A little over a year ago, we took in our first foster dog.
I'm a huge animal lover, and if you follow me on Instagram, you know our Mexican street dog, Patsy, is my constant companion. Fostering seemed like a nice to pay it forward: taking in someone else's future four-legged bestie until they finally found each other.
Of course, fostering wasn't completely selfless.
By fostering, I figured I could get that lovely puppy endorphin rush without having to actually talk my husband into getting another "forever" dog. Plus, fostering perfectly fit into my original Hey Eleanor premise: Doing one thing every day that scares me. Fostering a puppy, then eventually letting them go seemed particularly challenging. (newsflash: it was!)
We've currently fostered nine dogs in some capacity. There's been lots of laughs, lots of tears, and lots of doggy messes to clean up, but in general, I've enjoyed the experience.
Before I get into what we've learned, you probably want to know what fostering entails. Allow me to elaborate.
How Fostering a Dog Works
I'm sure it's different with every organization, but here's how it worked with Pet Project Rescue:
- We applied to become fosters, and met with one of their volunteers. They checked out our house (and us) to make sure we weren't serial killers.
- Once approved, we were added to their foster database. If a dog needs a foster home, the network is alerted (via Facebook or email). Fosters reply if they're interested. You get full control of what dog gets placed in your home.
- As a foster, you'll take care of your foster dog's daily needs, plus bring them to vet appointments, adoption events and photoshoots ('cause good photography always helps!).
- After screening by the rescue, potential adopters are put in contact with you to do a meet and greet-- where you introduce the dog to them either in your home or a neutral setting. If they seem like a good fit (you help decide), someone from the rescue visits them at home to go over adoption stuff.
- Once the adoption has been processed, you set up a time to hand off the dog. Sometimes you cry.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, sorta. Here's what we've learned over our last year of fostering.
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1. Before you start, get real with your intentions.
Are you thinking fostering is a good way to dip your toe into the doggie adoption pool? You know, as a way to test out a few dogs before really committing to one?
I've got one word for you: Congratulations! You'll likely keep the first one that comes into your home.
Attachment is real, and even the dogs you don't think you'll fall in love with grow on you. However, this is a great way to end up with a dog that you adore, but maybe is not the best fit. Which is why this second lesson is clutch...
2. Prior to fostering, write down what you actually want in a dog.
Once a dog is living with you, your emotional attachment might override practicality.
For example, maybe you're looking for a running buddy, but your foster can't keep up after a quarter mile. Or maybe you have tons of small nieces and nephews, but your foster doesn't really dig kids. Does a 90lb lab really make sense in your teeny one-bedroom apartment?
Write down exactly what kind of dog would fit into your lifestyle before your foster arrives. On days where it seems impossible to give them up, re-read that list. Do they truly fit what you're looking for? If not, consider letting someone else adopt them-- they will be the perfect companion for someone.
3. The Truth About Puppies.
Puppies are sosososo cute and fun to have around.
They learn quickly, and watching them progress can be incredibly gratifying. However, they have more accidents, whine at night (sometimes all night), need to go outside constantly and are more apt to destroy things in your home. It's exhausting.
On the plus side, they tend to be adopted more quickly (<<< this may not always feel like a "plus" to you). And did I mention they're sososo adorable?
Adult dogs may not give you that same ohmaigahdsocayooot visceral reaction, but they're often easier.
They typically don't have accidents and don't require constant attention. After fostering a puppy, an adult dog feels like coasting your beach cruiser down a hillside on a breezy summer's day. That said, adult dogs often take longer to find forever homes, but not always.
4. Fostering is free... kinda.
In most cases, the rescue will provide you with food, gear (like a leash and collar), a crate and possibly a toy or some treats. They also cover vetting and medication.
Things you pay for: gas/mileage to and from events or appointments, poop bags, some treats and toys. I've also been known to pay for new dog food when my foster's isn't agreeing with them. I don't have to do this, but sometimes I'm compelled to (read: fixing terrible farts). There's also the cost of destroyed socks, shoes and rugs. It happens.
If you go into this thinking you ought to be reimbursed for everything, you'll drive yourself and the rescue organization crazy. Know that fostering will cost you some money (and a few pairs of socks), so save your receipts and write it off come tax time.
5. It might take longer for your foster dog to find a home than you think.
The shortest we ever had a foster was three weeks. The longest was three months. I know some people who've fostered the same dog for nearly a year. For whatever reason, it's easier to find homes for some dogs than others (yes, even totally amazing perfect dogs may have a hard time finding a forever home!).
Even if there's lots of interest in your dog, setting up meet and greets etc. can take longer than expected. It's just what happens when busy adults try to get anything done.
7. You don't necessarily have to sign up for a long-term foster.
Does the idea of fostering for a few days appeal to you... but months seems too long? Great news-- there's a need for people like you!
If a permanent foster needs to travel for work or has, say, a wedding over a weekend, they need to find a temporary home for their pup. That's where you come in. Rescues are constantly needing temp fosters to watch a dog for a few days.
Heck, I once watched this tripod for eight hours and it was delightful.
If you're interested in temp fostering (or escorting an out-of-town dog, like we did here), contact a local rescue.
8. Just smile politely when your friends say they want to adopt your dog.
Whether it's on Facebook, Instagram or in real life, everyone will tell you how cute Sparky is, how they've been thinking about getting a dog for awhile, and that they're finally ready to commit and can they just come meet the dog already?
I've had dozens of people I know meet my foster dogs, and only one ever did. So even if someone seems "super serious" and "really interested," let them meet the dog, but keep expectations low.
Don't hold their lack of follow through against them. Adopting a dog is a big commitment. Most people have the best of intentions, but reality is a little too, well... real.
9. You'll like some dogs more than others.
I'd love to say I've enjoyed all our fosters equally, but that's a lie. Some have totally captured my heart, while others have had some annoying habits-- like constantly trying to lick my face or crying every time we left, for hours at a time (the neighbors told us... embarrassing!). There's only been one dog I really didn't like, and that's because she and Patsy didn't get along. Luckily, we only were temp fostering her for a weekend.
10. If it's not working out, say something.
Some dogs just won't work with your home. Maybe they're too needy or aren't getting along with your own pets. That happens, and when it does, there's no shame in finding them a new foster family. Your rescue would rather see the dog in the right environment, and you with the right foster dog.
11. It's really hard to give up a dog you love.
I nearly threw up when I opened an email stating not one BUT THREE people submitted applications for our first foster dog, Warren. I loved this pooch so much and wasn't ready to give him up.
What made it worse was that both Warren and I really didn't connect with the first two applicants we met. I panicked... would anyone seem like a good fit for this special guy? Would I really be able to give him up? Was I being selfish? HOW DO PEOPLE DO THIS WITH ACTUAL HUMAN BABIES?!
12. It's also very rewarding.
Luckily, Warren fell head over heels in love with the third applicant. It was weird-- he'd been shy and aloof with the previous two people, but played with and smooched the third.
When you know, you know.
I cried the day his adoption was finalized (like, a lot), but I know it was the right decision. I keep in touch with Warren's new mom to this day. She even sends me photos of the little guy. In fact, one of my stipulations for adopters is that we become friends on Facebook or Instagram so I can see their pup. It's lovely.
There are three dogs I've shed serious tears over, but it does get easier every time. And I always have to remind myself that someone once gave up my dog precious pup. I'm thankful for that every day!
13. Foster failing is okay.
By opening your home to a rescue animal, you run the risk of keeping them-- even if they don't make sense with your lifestyle or they weren't exactly what you thought you wanted. As they say, you can't help who you fall for. It's true with other humans, and it's true with dogs, too.
We haven't foster-failed yet, but we were realllllly close with this one. Luckily, one of my besties adopted him and I still get to see him every day.
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Think you might want to give fostering a try? Contact a local rescue and find out if it's the right fit for you. Fostering is a crucial aspect of animal rescue, and even if it's difficult at times, it's incredibly rewarding.
Have insight, questions or advice about fostering? That's what the comments are for ;)
We foster through Pet Project Rescue, who is always accepting new fosters as well as donations.
And since we're on the fostering topic, here's what it's like to foster a baby (!!!).
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