A boxer running through a park with a blue ball in its mouth.

Guest Column: The Many Reasons to Be a Pet Foster

By Samantha Randall, pet writer, podcaster and editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips

“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. She’ll provide personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue.

I’ve advocated for pet foster care for the past eight years. I’ve fostered many animals in those eight years, and I know I’ve convinced some other people to foster as well.

Saving multiple lives

I bet you didn’t realize that fostering an animal actually saves two lives. When you foster, you help the homeless animal that you’re welcoming into your house, and you free up space so the rescue or shelter can take in another homeless pet. All of the lives that I have saved by fostering have been in remembrance of one very special boxer.

Twelve years ago I adopted my first rescue boxer. Her name was Roxy. I had just moved out on my own, and Roxy was my saving grace. She offered protection and security while also being a companion. I was never lonely as long as Roxy was with me. We went everywhere together. I took her along while running errands, and we spent our weekends hiking, swimming or visiting friends and family.

While all my pets have held a special place in my heart, none will ever compare to my “Roxy Girl.” She was one in a million. Eight years ago, I had to say goodbye to my best friend. She was 12, which is old for a boxer, and she had starting having seizures due to a tumor in her brain. Losing her broke my heart, and I didn’t think I would ever be ready for another pet.

A few months went by and I began to feel lonely. I missed having a dog in the house, but I just couldn’t bring myself to adopt another canine companion. I felt like I was trying to replace Roxy, and I knew no dog would ever be able to take her place.

That’s when I decided to volunteer at a local shelter. I figured I would get to spend time with dogs that needed all the love they could get, and I certainly had plenty to give. I started by walking dogs and playing with some of the resident cats. Some days I would help with cleaning tasks, and I even got to volunteer at some of the adoption events that they held in local communities.

I loved volunteering, but I hated going home to an empty house. Part of me really wanted to adopt another dog, but I knew I still wasn’t completely ready. While tidying up around the shelter one day, I began telling a fellow staff member about Roxy. She suggested fostering. She told me about the shelter’s foster program and what it would entail.

I knew instantly that fostering was the right fit for me. It allowed me to have the pleasure of spending time with a dog without feeling obligated to get attached to it. I knew I could spend time with another dog without feeling like I was replacing Roxy. That afternoon I spoke with the staff member in charge of the foster program, and in less than two weeks I had my first foster dog.

Sparky was a mutt with a big personality. He had been surrendered to the shelter because his family was moving and couldn’t bring him along. Staff members at the shelter were sure that Sparky would be adopted quickly. He was great with other animals, loved kids and was very well behaved. They assured me that he wouldn’t be with me for very long.

Just three weeks later Sparky was adopted into his fur-ever home. During the three weeks he was with me, I reported back to the shelter about his behavior and sent pictures of his silly antics. I felt great when he was adopted. I knew that I had helped Sparky find his family, and I had helped the shelter to free up a kennel for another needy dog. A job well done!

You see, that’s the best thing about fostering pets. Shelters are an overwhelming environment. The stimulation of new people, new smells, new animals and a new environment may make a dog bark excessively, act timid or aggressive, destroy bedding and other belongings, or just simply act sad and depressed. Being in a shelter could make a friendly cat act timid or cause a litter-box-trained cat to urinate outside his box. By fostering these pets, you give them a chance to show what they are like in a home environment. You can share reports about the animal’s behavior and tell prospective adopters what the pet is really like when welcomed into a loving home.

After Sparky, I continued to foster for the shelter for many months. One day they had a sweet female boxer in need of a foster home. Maddie was amazing! I had so much fun with her in our first few days together that I contacted the shelter and asked about fostering to adopt. After fostering Maddie for just 10 days, I decided it was time that I officially adopt another dog into my home.

I have continued to foster animals for almost a decade now, and I encourage other dog lovers to do the same. Fostering is great for you, it’s helpful to the shelter or rescue organization that you work with, and it will save a pet’s life (maybe even two).

You can, too!

You don’t have to foster long-term, which is great news for pet owners who travel frequently or don’t want the commitment of a full-time pet. All you have to do is talk to the local shelter or rescue organization in your area to get started. They’ll ask you lots of questions about your home, your schedule, any other pets that you might have, and much more.

Once they get to know more about you and your family (both two- and four-legged), they’ll ask about your fostering preferences. Are you interested in dogs, cats or both? Are you interested in long-term fostering or would you prefer animals that won’t be staying very long? Is foster-to-adopt an option for your family?

Fostering pets is much more doable than most people think. I know a lot of potential pet foster parents also worry about behavior problems or extra care that their foster pets may require. But don’t worry! The shelter will talk to you through everything you need to know. If you have the time and you’re willing to work with dogs with behavior issues, you could make a huge difference in the life of a pet, and for the shelter.

If you’re able to care for older pets, very young animals or dogs with special health concerns, you could be vitally important. However, if you’re not comfortable taking pets that need extra care, that’s okay, too. It all helps.

Fostering is about helping dogs in need and assisting your local shelter in caring for homeless animals. As the old saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers.” I’m sure your local shelter will be thrilled to accept any help that you’re willing to give their foster program.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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