Is Fostering Right For You?

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While fostering a needy pet is an extraordinarily rewarding experience, it's not for everyone. Foster dogs typically arrive with no training and no idea how to live inside a home. Most WAGS dogs are puppies, adolescents, or young adults, which means they are hyper little maniacs prone to chewing everything they can fit into their mouths. They shed, they bark, they shred curtains, they eat shoes. They pee on your carpets and poop on your floors. They don't always get along with resident pets (or kids), and resident pets (or kids) don't always get along with them.

And just when you work through all their bad habits and that crazy jumping bean of a puppy is finally starting to settle into a really good dog, they leave.

A foster dog is not your dog. The ultimate goal is to say goodbye. That's hard too.

Don't get me wrong: fostering is wonderful. I very much hope you will do it; otherwise I would not have created this wiki. But it is hard. And it is important to go into it with open eyes and realistic expectations.

Here are some of the things you might want to ask yourself before deciding to take the plunge:

  • Do you have time for a foster dog? Again: expect your foster pups to arrive knowing nothing. For at least the first few days or weeks, you will have to manage them closely to ensure they don't get in trouble while you teach them how to live politely with people. Your foster pup may be stressed or fearful upon arrival and need a lot of gentle, one-on-one attention to help her come out of her shell. Can you devote several hours a day to the dog?
Gremlin, pulled from Brevard, North Carolina, in June 2011. Now living in Minneapolis with her forever family: Jeff, Emily, and Lolcifer the demon cat.
  • Can you tolerate the noise and mess? Not a trivial question! Twice I've come close to losing my mind over fosters, and both times it was as a result of persistent poopy problems inside the house. Not all of us have tile-floored puppy rooms (I sure don't), and cleaning up fifteen puddles of diarrhea in a day can fray your sanity fast. The crate wailing, the potty issues, the casual destruction of personal belongings... are you willing to absorb the frustration and the damage to your bank account? If you live in close proximity to your neighbors, and they're likely to be bothered by barking or yowling in the crate, that can be a significant consideration as well.
  • Can you commit to keeping this dog for weeks or months until he finds a forever home? Fostering can be a great option for people who love dogs but who, because of upcoming moves or employment changes, can't promise the 10- to 15-year commitment that adoption entails. But while some dogs tend to get adopted more quickly than others, and WAGS can certainly try to match you with a puppy who has a good chance of getting snapped up fast, there are never any guarantees in animal rescue. If you cannot commit to keeping a dog for at least a few weeks, fostering is probably not be a prudent choice for you at this time.
  • Is everyone in the household on board? Are all the adults willing to pitch in? Kids prepared for the challenge? Consider the four-legged members of the family too. Some dogs just don't get along with others, or are picky about their doggy friends. Others, although delighted to play with other dogs outside at the park, are less cheerful about sharing their toys and their people's attention in the home. And still others just want to play! play! play! nonstop, reducing your furniture to flinders. Can you be sure that your dog will tolerate having a canine companion in the house? Are you willing and able to manage them through an adjustment period of several days or weeks?
  • Can you say goodbye? For many people, this is the hardest part. It is bittersweet to watch a dog that you have loved and trained for months go on to a new life with a new family. There's great joy in knowing that this dog lived and will be loved because of you, but there's also heartbreak in letting go. Many of us have a foster failure or two... but once your house fills up, that's one less foster slot available for all the animals in need. To do this, you have to be willing to say goodbye.

If you ultimately decide that fostering is not right for you, please consider helping in some other way: adopting a pet permanently, donating money or supplies, working on outreach and education, encouraging friends and family to adopt, assisting with setup/takedown and animal handling at adoption events, sharing adoptable pets on Facebook and other social networking sites, and so on. There are countless ways that you can help.

And if you do decide to foster, read on.