Everything You Need to Know About Pet Fostering—and How to Get Started

Make room in your home—and heart—to care for an animal short term, and you'll both be rewarded.

What It Means

Fostering provides a temporary home to a shelter animal who, for various reasons, cannot live in a shelter. Maybe the shelter is too crowded, or it could be that the pet just doesn’t do well in that environment. “It also frees up a space for another animal to be rescued and taken in by that organization,” says Carly Fox, DVM, a veterinarian at New York City’s Animal Medical Center. So how long will your duties last? Well, it can be anywhere from a few days to months—however long it takes for the shelter to find a forever home for that pet. For you, fostering is a great way to have an animal in your life when you’re just not ready to make a multiyear commitment. Plus, it’s fun!

Your Responsibilities

Every organization does fostering differently, and Dr. Fox says it’s crucial to inquire about things like who’s responsible for medical bills and how long you’re expected to have the pet. Typically, you’ll provide day-to-day care, shelter, safety, food, and of course—love and affection. Patience and extra attention may be needed for young animals or those who are skittish during this transitional time. You could also be required to take the pet to the shelter to meet potential adopters or have them come to your home.

How to Sign Up

Begin by researching shelters in your area (petfinder.com is an easy way to search), and contact two or three to ask for foster applications. “They will ask you questions about where the animal will be kept, who will be taking care of it, how much time it’ll be alone, and other basic things,” says Elizabeth Jensen, Northeast regional director of Best Friends Animal Society. Once you’re accepted, you’ll be able to volunteer to foster an animal that suits your lifestyle (one that gets along with other cats or dogs, for example) and timetable (you can take in a new pet when it works for you).

The Emotional Angle

One more thing to be aware of: When it comes time to say goodbye to a pet you’ve been fostering, it can be tough, warns Jensen. If you can’t stand the parting, some shelters and rescue organizations will give foster parents priority if they decide to adopt, but others may restrict it. And remember this, says Jensen: “Sending one animal to a loving family and then taking in another foster is one of the greatest gifts you can give,” she says.

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