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Fostering A Shelter Animal

Although some animal shelter intake numbers have declined recently, many still struggle to reduce their intake. The shelters that are experiencing a decrease in stray and owner-surrendered animals attribute the reduction to spay/neuter initiatives, adoption programs, foster programs, TNR programs for feral cats, and other life-saving programs.

Contrary to popular belief, many breeds of dogs and cats are available at animal shelters. At the time of this writing, I am fostering a three-year-old male Golden

Retriever. He was shutting down at the animal shelter and needed to be relocated to a private home until he was ready for adoption. I decided to foster the dog, and he is doing well. He was emaciated when he arrived but is slowly gaining weight. He is experiencing separation anxiety, but he is getting better daily. My point is there are many sought-after and available breeds at local animal rescues and shelters.

Fostering is a great way to help the animal get out of the shelter environment that is noisy and overcrowded. However, fostering should not be taken lightly. The desired outcome for a foster animal should be adoption. Returning the animal to the shelter can be devastating for the animal that believed they were in their forever home.

Dogs and cats have the scent of the shelter imprinted on their brain, and returning there will stir up memories of being in a small kennel or cage for many hours a day. If you foster an animal, please have the intention to either foster to adopt or foster until ad-opted by a third party.

Foster to adopt is precisely as stated. You are fostering the animal to help them recover from surgery or an illness and to see how the animal fits into your lifestyle. If the animal does not get along with other animals in the household or doesn’t warm up to the people living in the home, then the animal will not be adopted by the foster.

However, the animal should stay with the foster until adopted by someone else. If the animal is aggressive or considered a danger to one of the family members, the options would be to return the animal to the shelter or arrange for the animal to be with a different foster. In both cases, you would need to contact the shelter for assistance.

Securing an animal to foster can be challenging because not all shelter animals are available to foster. There has to be a reason for the fostering, more so than taking the animal for a test drive, so to speak. Most foster animals need medical care, sometimes physical, like a recent amputation of a limb, or mental as the animal is withdrawn and suffering from separation anxiety. Some animals have been in the shelter for an extended period and need a change of location to begin to thrive. These animals fall into the mental care category because they need to have human contact and be in a comforting environment.

Most shelters have a foster program consisting of dedicated foster parents. Some will become failed fosters, meaning they will adopt the dog when they only intended to foster. Many foster parents will take in animals in need of foster assistance regularly. They help a cat recover from a URI (upper respiratory infection), and then once the cat is adopted, the foster parent will take in a dog recovering from mange. These fosters are an invaluable resource for animal shelters that struggle to provide for every animal that enters their facilities. Some large animal shelters can have hundreds of animals placed in foster care to free up space for new arrivals.

Promoting foster animals to get them into a forever home can be difficult. The animal is not located at the shelter, so they are not seen by visiting potential adopters.

Unless potential adopters are aware that a cute little Cocker mix is available for adoption, then the chances of adoption are slim. The foster parent needs to promote the animal to the public. The animal shelter is still responsible for vetting the potential adopter and processing the adoption paperwork.

Many foster animals will require medications, daily medicated baths, controlled rehabilitation including short walks, special diets, and more. In most cases, the shelter provides the foster with all they need to care for the animal, except basic food and treats. The foster is responsible for feeding the animals at their cost. It is a small price to pay to help an animal find their forever home, regardless of whether that home is the foster parents or a third-party adopter approved by the animal shelter.
If you can’t adopt, maybe fostering is the next best thing. The time an animal stays with a foster varies and can be as little as a few days to several months. Ask your local animal shelter about their foster opportunities. As always, adopt, don’t shop. Foster if you can’t adopt.
Barry KuKes is the former Community Outreach Director of Halifax Humane Society. E-mail him at bkukes View more of his work at