Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Does a Pet Foster Parent Do?

By Julia Williams

I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember, and have always looked for ways to help them. Volunteering at my local animal shelter is one way I do this. The actual acts of walking the dogs and petting the cats is very enjoyable; seeing so many beautiful animals without forever homes is the hard part. Even so, I do it because it makes me feel good to know that for a brief moment in time, I make a difference in their lives.

Wanting to do more, I signed up for the pet fostering program. Pet foster parents are critical to the success of animal shelters and rescue groups; without them, there would be a lot less “happy endings” for homeless animals. Thanks to kindhearted pet foster parents, countless kittens, puppies, cats, dogs, rabbits and other animals can be in safe, loving environments until they are ready to be adopted.

However, as gratifying as becoming a pet foster parent might be, it’s not for everyone. It can require a lot of time and energy, especially when caring for newborn puppies or kittens that need to be bottle fed every two hours. Fostering a pet is also a very emotional experience, and some find it heart-wrenching to say goodbye to the animals they so vigilantly nurtured for weeks. It takes great courage to let them go when what you really want to do is keep them near you forever.

As fate would have it, I never got to find out if I had what it takes to be a pet foster parent. Shortly after completing my home interview with the shelter’s volunteer coordinator, I discovered two tiny kittens living in a flea infested shack. They were near death from flea anemia, so I took them first to my vet and then into my home. After nursing them back to health, I couldn’t bear to give them up. I moved out of state soon after, and my current three-cat home isn’t big enough for me to become a pet foster parent. Nevertheless, it’s always in my thoughts and something I may still do someday. In the meantime, I’ve written this article for those who’ve thought about pet fostering and want to know what it entails.

What does a pet foster parent do?

Pet fosters open their hearts and homes to provide temporary care for animals in need. They provide basic care such as food, water, shelter and medicine (if needed), along with copious amounts of much-needed love. Foster parents may be required to potty train young puppies and kittens. If you foster an adult dog that has yet to be taught basic house manners, you might be asked to start this training. If the foster animal becomes ill or injured and needs veterinary care, you’re usually required to transport them to the shelter or to a designated vet for care.

Why are pet foster parents needed?

Animal shelters and rescue groups often receive underage kittens and puppies that need special attention and around-the-clock care. Feeding, nurturing, socializing and training these tiny creatures into adoptable animals is best accomplished in a home environment.

Sometimes, adult dogs and cats need a break from the high-stress environment of a shelter. Placing them in a temporary foster home can help calm them down, improve their temperament, and increase their odds of becoming adopted. Adult animals recovering from surgery or an illness also benefit from being in a loving home environment, and usually get well much quicker.

Pet foster parents also care for animals that would be difficult to nurture in a shelter environment, such as puppies and kittens with weakened immune systems, orphaned or feral kittens, and dogs needing one-on-one behavior rehabilitation.

How much does it cost to foster a pet?

Shelters and rescue groups generally provide all the food, supplies and medical treatment while the pet is in foster care. All you have to provide is time, energy, and a safe, loving home that gives needy animals a better chance for survival and adoption. However, most animal shelters are nonprofit, cash-strapped organizations. If a pet foster parent is financially able, and wants to provide supplies for the animals in their care, it’s always greatly appreciated.

How long do animals stay in foster care?

Most foster pets typically require a commitment of between 2 to 8 weeks. Occasionally, situations arise where a longer foster period is needed.

If you think you have what it takes to be a good pet foster parent, why not give it a try? Just contact your local animal shelter or rescue association to enquire about their particular pet fostering program. Yes, you will probably get attached to your foster animal, and yes, it will likely be very hard to let them go. But the happiness of knowing you helped an animal survive and become a cherished family pet, is priceless.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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