A family adopting one of my foster dogs, a brindle dachshund named Papi, met me at their front door and said, “The dog social worker is here!” I smiled, I had never thought of it that way. I guess that is what I do. A child and family social worker protects vulnerable children and supports families in need of assistance. I protect vulnerable dogs and support adoptive families. Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. I help dogs cope with their emotional and health problems. Social workers address mental, behavioral, and emotional issues for vulnerable people. I socialize, train, and bond with dogs, giving them the time they need and the skills that they need to be ready for adoption. So, yeah, I guess I’m a social worker for dogs. I’m on foster number 59.
We call our home The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs.
What IS a dog foster?
foster | verb | fos·ter: to give temporary parental care to; nurture
A foster is the bridge between an animal shelter and a forever home. It is someone who offers up their home to a homeless dog and gives them the gift of time until they find the right forever home. A foster gives love, care and attention, until the visiting dog is adopted. A foster family learns about their foster dog, trains them a bit, and helps the rescue place the dog in the best possible forever home.
Foster homes are the backbone of animal rescue groups—without an active network of dedicated fosters, rescue groups cannot fulfill their missions to save animals’ lives. Across the US, and particularly in the South, animal shelters are overcrowded and have to euthanize animals when they run out of available space. Fostering saves lives. Although fostering can sometimes be a lot of work, along with being a mother, fostering is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. By taking a shelter animal into your home, you are saving two lives, that of the animal that leaves the shelter, and that of the animal that can then take the newly vacant shelter crate. When you foster a dog and adopt it out into a good home, you aren’t just helping that one dog, you are making an entire family happy. People think it would be really hard to say goodbye, but actually, it’s a great feeling. It’s one of the best parts of fostering.
What does fostering a dog involve?
First of all, love. By opening up your home to foster dogs, you’re not only helping to save lives, you’re providing the individual attention and love these dogs desperately need. Most have been let down by humans. They need your love. A foster helps a dog decompress from shelter stresses. Shelters are cold, noisy, scary places. Many dogs become depressed or anxious at the shelter. Fosters help dogs feel safe and recover from abusive or negligent homes, or from the stresses of living as a stray. A foster takes in dogs whose owners have passed away, or whose owners have abandoned them. A foster home helps dogs get healthy, both mentally and physically, seeing them through vet appointments for immunizations, recovery and recuperation from more intensive medical procedures such as heartworm eradication, spay and neuter surgeries, or other illness or injuries. As a foster/dog social worker, you have to figure out what your foster dog needs. Some simply need a safe and quiet space. Some need extra love and attention. Some need basic socialization and training.
Have you thought about fostering?
Reasons You CAN Foster a Dog — Even Though You May Think That You Can’t
People are always telling me that they think its great that I am fostering dogs. I also hear sooooo many excuses and reasons why people can’t foster, don’t want to foster, have never even considered fostering a dog. Okay, it’s not for everyone, but it just might be for you. Let’s break it down.
I can’t afford to take care of another dog. This was me. Caring for a dog can be expensive, and its isn’t always financially feasible to add another. I started fostering after I rescued Ollie, my second dog, because I wanted to have more dogs and I couldn’t really afford to. That’s right, I started fostering because I felt that I couldn’t afford more dogs. The rescue pays the vet bills. The rescue will supply anything you need for your foster dog. All they need is your time.
I can’t foster because I have a full-time job. Actually, you can! A foster coordinator will do their very best to match you with an appropriate foster dog for your needs and your current schedule. If you have a full-time job, the foster coordinator will match you with a dog that may be OK alone during the workday. You will just need to provide ample exercise before or after you go to work. Many dogs need a mid-day potty break as well. It is doable, and many fosters work full-time jobs.
I can’t foster because I don’t have the space. All that is needed is a corner where you can set up a crate, and it doesn’t take much space to do that. Whatever space you have at home is definitely more than the dog has at the shelter. When the shelters get full, they are putting dogs together in crates just to save their lives. Some dogs have been living on the streets, with no shelter at all. If you don’t have much space, you can still foster smaller dogs or puppies.
I can’t foster a dog because I don’t have a fenced yard. Again, a foster coordinator will do their very best to match you with the best foster for your needs and your current living situation. Some dogs really need a fenced yard to thrive, and others do not. And even if you do have a fenced yard, you should supervise all outdoor activities with your foster dog, and always keep your foster on a leash when you’re on walks. It’s nice to have a fenced yard if you have dogs, but you can live rather happily with a small breed dog and no fenced yard. Think of all the great exercise you will get walking your foster dog!
My personal dogs won’t tolerate a foster dog. It is possible that your dog hates all other dogs, but not probable. It’s more likely that you will find that your personal dog has foster dog preferences. I have a Lab who has helped me foster many dogs. She’s been an awesome den mother to 59 foster guests in our home. I have learned along the way that she is best with dogs older or younger than her, and usually smaller. If you have a separate room and crate, having foster dogs shouldn’t be much of a problem. If the dogs don’t get along well, they can be separated. Sometimes after a few days of relaxing alone, a foster dog is ready and excited to make friends with your pack. If the problem persists, and the dogs just aren’t getting along, the rescue can step in and the foster dog can be moved to a better suited home. Along the way, you will be finding out what dog types, temperaments, ages, etc. work best for your home.
A foster dog might make my dogs sick. It is always a health risk to expose your animal to other animals, whether at the dog park or in the vet waiting room. If your pets are current on their vaccinations, maintain healthy diets and lifestyles, and are not immuno-compromised, then the health risk should be minimal.
It is possible that your foster dog will have some illness. A sick dog should be isolated to a separate room, and bedding and toys and kennels should be washed with bleach after use. Shelter dogs experience intestinal distress from stress and from new foods and so are likely to have bowel problems for a day or so. I like to add plain yogurt to their kibble, the probiotics are helpful. Dogs are usually treated for fleas before they leave the shelter, but it happens that you will find a flea on a foster dog now and again. I bathe my fosters when they arrive. Dawn liquid dish soap removes adult fleas. The rescue will provide monthly flea/tick and heartworm prevention. Some foster dogs arrive with runny noses or a cough. Often, it is just residual from the kennel cough vaccine, which is given nasally. Kennel cough, or Bordatella, is highly contagious in a shelter environment. Sometimes just a little cough syrup helps them feel better. Sometimes it is a more serious upper respiratory infection and requires antibiotics. Your personal dogs should be vaccinated against Bordatella and should be up to date on all their shots and monthly medicines.
Generally my feeling is this, its like sending your precious children off to school when they are little. You know they are going into germ world, but you do it anyway, because it is the right thing to do. Vaccinate your kids, vaccinate your dogs, and care for both when someone else makes them sick.
Someone else will foster that dog, there are plenty of caring people out there. Nope. They won’t and there aren’t. There are never as many foster homes as there are dogs in need. There are healthy, adoptable dogs being put to sleep every day. There are puppies being put to sleep for lack of space. But you can save a life, one foster dog at a time.
There are thousands and thousands of dogs in need of homes. So, if you can’t adopt … foster!
What if my foster dog is not working out? Some foster dogs will have behavioral issues: separation anxiety, destruction of property, fear issues or aggression toward other animals. If you feel unable to manage any behavior that your foster dog is exhibiting, please contact the rescue foster coordinator to discuss the issue. They will guide you and help in every way that they can! While rescue foster coordinators try to screen the rescue dogs to make a good match for your foster home before they send one your way, this is not an exact science, and there is often limited information about the dogs coming into the rescue. There is a possibility that a foster dog’s personality or behavior is not a good fit with your home. Once the animal is placed in a foster home from a shelter, the dog cannot be returned to the shelter if the person fostering the dog decides it’s not working out. If you feel you can no longer foster a dog, a new foster home can be found.
The dog on the left (below) was terrified coming out of the shelter. She had to be kept separated from the other dogs in my home because she was growling at them. It took about a week before she was best friends with every dog in the house. Sometimes, patience, time and space are all that’s needed.
So, why aren’t more people fostering dogs? Ok, Here is the big excuse:
I will get attached. I could never say goodbye. I’m frequently asked as a dog foster parent – How do you let go? And a lot of people tell me they don’t foster dogs because – I could never give them back. I’m not going to sugar coat it, this excuse irks me the most. Fostering isn’t for everyone, but the I could never give them up really stings. I smile and say, sure you could. On the inside I’m saying – so you can’t deal with a few tears over saying goodbye to a dog, but you can handle the idea that the dog may be put to sleep in the overcrowded shelter because no one stepped up? I think that is selfish. If you are talking to a rescuer, think before you speak. Think about how much suffering a rescuer has seen before you say – I can’t foster because I would keep them all. OK, yes, you can get very attached to your foster dogs. I love all of my fosters like family, but knowing that I am saving their lives and helping them find a forever family is completely worth breaking the attachment and letting go. It’s like extended dog sitting, you go in knowing that you are going to say goodbye. Have I cried? Yes, but they were happy, bittersweet tears. As the foster, you are called on to decide if a potential adopter is good enough. I know that the adopters I have chosen will give my foster dogs a life that is as good as or even or better than what I can provide. I tell myself, every single time, that letting go of this one means I can save another life. I can save many more lives.
I have a photo of each of my previous fosters, and I have a wall where I put them all.
I love looking at that wall.
I am so incredibly, very, very happy for my foster dogs when I see them with their forever families. I ask to stay in touch. I reach out to get updates. I love it. It makes my day.
And hey, it is not the end of the world to foster fail. Foster parents CAN adopt their foster pets. A lot of times people will foster to adopt. If the foster dog is a great fit with their family, they adopt, if not, the dog will be adopted by another family. If you want to make your foster dog a permanent part of your family, please contact the rescue foster coordinator right away. It is very stressful for a potential adopter to expect a dog to join their family and then be told that the dog is no longer available. Just consider that an adoption saves ONE life, and a fostering saves MANY lives.
Fostering is not for everyone. It takes time, love and patience. If you work really long hours, travel really often, have very small children at home, have medical issues, have a pet that can be aggressive around other animals, have a landlord that won’t allow it…well there are lots of things, and some people just shouldn’t foster. But, if you are a dog lover, and you have the time and the heart for it, fostering saves lives, dogs love unconditionally, and adopters are forever grateful.
You can do this, if you want to.
If you have EVER thought about fostering a dog, please, try it once. Find a rescue group or shelter near you and contact them. If you live in New Orleans, Take Paws Rescue is an amazing all breed rescue to work with. Reach out. Give a homeless dog a chance at life.
Check out my next blog to learn specifically about what fostering entails.