If you have a friend who’s fostered a dog, they’ll probably tell you that fostering is basically the best thing ever — for the dog, for the shelter and for you.
Fostering means that you give a dog in need a temporary home while a rescue works to find him a loving permanent family.
Fostering is an important part of the rescue world — you can foster for a rescue that doesn’t have a physical shelter (which means they rely on foster homes to house their available pets), or for a shelter that’s overcrowded and doesn’t have space for a particular dog. There are tons of amazing reasons why you should do it.
You’re saving two lives
When you foster a dog, you’re not only saving the life of the dog you’re fostering — you’re also creating space in that shelter or rescue network for another dog to come in and have a chance at being adopted.
So while being a foster might seem like you’re just helping the dog you’re taking care of, you’re actually doing a lot for all of dog-kind.
Fostering is extremely rewarding
“The best part of fostering is how rewarding it really is,” Nicole Patak, who’s fostered three dogs from North Shore Animal League in New York, told The Dodo.
While there are different reasons dogs need foster homes, Patak says she finds rehabbing dogs who come from puppy mills or other similar environments to be the most fulfilling and rewarding.
“They go from being so shy and timid/scared to these rambunctious, fun and playful dogs,” Patak said. “Nothing beats seeing how happy they are when they realize they’re in a safe home.”
You’re getting a dog ready to be adopted
Many people find the ability to work with a dog and help bring him out of his shell one of the best parts of fostering. Just knowing that you had a hand in bringing a dog to a place where he can learn to trust and be placed in a forever home is an amazing feeling.
“I would say one of the best things about fostering is showing a dog love that has never had it before — and showing them they can trust you, and feel safe and have a nice life,” Alexandra Colodro, who’s fostered five dogs from Ruff House Rescue in New York, told The Dodo.
Not only are you able to help a dog get ready for adoption, but since you know all his quirks the best, you’ll be able to help him find the perfect home.
“I’ll know if they’re dog-friendly, food-aggressive, toy-protective etc. This helps to place them in the best home possible so the new family has a good idea of the type of dog they’re getting — and also to make sure it’s a good fit for the dog so they don’t get bounced around from family to family,” Erin Lombardo, who’s fostered multiple dogs through Retriever Rescue Of Las Vegas, told The Dodo.
It can help you move forward after the loss of your own dog
If you recently lost your own family pet, fostering a dog can be a healing way to move forward while giving your love to a dog in need, even if you’re not ready to adopt a new pet just yet.
“In March of 2013 we lost our schnauzer, Binky,” Jessie Lana, a then-volunteer at the now-closed Dog Habitat Rescue in Brooklyn, New York, told The Dodo. “It was three weeks later when Dog Habitat got in this little one-eyed Pekingese named Mia. I instantly felt a loving connection with her.”
Mia had been surrendered to the rescue after her previous owners no longer wanted her since she had lost her left eye.
Knowing that Mia was already 10 years old, Lana and her family decided to open their home to her as a foster.
“It was a good test to see if we were ready for another dog after losing our family dog. Everyone in my family got to know her and came to love her. Of course we foster-failed and adopted her.”
Fostering a dog can help if you’ve recently lost your dog and are looking to fill that void. Many times bringing home a needy dog to love — even temporarily — helps ease the pain of loss.
You don’t have to commit a lifetime
“One of the greatest parts of fostering is not having the commitment, while being able to give a dog a loving home in the meantime,” Lana said.
This means that you don’t have to have that same level of commitment you would if you adopted a dog — but you’re still opening up your home and time to an animal in need (and having lots of fun doing it). It’s great for people who don’t have the long-term stability to adopt a pet right now (for example, if you’re planning to move or travel a lot in the near future), or who want to do a trial run to see if adopting a pet is the right choice for them.
You’ll probably have a say in who your foster goes to
As a foster parent, you’ll know your foster’s personality better than anyone, and that information can really help the rescue when they’re going through applications to find your foster’s forever home.
“At the rescue I volunteered for they allow the fosters to really have a big say in who they want the dog to go to,” Colodro said.
Colodro found this to be an amazing benefit the first time she fostered a dog.
“My first foster, Katie, was scared to be touched the first few days I had her. She wouldn’t eat in front of me or take treats. She wouldn’t sleep in the soft, comfy bed I bought her — instead she slept in the corner on the wood floor — and every day I went in and just sat there for hours until she would come to me,” Colodro said.
According to Colodro, Katie literally transformed into a playful puppy right in front of her. “It was like a whole new dog,” Colodro said.
In really getting to know Katie, Colodro felt like she had a very good idea of the kind of family she needed to go to.
“I kept Katie through her heartworm treatment, and since she was a very fragile dog, I took my time with who I wanted her to go with,” Colodro said.
“The best part about it was that I knew Katie needed to be with adults only and the only dog in the house — and we found that and she’s thriving now,” Colodro said.
Fostering your own dog can give you the same sense of pride knowing that you played a big part in finding your foster his best possible family.
Fostering can be great for your family
Fostering can be a great test to see if your family is ready for a permanent dog — or a second or third permanent dog if you have one already.
If you have kids, it can help them learn the selflessness and responsibility of owning a pet — and it can be great for your current dog, too, if you have one.
“I have a big 90-pound pit bull mix and she was amazing through every single foster,” Colodro said. “She hit it off the best with our boy Cornelius and we ended up adopting him because we just couldn’t part with him.”
Your dogs will gain a sense of responsibility
If you already have a dog (or dogs), something interesting — and exciting — that comes out of fostering is seeing how your own dogs take care of your foster.
“When I first get a foster dog, they’re often very scared and timid. The more time you spend with them, while still giving them their space to feel secure with you, the more their true personalities come out,” Lombardo said.
When her first foster took some time to come out of his shell, she noticed that her dog, Shadow, was the one who was helping him the most.
“It helps that my dog Shadow is a very confident and friendly dog so he definitely helps the process along so much,” Lombardo said. “Once their true personalities come through, it’s easier for the rescue to place them with the right family.”
Some foster dogs might be a little nervous around people, but when they watch your own dog love and trust you, it can help them understand that they can trust you — and eventually their forever family — too.
You can help an older dog live his best last days
For Patak, she found that doing a hospice foster for a 16-year-old dog named Louie to be overwhelmingly rewarding.
In Louie’s case, he was blind and partially deaf, but when his owner became too ill to care for him, he needed to find a home where he could spend his last days in peace.
“Hospice fostering was one of the hardest things for me but it felt good knowing he was happy with us in his last days,” Patak said.
When Patak took in Louie, she already had two other dogs. “They were very curious about him and I don’t think they realized he was blind until a few weeks later when they figured out he didn’t play the same way they did,” Patak said.
When you open your home to a hospice foster, you’re giving that dog a very special gift — the opportunity to help a dog live out his best final days, surrounded by love and in a warm, comfy bed instead of a shelter.
You might end up with a new friend for life
While foster parents are under no obligation to keep the dogs they foster, it’s not uncommon for them to end up adopting one when they find the pup who has a special place in their heart.
Plus, the adoption process and transition can be easier since you’ve already been living together and are certain this is the dog for you.
Many of the foster parents in this article foster-failed a time or two, including Lana, who foster-failed with Mia; Lombardo, whose own dog Shadow was first a “foster with intent to adopt”; and Colodro, who foster-failed with Cornelius because he got along so well with her own dog.
You’re an important part of the rescue/adoption process
“Foster dog parents are a key part of the whole rescue and adoption process,” Lombardo said.
She’s fostered tons of dogs, many of whom have come to the United States from highly stressful situations, like meat farm rescues in South Korea and China.
In these cases, the foster family is the place where a timid dog learns how to behave in a home. This is where these dogs learn how to play, trust and open up to humans and other pets. Sometimes that means giving a dog their first bed, or showing them what a toy is and how to play with it.
“What I’ve learned is that a lot of good people are willing to adopt a dog, but it’s harder to find fosters willing to put the time and hard work that is required often in the beginning,” Lombardo said.
Whether you foster one of the many happy dogs who are looking for a place to wait before they’re adopted, or a pup who needs a little extra love and care, you can be certain you’ll be making the biggest difference in the world to them.
And even though fostering is a truly selfless act, it comes with a whole lot of rewards — from slobbery kisses to a home full of dog love.
“Fostering honestly changed my life,” Colodro said. “I’m currently only with my two dogs because we just bought a house and we’re doing construction — but once it’s done I’m emptying a cage and bringing a baby home.”