Foster care providers are THE life's blood of animal rescue. Open admission shelters, who constantly have to manage space and resources while never knowing what will come through their doors on any given day, rely heavily on rescue organizations to get animals to safety and into adoptive homes. These rescue organizations are largely volunteer-led and donor-supported networks of foster care providers, with some larger and more established rescues perhaps having a physical adoption center location as well. THE limiting factor in how many animals a rescue is able to save is the availability of foster homes.
That being said, you may imagine that from my vantage point I have seen some of the best and worst in animal shelter and rescue organization dynamics, including challenges faced by foster care providers who were insufficiently supported by the rescues for which they were volunteering. While writing about specific instances would only inflame tensions within struggling organizations, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you criteria that I would personally employ when looking for an animal rescue group to join as a foster care provider.
There will always be a need for foster care providers in rescue, and it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. However, being a dog foster is a big commitment with a certain degree of unknown so it is important that you do your research before jumping in. You may have your own criteria for how you will make the determine which organization to support but here are some of mine...
- What type of dogs does the rescue pull into their organization and how are the decisions made for which animals to take in? Some organizations are breed specific, or tend to work with certain shelters, or tend to focus on certain types of issues, like special need or senior dogs. Do they tend to bring in a lot of 'urgent' dogs who are at imminent risk of euthanasia, or puppies, or puppy mill rescue dogs? Take some time to find out who is who in your community since you may feel drawn to working with certain types of dogs. And be wary of the 'rescue now-ask questions later' approach. A lot of well-meaning rescue folks have pulled urgent dogs to rescue, to avoid the dog being euthanized, only to find themselves in over their head with a dog that required more training or other resources than they were prepared, or financially able, to provide.
- What type of educational opportunities and training are provided to assist the foster with both understanding the best way to acclimate foster dogs to the home (as well as with family and resident animals) and give them what they need to set them up for a successful adoption?
- Knowing that rescues may have limited information on dogs before bringing them into their organization, is there an integrated plan for working with dogs who are discovered to have medical or behavioral issues requiring attention? Does the rescue work with positive trainers and veterinarians versed in behavioral management? (NOTE: Veterinarians are not trained in dealing with behavior as a matter of course in school. Veterinary behaviorists receive special training. You can learn more about them here and here.) What is the process by which it is determined when to bring in professional help and who arranges for that?
- Is the rescue able to absorb the cost of training and veterinary care? (If not, please consider whether the rescue is being run by hearts or heads, as a desire to save animals can only be successful over the long term with wise resource use. You can't take in what you can't afford to care for.)
- In the rare event that the dog does not get adopted quickly (I know of a some current cases of dogs being in rescue for 1-3 years), what support can the foster expect in terms of day care or vacation coverage as needed? How has the organization dealt with long term stays historically and what was their outcome? (Prepare yourself to hear that even no-kill organizations may have had to euthanize animals who suffered from severe medical or behavioral issues. That doesn't make the organization bad or dishonest.)
- What is the marketing and promotional strategy for the adoptable dogs? Is it effective? What is the average length of stay in foster for dogs the organization takes in? (Consider that some organizations specialize and those that focus on taking in high need or senior dogs for example, may have longer stays in foster. That is not a bad thing. Puppies always seem to find homes quicker than middle aged dogs. It just depends on who you want to help and what you are set up to handle in your home)
- If a dog is lingering in foster, what additional marketing steps will the organization make to cast a wider net for potential adoptive homes?
- What kind of adoption events will the dog foster be expected to attend and how are they run? For dogs that find adoption events too stressful to attend, what is the strategy to make sure that they get seen by potential adopters? (Dogs that don't do well with other dogs or at public events, but who may make perfectly lovely companions, can be at risk for being lost in the system in rescues that rely most heavily on public adoption events.)
- Are adoption events regularly held and well advertised? Rescue marketing efforts are the foster providers' lifeline when it comes to finding permanent placement for them. Do social media campaigns include updates from foster parents such as photos, video and helpful information on what the dog is like and how they are doing in the home? What would the rescue organization like and expect from you in order to assist in the effort to find an adoptive home?
When researching...Take your time and look with the eyes of a potential adopter at several different sites (both website and social media). Are the sites easy to navigate and is it easy to find information you would want to know as a potential adopter? If you find a site incomplete, difficult to navigate or confusing, remember that you will be relying on that same system should you foster with that organization.
The bottom line is, caring for a foster dog goes well beyond providing a roof and food. It is a commitment that you (and anyone you are living with) are making for an indeterminate period of time and which will require an integrated approach between the rescue and the foster home to care for the pup while a permanent home is sought, taking the steps to help set the dog up for success once their forever family finds them. It can be an incredibly rewarding experience. A bit of due diligence and responsible research at the outset will help you set YOURSELF up for success as you embark on this vital lifesaving venture!
Have you subscribed to this blog yet? It's easy to do! To get a brief notice in your inbox when new posts go up, simply type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. You will get an email asking to confirm your subscription. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time. And be sure to follow me on Facebook for lots of great additional info you won't get here.