So, you’ve thought about partnering with your local animal shelter to be a foster parent for adorable puppies and kittens. That is fantastic and you truly have a kind, selfless heart. Here’s the big question, “Are you really prepared for it?”
Let’s get the hard part out of the way, it’s not easy. It’s not always fun either.
“I know that. I can handle it,” you say. You think you can handle it. You absolutely believe you can handle it, too. Come on, what’s so difficult about playing with and loving an adorable kitten every day?
I thought the exact same thing. Have you thought about the time, dedication and work that goes into it. I mean really thought about it. It’s not just about filling a bowl with water or food each morning and night, or scooping the litter box twice a week. It’s really about altering your lifestyle completely — turning your daily routine 180 degrees.
You have to be willing to accept that.
I’m not trying to deter anyone from thinking about fostering. I’ve done it. Twice now. I’ve both enjoyed and not enjoyed it. However, I just think it’s important to put all the expectations out on the table so to speak.
Often times, I find humans react on emotional impulse. I’m certainly one of them. We make a quick decision, we tell ourselves it’s going to be great, and then we have a panic-stricken “ah hah” moment that sends our gut through the grinder.
Let me start off with the great things about fostering:
1) The puppies and/or kittens are adorable. Who doesn’t love seeing pictures of baby animals on Instagram?
2) You will feel like you’re saving the world. It’s your good deed for the year.
3) Others (family, friends and co-workers) will tell you that you’re saving the world. Who doesn’t love praise?
4) The puppies and kittens (and the foster center) will thank you.
5) It’s a temporary commitment. Fostering is temporary. It may last as short as 10 days or beyond a month — it all depends on the age of the animal, its weight and health. No permanent commitment here, unless you get too attached and decide to officially adopt your foster pet.
6) It’s free. In my experience, the foster center provided ALL of the supplies needed (food, toys, cage, litter, food/water bowls, medicine (if needed) etc. This is not universal.
Now, let’s get to the real nitty-gritty about fostering.
1) Taking care of pets are A LOT of work (many of you are saying “Duh!” right now. Just hear me out).
Puppies are probably more work than kittens. Puppies have to be trained to go to the bathroom outside or on one of those puppy pads. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a while. Be prepared to be cleaning up “accidents” in your home (or in their cage) for a while. Yes, it’s going to stink. You may even gets some on your hand. Bathroom habits happen MULTIPLE times a day. Sometimes twice an hour.
You may find an accident on your carpet or on the couch. The cage may scratch the wall. You will have to soak, clean and dry the area.
Puppies need to exercise and play all the time. Not just 10 minutes, but for a long time. They’ll often last 30-45 minutes and then pass out for an hour or two. This goes on all day long. I mean it.
2) It’ll be noisy. Puppies and kittens go through social anxiety just like us. Heck, they were just ripped away from their mom and plopped into unfamiliar territory. They will be vocal about it. Expect them to whine, cry or yell when you leave or come through the door. They’re either sad that you left or so excited that you’ve come home from work or school.
It can be annoying when it’s early in the morning or late at night and all you want to do it get a few more minutes of sleep. That’s not a bad thing to think about because it’s honest — you will think about it.
3) Your house is going to smell. It’s not going to smell like the zoo or a barn, but it will have an animal odor too it. That can either be fecal matter or urine (but that’s only if you’re not cleaning it up). It’ll more than likely just smell like you have pets. Let’s be honest, puppies don’t have the best breath.
4) You’re going to get frustrated. You had an idea and maybe even a game plan. Things will change and so will your plan. You may need to walk outside or take a breather. That’s OK. But understand it will be frustrating. It’s not the animals fault or your fault. You’re not a bad person. It’s a lot of work and is stressful. It’s bound to happen.
5) You may fail. This is the tough one. Your pride really can’t prepare for this one. You may even realize that fostering was a lot harder than you imagines and you want to either take the puppies or kittens back early or just stop all together. Understand that you’re not the first to do this, and you certainly won’t be the last. But you will feel really bad. You’ll feel like you let the animals down as well as yourself.
The reason really doesn’t matter. The situation just didn’t work out. The next best option is to get the animals into another environment that will give them the best possible future. That should hopefully make you feel better.
6) The animal may not bond with you. Are you kidding me? I’m taking care of this animal and it doesn’t want to sit on my lap and cuddle? It just hides under the couch. Boring!
7) At some point, you’re going to want to foster again. It’s been six months or maybe a couple years since you first tried fostering. Perhaps you now have a bigger apartment, condo, town home or house, or you got married or make a little bit more money or work better hours. Fantastic! Life is really moving along. Maybe your ready to start fostering again, or maybe you’re slipping back into that emotional impulse. I say take the idea and think about it for the next week. At the end of the seven days, if you still feel as passionate about the idea, then go for it and try it out again. If not, hold off and put your passionate energy somewhere else.
What do I wish I knew before fostering for the first time?
I wish someone told me how hard it was and then how to do it well. Everyone wants to be successful all the time. It’s also important to set the correct expectations. That’s what I tried to do above. But beyond that, I wish a more veteran foster parent would have told me the strategies that worked for them.
For that to work, you have to be someone who’s willing to actively listen, engage and really take that person’s advice to heart.
I would have liked to have had an 8×11 paper with 10 most Frequently Asked Questions. But, not the simple ones that provide a basic (and often times unhelpful) answer.
1) What are two ways to help get my pet to stop whining or crying?
2) What are two ways to potty train the puppy or kitten? Like I said before, kittens instinctively know to use the litter box.
Where do I go from here? That answer is easy, weigh the options and make a decision.
After reading this, you think you’re up for the challenge, go ahead and contact your local shelter and inquire about their foster program. If you think it’s not right for you, understand that’s perfect OK and find out if you can volunteer in a different way. A lot of times the shelters themselves need either volunteer support or financial help.
I’d really like to hear about your foster experience. Share what worked and what didn’t work in the comments below. There’s aren’t any wrong answers, just different perspectives. The suggestions above are my opinions alone and are not absolute. Some people will have had great experiences (like I did) and some won’t (like I also did).