.

Bringing a dog out of the shelter environment, whether for a day, a night, a week, or until adoption, can provide incredible relief. After just one or two nights away from the shelter, stress hormones are reduced and dogs are more rested

How to foster

Overnight visits for shelter dogs

Overnight visits are perfect if you want to get to know a shelter dog well, show off their best qualities to potential adopters, and have a lot of fun, all with minimal commitment.

Dogs really do benefit from these visits, and while it can be hard to bring them back, the pictures, videos, and information that you gain from overnight visits make it much more likely that those shelter dogs will get to leave the animal shelter for good. 

Long term fostering for shelter dogs

Dogs in foster care seem to potential adopters to be more playful, friendlier to people, happier, and more confident than dogs at the shelter. They also show fewer insecure behaviors and less barking and repetitive behavior. By comparison, dogs who stay at the shelter are significantly less friendly and sociable towards other dogs and do not show improvement on any other scale.

No dogs like being in the shelter, but some do worse than others. Here are some cases when dogs are especially in need of long-term foster homes.

  • Dogs who have been at the shelter for a long time and are developing behavior or medical problems as a result
  • Dogs who are having trouble gaining and maintaining weight at the shelter
  • Dogs with minor medical concerns like anemia or kennel cough
  • Dogs who may have special behavioral risks like escape risks who can climb fences or open doors

You can choose to foster directly through your municipal shelter, ask a rescue organization to take the dog on, or choose a rescue organization to foster through and pick one of their available rescue dogs so they’ll have room to save another shelter dog. 

Joel was absolutely terrified at the animal shelter

He did so much better in a foster home

Joel’s transformation from terrified stray to pampered housepet couldn’t have happened without the love and dedication of his foster family, including the family cats.

Shelter dogs who are heartworm positive

Unfortunately, despite the fact that heartworms are completely preventable with monthly medication, a shocking number of dogs still come into our shelters with heartworms. Heartworms are eventually fatal if not treated. 

Many shelters and rescues are willing to pay for heartworm treatment, but dogs need to be kept calm and quiet for one to three months after treatment, which is usually not possible in a shelter environment. Therefore, fosters are absolutely essential to saving heartworm positive dogs or dogs with any other serious health concerns which require long-term treatment.

My foster dog Jazzy ended up being with me for months as she prepared for and went through heartworm treatment. Heartworm treatment isn’t always easy, but it is a unique way to save lives. It requires a foster dog to be kept calm. Foster dogs aren’t available for adoption or taken to events during treatment. This may be a better option for some people than regular fostering. 

Jazzy is a very sweet dog who deserved to be saved, despite being heartworm-positive.

Rescue plea shelter dogs

Rescue plea dogs are dogs who are outside of the shelter’s capacity to handle or degrading in the shelter for some reason. These may be dogs who have instances of aggression towards people or other dogs or may have an aggression incident with cats or livestock on their record. 

Sometimes these dogs have heartworms along with another serious health concern. Sometimes they are very old, and some of them are simply becoming very depressed or showing problem behavior in the kennel. 

The one thing that all rescue plea dogs have in common is that a private rescue needs to take ownership of them within a limited time. If you want to save a dog at a municipal shelter who has a rescue plea, you will need to enlist the help of a private rescue. Thankfully, rescues are often more than willing to take on a rescue plea with a committed foster. 

A few of my experiences with fostering:

  • Jazzy and Rasta: Sweet country dogs who needed rescue desperately. Rasta was adopted quickly, and Jazzy was a very good girl through a long heartworm treatment before finding the perfect home.  
  • Joel: An at-risk bully breed dog who needed the help of the family cats to come out of his shell. 

Ready to adopt? Here are my tips for choosing the best dog for your family

Just getting started with rescue? Think about volunteering or taking a dog out for the day if you’re not ready for fostering. 

Is fostering hard? In a word, yes. Learn about why fostering a shelter dog is challenging and why I still do it. 

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