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A home for the holidays: Tips for fostering a dog or cat

Are you an animal lover with oodles of patience and lots of attention and care to give? Consider fostering.

You might be wondering, “Why should I foster a pet for a short time when I could just keep him forever?” The logic behind fostering is that shelters are often filled to the brim with stray or rescued pets and cannot always give the proper attention every animal deserves. By acting as a foster parent, you provide necessary care and training and give a pet a home instead of a small space in a shelter.

We recently spoke with Pam Nichols, DVM, AAHA board member and owner of AAHA-accredited Animal Care Center in West Bountiful, Utah, who gave us some tips on fostering dos and don’ts.

DO work with a rescue that will assist with finances. While many organizations will provide for basic needs—think food, medication, and other supplies—it is important to understand how additional expenses will be covered.

“Most abandoned and neglected dogs have a few problems that may have led up to relinquishment,” Nichols said. “Be prepared for the expense or at least have a plan.”

DO reward desirable behavior. Part of your duty as a foster parent is training and socializing. Help your foster pet learn good behavior by using positive reinforcement, such as praise, treats, or attention.

DO be active in finding and educating the adopter. As an advocate for your foster pet, you also play a role in ensuring his forever home is a good fit. Make sure potential adopters understand what to expect regarding your pet’s physical and emotional needs as well as the financial implications of pet ownership.

DO specialize in a particular species, breed, or age. Knowing what to expect is not just helpful for potential adopters—it also makes the job easier for you as the foster parent. Plus, you’re more likely to work with adopters who know what they want or have a specific type of pet in mind.

DO reach out for help. Use resources like trainers and your veterinarian for advice and assistance.

“Establish a relationship with a veterinary behaviorist in your area as the number one reason for relinquishment is bad behavior,” Nichols said.

DON’T adopt. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you have the means to foster a pet and you adopt him instead, that’s potentially one less foster home for a pet in need and one more space taken up in a shelter.

DON’T foster if you don’t have free time and patience. Many pets are relinquished because of behavior issues, so it’s up to you to spend as much time as you can training and socializing your foster pet. Be patient and persistent with compassion.  

DON’T act on a whim. You have a big heart and you are ready to foster today! Fostering isn’t a decision that should be made in haste, however. It’s imperative that everyone in your household is just as eager as you are to provide a temporary home. Communicate with the people you live with and make sure everyone is completely on board.

DON’T take on more than you can handle emotionally or financially. Though very rewarding, fostering is a huge undertaking. At times, it can be difficult or draining. Make sure you are prepared and have the resources you need to keep yourself healthy.

“Compassion fatigue is prevalent, even with folks who do rescue and foster,” Nichols said. 

Bekka Burton is an animal lover and freelance writer living with a tortoiseshell cat who loves to hide in cardboard boxes.

iStock.com/Serg Myshkovsky

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