Welcoming a Foster Pet into Your Family

This is Cooper.

Cooper joined our family three weeks ago. We fostered the weeks-old pit-mix, one pup from a dumped litter of 12, and, I have to be honest: We failed. Just this week, we decided to adopt the little bugger.

But don’t let my failure discourage you from fostering! Shelters across the country are out of space. Many shelter dogs and cats are put down solely because there’s no more room at the inn. Fostering provides the perfect solution for alleviating overcrowded shelters while simultaneously enriching your family.

Assuming you won’t be a foster failure like me, why should you consider taking on a foster dog or cat?

  • You will prevent one more dog or cat from being euthanized.
  • You can help a dog or cat adjust to life within a home – making the little one more appealing to potential adopters.
  • Fostering is a rewarding experience for the foster pet and for your entire family.

So let’s say you’ve decided to take the foster plunge! Yay! You’ll change the life of your foster dog or cat forever. While the task can be daunting, there are a few simple tips and strategies to keep in mind to make the whole process easier.

Dos and Don’ts of Fostering a Pet

  • Do work with the shelter or rescue to make sure you’re comfortable with their process and your obligations. Will they cover veterinary care? Is there a specific vet your foster needs to visit? Do they provide a crate? Food?
  • Do request a copy of the foster’s records, if they’re available. You want to be extra sure that the foster isn’t bringing along something that your existing pets could catch. Or – if you know about a special need up front, like heartworm treatment – gather advice from the rescue on how to properly manage the situation.
  • Do consider the needs of your existing animals. If your senior pet will be uncomfortable or irritated by a young pup, consider fostering another senior. If your dog doesn’t do well with cats, focus on fostering dogs.
  • Do plan to be home for a couple days – a weekend is ideal – when you first bring home your foster. By being present, you can help ensure a smooth transition from the shelter to a home for the foster, while helping your existing animals get used to the idea of a new fur ball running around “their” house.
  • Don’t expect the foster to settle in quickly. He or she may need a few days to adjust to you, your existing pets, your home, and your routine. Patience pays off!
  • Don’t forget that your foster’s mental and behavioral needs are just as important as his or her physical needs. You should try to walk, play games, and train basic commands, just as you would with your own pets.
  • Don’t get too attached or you might end up as a foster failure like me!
  • Conversely, don’t ignore the possibility that you may fall in love with your foster and choose to adopt him yourself!

A foster pet makes the perfect addition to any family. You’ll provide a safe, loving home for a dog or cat until he finds his forever home. What’s more rewarding than that?

I’d love to hear about your foster experiences. Do you have questions about the process or responsibilities? If you’re a foster veteran, what times do you have to share?

As far as Cooper goes, he fit right in from the moment he pranced into our house. He gets along with Emmett and Lucas; he’s smart and utterly adorable. He took to our routine by the second or third day. And really, how could I resist this face?


  1. says

    That’s the cutest failure I’ve ever seen! :) Same thing happened when I went to register for volunteer training at a shelter. Came home with a puppy instead. Informative post! I have several friends that need to read this and I cannot wait to share it with them…

  2. says

    Well, when it comes to fostering, failure is cause for celebration. Congratulations on the new member of your family! (I wouldn’t have been able to resist that face either.)

  3. says

    Fostering is such a wonderful thing to do and so, so needed. Even when you “fail,” you are still a wonderful success! What a cutie poo! xoxo

  4. says

    Is it even humanly possible to foster a pet without falling in love with him or her? I couldn’t have let anyone else take Cooper home either.

    I have thought of fostering in the past but since we work away from home I wasn’t sure we would be ideal candidates. Perhaps I should re-consider. Our local SPCA is always looking for people to foster cats, I know. Since I’m more of a dog person, maybe that would be safer, prevent me from taking in every new animal I see! Thanks for the advice.

  5. says

    Kristine – As the founder of the rescue Maggie foster failed for (bad Maggie!) I can categorically say it’s NOT possible not to fall in love with them all! I fall utterly head over heels in love with every foster I’ve had. I’ve only failed once – with Cooper’s sister, Mouse!

    I personally preferred fostering for a rescue since I got to maintin a relationship with the adopters after the animal finds it’s home – although it’s nice to foster short term for a shelter too.

    Letting the first one go is the hardest, but knowing that animal will have a wonderful forever home and that you can move on and save another may be one of the most gratifying things in animal welfare.

    Foster families who have similar lifestyles to the average adopters are perfect. We had a unique situation with my husband home most days, but we still made sure the animals are crate trained and learn to be alone for 8-9 hours a day, like a normal home would require.

    As the founder of a foster home based rescue, I can categorically say that fosters are SAINTS!

  6. says

    When I first met Tyler (my Small Paws adopted fur baby), I was scared to death that his foster mom was about to fail Fostering 101. But she was strong and let Tyler go so that he could come and brighten my life. Foster parents ROCK!!

  7. says

    YAY! I’m so glad Cooper is a permanent member of one of the best pet households anywhere! It would be really hard for me too if you didn’t keep him.
    I have a different foster experience. I adopted my cat Willy when he was 3 months old. He had been given up right after he was born and was fostered until he was old enough to be put up for adoption at the animal shelter. If not for the foster family, he probably would have been put to sleep and he wouldn’t be my precious baby boy now. Hooray for foster families.

  8. says

    Oh, I didn’t realize you adopted him. How exciting! We realized we can’t have more than our 2 dogs, being both cost and space prohibitive. I like fostering because it lets you have the fun of having a new dog without the long-term financial obligation. Plus it frees up room at the rescue so they can save even more dogs. I’m excited to read more about Cooper.

  9. Lea says

    I’m currently fostering my first dog. I don’t have a dog of my own but wasn’t ready for the long term commitmet given I’m going through some career changes and trying to get pregnant, so I thought fostering would be perfect for me and I could contribute to helping all the homeless pets in the world. I stumbled across your blog this morning at 4:30am cause I can’t sleep and part of my anxst is the thought of giving up my foster dog. He’s been with me for 2 1/2 months, but just became adoptable this week due to some health issues we had to manage. But in that time I’ve fallen in love, and I’m in tears at the thought of losing him. I keep being told this is normal for the first foster, but it doesn’t feel normal and I don’t know if I can go through with it. I think my upsetting thoughts are more about putting him through grief. I’ve become his most favorite thing, he follows me everywhere even if I go to take a shower (he’s even left a warm bed with my husband to be at my feet right now), and if I leave the house he just sits in the window the whole time I’m away from him no matter who’s around, and when I come home he’s so happy I think he’s going to have a heart attack. I know a lot of dogs adjust or forget, but I he’s really smart, and I feel like he’ll always be looking out the window waiting for me to come home, and that breaks my heart!

  10. says

    I missed this post on you saying you had adopted Cooper. I just kept thinking, how has he not been adopted yet. And then it dawned on me – she’s totally keeping him! So I came back and found this post.

    Congrats on the new addition. He is a keeper, I can tell :) Maybe you will still foster again?

  11. Terri says

    Yes, it is possible to foster and not fall in love.. or even like. I have a foster that I just don’t like. He is a disruption to my pet filled home. He is little, he is old, he is not socialized, he is on a special diet so no treats, knows zero commands, tried to kill my two rescued feral cats who are older and now so stressed they are in hiding, growled and tried to bite my tolerant hubby, and who has decided to only sleep 2 hours a day. I am pulling my hair out and want him to go back to the shelter. I fell in love with my last foster and was sad when he was adopted – had lunch with that baby today and he is in a great home and I’m still in love. I will breath a sigh of relief when this guy goes though. I just cannot believe I feel this way but my own pets come first and this guy is just a bit uncool.

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