You’ve seen the code-red posts and the countless pleas on social media from shelters and rescues. You know that there are hundreds and hundreds of homeless animals in shelters - many awaiting a euthanasia date. You’ve finally thought it through, and you’ve decided you want to foster a dog and save a life, but you have no idea what to expect. Here’s some advice from our rescue on what you can expect when bringing home a new foster dog.
First and foremost, let it be known that you are a hero when you bring home a new foster dog. You may very well be the only thing standing in between life and death for the animal you decide to open your home to. It goes without saying that you are not only saving the dog you are taking out of the shelter, but you’re also saving the dog who can now take their place.
FAQ about fostering:
Most people have many questions about fostering before they decide to do so. Here are some frequently asked questions, and our best answers!
What are the requirements for fostering? We do have some requirements in order to become a foster family with our rescue, and our requirements are very similar to other organizations. We require that you have approval to foster if you are a tenant. We also require that your current pets are up to date on vaccinations and preventions and are spayed/neutered. We also of course require that you are an animal loving person(s) who will be patient and caring towards your foster!
Do I have to have a house or fenced yard?
Nope! We have a lot of foster families who are very successful fosters that live in apartments, townhomes, condos, etc., and a lot of them have no access to a yard. We do our best to match fosters with dogs that will fit their home environment, and there are many that do great in those settings.
Do I have to pay for anything?
No! Our rescue covers 100% of costs when fostering. This includes supplies, food, medication, vet visits, and if needed, we can even cover gas for getting to appointments/destinations.
Do I have to take my foster to the vet?
It’s up to you! When fosters can take their animals to their vet appointments, it helps the rescue a ton, but we also have a lot of transport volunteers who will take them to appointments if you are unable to!
What happens if I can’t foster anymore?
When fosters are no longer able to care for an animal that they currently have, our rescue will take that animal back and find another foster for them. This can sometimes be tricky depending on the animal, and how soon we can find another foster. We do ask our fosters to be sure they are 100% committed before fostering, because it is very hard to move dogs on short notice, but we will not abandon our fosters if they need help/need to quit.
Do I have to train my foster?
Again, this is up to fosters how much they are willing to train or not train their foster dogs. Potty training, crate training, and leash walking are almost always going to be something that needs to be worked on with foster dogs. Some learn more quickly than others. Again, we can do our best to match fosters with dogs who have already worked on those things if the foster is not fond of doing so! As for other training, our rescue does not require that you teach anything, but it is always helpful, (and sometimes really fun!), to teach and train dogs!
What if I want to adopt my foster?
Majority of the time, we allow our foster’s the first right to adopt. When an animal fits into their foster home so perfectly, and fosters cannot imagine life without them, we are all for adoption!
Is the foster going to take time to adjust?
Yes, absolutely. A lot of fosters will be nervous at first. We always recommend time to “decompress” ESPECIALLY if they have come from a shelter environment, and we heavily recommend slow introductions with other pets and people in the home. We talk about this in more detail later on in this blog.
What if I have a vacation planned?
We have sub fosters for your vacation needs! There is no pressure or need to worry about where your foster will go if you have to head out of town during your fostering experience.
Picking out a foster that is right for you:
There are many things to consider when picking out a foster dog that is right for you. If your home/family/schedule/current pets have certain requirements, it is wise to consider how a foster dog could affect those things. For example, if you work 8 hours a day, you would have more success fostering a dog who is very laid back and calm throughout the day, rather than one who is high energy and suffers when crated for long periods of time. Some other things to consider when picking out a foster dog include but are not limited to:
Does their energy level match my home life and lifestyle?
Are they dog friendly?
Are they child friendly?
Are they cat/small critter friendly?
How old are they? This may affect how long they can hold their potty time, and can also affect other pets in the home, (some dogs don’t like puppies)!
Are they okay to be walked on a leash? A dog who is very leash reactive or needs a lot of work walking on the leash may do better in a foster home with a fenced yard rather than an apartment complex.
Do they have any health issues? It is important that dogs with health issues or medical needs go to fosters willing to provide them with all necessary medications/care. Some dogs with health issues may also need more time in foster care than dogs without, (for example, heartworm positive dogs usually have 90 days of treatment before being adoptable).
How to prepare for your new foster to come into your home:
Set up an area for them that allows decompression time! This usually includes a crate big enough for them to stand and turn around in, placed in either a quiet area of your home, or perhaps even a bathroom or guest room.
It is important to make sure you are prepared with supplies. Our rescue, like most, provides any and all supplies you need. We make sure each foster has the essentials - a crate, food, leash, harness, and collar - and can provide additional items such as blankets, beds, toys, chews, bowls, etc.
It is also important to make sure everyone in your home, (including your current pets), are okay with fostering. It is extremely hard on rescues and fosters if their foster home has to quit before the foster is adopted.
How to help your new foster decompress:
Decompression time is so important when bringing home a new foster. Bringing a new foster into your home and immediately exposing them to your other pets and kids can be extremely overstimulating, and expecting them to jump into your routine right away is not a realistic expectation. Giving them too much freedom too quickly or exposing them to too much too quickly can set them up for failure.
When I first bring home a foster dog, they go straight to a kennel / crate for decompression time. In this area, they can see, smell, and hear the other dogs in the home, but they are not forced to interact. They quickly learn that their kennel is their safe space, where no one can get to them. I often find that new fosters, especially fearful ones, are harder to coerce out of their kennel and enjoy spending time there at first. For dogs who aren’t fearful, decompression is also important to help teach them that we have structured routines, and they will have to learn how to participate successfully.
While going through the process of decompression, it is important for fosters to have all of their needs met in a non stressful way. All meals are fed in their kennel, water is kept in their kennel, and potty time is done so by themselves, (I do not take them out with other dogs yet, so I crate and rotate). This helps assure them that all of their needs can be met and will be met, and that they do not have to feel uncomfortable or worry about not getting what they need.
Some signs to look for that show your foster is ready for introductions to new animals and a new routine include energetic willingness, wagging tails with a perky facial expression, and playfulness. It is also important to have calmer energy. A foster who is barking excessively/bouncing off the walls doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to dive into your routine and meet your pets. If your foster is still having to be forced to come out from their kennel, is cornering themselves/attempting to hide, has a fearful look, (whale eyes, droopy face, tucked tail, cowering body), or if they are showing fear through growling, they need more time to decompress and adjust to their new surroundings. Some take longer than others, but I assure you that decompression works!
Below are two examples of foster dogs that I had who needed decompression for different reasons:
Benny came to me from a hoarding situation and was practically feral. He had zero trust for humans, and was a flight risk. He was far too nervous to meet any other dogs or to dive into my routine. He spent weeks decompressing, and had to be leashed to come out of his kennel just to go to the bathroom. He watched us from his kennel, and slowly began building confidence. He started to stand up when we came near by, wagging his tail, and showed interest in meeting the other dogs, which is when I started introductions and immersing him into our routine. Had I skipped decompression, Benny would have been overstimulated, which would have enhanced his fearfulness and set him up for failure.
Ridge is another one of my fosters who needed decompression for entirely different reasons than Benny. Ridge came out of the shelter and was like a bull in a china shop. He was barking nonstop, bouncing off the walls, running, jumping, excessively humping everything, and was completely unaware of his surroundings. He went straight into decompression. At first, he was anxious, which led to barking and crying. He only came out of his kennel for potty time and one-on-one time with me. Within the first 48 hours, he settled down and started paying attention to his surroundings. I did slow introductions with the dogs, and slowly introduced him into our routine, and I never saw those wild behaviors from him again. Had I skipped decompression for Ridge, he could’ve hurt himself or another dog, and it would’ve been incredibly difficult to teach him our routine.
As you can see, decompression is very important, and it's a process. It can look similar yet different for each dog. Our rescue is always here to discuss decompression and assist our fosters through the process.
How to properly introduce fosters to current pets in the home and/or children:
You have probably observed the words “slow introductions” multiple times throughout this blog. That is because it is extremely important when fostering. Dogs are like people. Although there are some dogs who can immediately meet new dogs and be best friends right away, nobody wants to be forced to meet someone new and then spend every moment with them. It takes time for dogs to get to know others, the same way it does for people. It is very important for them to feel safe and comfortable around other dogs, and to establish a trusting relationship. Decompression time, (see details above), is a great first step to slow introductions. Being able to see/smell/hear new dogs from a safe distance is extremely helpful for building confidence and trust.
The next step we recommend when doing slow introductions are leash walks. Leash walking two dogs side by side with enough space for them to not be on top of each other is a great way for them to learn to coexist and to build a relationship. Doing this outside of the home and on neutral ground is also very important, especially for dogs in the current home who may be territorial or protective of their home.
Not all dogs do well on the leash, and some may have leash reactivity. For those situations, we recommend starting with the decompression, slowly introducing through barriers, (such as fences or gates in or outside of the home), and then in a yard or open room with supervision. Sometimes keeping a leash on without holding it is a good way to have the ability to grab and separate the dogs should something go wrong with an introduction. It is always important to consider the dogs’ needs, what works best for them, and to try your best to read behavior throughout introductions.
With any introduction and throughout the first few weeks of new relationships between your foster and other pets or kids, it is extremely important to always have supervision. Never leave them together unattended. It is also important to respect their space. Give them time away from each other, and make sure they have their own safe space that they can retreat to when they have had enough socialization, (the crate/kennel is their best safe space).
What is the typical process for fostering:
The first thing we do for a successful and routine foster experience is set up a space and prepare our homes for fosters, which we have gone over in detail above. The next thing we do after bringing fosters into our homes, is determine what needs need to be met in order to help them become adoptable. Most dogs from shelters have already had a headstart on their medical care, but our biggest duty as a rescue is to provide the necessary medical care they need to be adoptable. As a foster, your duty is to help us get them to and from appointments, administer medication as needed, and keep us informed with updates as needed.
Fostering is usually a minimum of 3-4 weeks, however, sometimes it can last a lot longer and that is always something to keep in mind when signing up to foster. We do our best to match fosters with dogs who fit their timeline best. For example, puppies or sought after breeds tend to be adopted much quicker than others. We require all puppies to have their second round of vaccinations before they are adoptable. For adult dogs, we ideally like to make sure all vaccinations, spay/neuter surgeries, or any other medical needs are met before we list them for adoption. It is also important to utilize the time dogs spend waiting for medical care/appointments to get to know their personalities, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and whatever other information that is important for future adopters to know.
Once an animal in our rescue approaches being adoptable, we post their adoption profiles using information provided by our vet and by our fosters. We are strong believers in matchmaking in our rescue, and since our foster families know their foster animals better than anyone else, they get to play a large role in where their fosters are adopted to. The reason I decided to let our adoption process involve our fosters, was because many years ago when I was a foster through another rescue, being able to have a say in what I thought was best for my foster dogs made letting them go so much easier.
Once applicants are approved, we set you up with the applicant to do a meet and greet with the foster. If all goes well, we make a plan for your foster to go to their forever home!
How to come to terms with letting your foster go:
Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges of fostering and one of the biggest reasons people don’t want to give it a shot is because of the fear of falling in love with an animal you have to let go. I have been there many times, and it isn’t easy. In fact, after my first few fosters, my mother was with me while I was bawling my eyes out and asked, “Why do you keep doing this to yourself if it makes you sad?”. I responded, “because they’re never meant to stay with me. I’m meant to be a bridge between where they came from and where they’re going. I’m the reason they found their family.” And that is where my rescue got its name - The Bridge Between.
One of my very first fosters was an incredibly hard goodbye. My dog loved him so much, and I felt like I was going to regret letting him go. He had so many applications, and none seemed like the right fit for him. Until finally, the perfect family applied. Everything about their lives was so perfect for him. For the first time, I could accept letting him go, because I knew that their home was just as good as if not better than mine. He was going to have a wonderful life, and letting him go meant I could save another dog that needed me, because he didn’t need me anymore.
That is another important thing to think about when letting your fosters go. It’s hard knowing that there are so many more still in the shelters - and even more that are going to walk through those shelter doors - and they all deserve a chance to make it out and find a better life. My duty as a foster is to provide that chance to as many animals as I can. And after all of these years, it has gotten so much easier. Very rarely now do I ever think I could foster fail an animal, because I have seen so many thrive in their forever homes. It may be a little sad at first to say goodbye, but then you get that text with a photo or video with your foster wearing the biggest smile. Their new family goes on and on about how happy they all are, and that adopting their new family member was the greatest thing to ever happen. THAT is one of the biggest rewards of fostering, and makes it all worth it. It reminds you that you did it - you saved a life.
Fostering is one of the most rewarding experiences. I had always felt a calling to help animals growing up, and once I was old enough to foster, I was hooked. As soon as one foster leaves, I’m ready for the next. Saving these lives is a never ending mission, and I never plan to stop. Not everyone can do it back to back. Not everyone can do it full time. Not everyone does it more than once. But one life saved is a life saved. I highly encourage everyone to make it a goal to save one life through fostering through a local organization, and I hope this blog helps not only inspire someone to do so, but helps to make it a smoother, successful experience.