If you and your family love animals and want to help care for one in a time of need, consider being a foster family.
Dogs and cats sometimes need a temporary home while awaiting adoption — so do hamsters, guinea pigs and ferrets. The reasons are varied: some are too young to be adopted; some need socialization; others may be recovering from surgery or illness. Some animals are simply not suited to live in a shelter, around lots of other animals.
Foster care can last anywhere from a week to several months. Some agencies provide food and supplies, others cover only veterinary expenses. Families gather valuable information about their foster pets' personalities, which helps the shelter find them a compatible "forever" home. In return, families receive the love of a pet and the satisfaction of making a difference.
Interested in fostering a pet?
Robyn Santor, animal care supervisor at the Humane Society of Chittenden County, and Sam Punchar, owner of Random Rescue in Williamstown, offer the following advice:
- Prepare for all the duties of full-fledged pet ownership, such as feeding, walking, scooping poop, cleaning litter boxes and trips to the vet. If you want to foster dogs but have never owned one, consider borrowing a friend's for a weekend before diving in to foster care. Research different breeds to learn which ones best fit your family.
- Pet-proof your house. Crawl around on a dog or cat's level to see what the animal would see. Cords, toys and socks can get chewed and/or swallowed. Remove chemicals, cleaners and family heirlooms. Get a crate or exercise pen for a dog, and maybe a spray bottle, to help with training. Consider gating off your entryway so a dog or cat won't bolt if a child opens the door.
- Don't be shy! Ask shelter staffers for any information about the animal so you know what you're getting into.
- Pour on the TLC. Kids ages 4 and up offer much-needed attention and playtime that helps socialize animals.
- Expect the unexpected. Each animal comes with its own personality, temperament, history, likes and dislikes. That adorable fur ball might throw you a curveball. Some stories will be amusing — in hindsight. "Keep an eye on the big picture," Santor says.
- Gear up for good-bye. Lots of foster families can't part with their foster pets. Some, called "foster failures," decide to keep the animal permanently. Either way, recognize the service you provide by helping prepare an animal for its new home. And remember that when you give the animal back, you can take in a new one — and so can the rescue agency. That way, says Punchar, you're not saving one, you're saving three.