What is pet fostering? Quite simply, it means taking care of an animal that needs help. There are many reasons dogs, cats, bunnies, ferrets, horses and other animals may need to be placed in foster care. Most often, with dogs and cats, the animals have been in a shelter and need to spend some time acclimating to life in a home. They also might have been picked up by animal control, someone turned them in as strays, or just surrendered. But they all share the common need for love and a good home.

Over four million shelter animals are killed every year in the United States alone. Typically, animal rescues try to save as many as possible from being put to sleep due to overcrowding, and the rescues depend on foster homes to help with this. Other times a shelter may foster animals out, especially if one is sick or undergoing heartworm treatment. The animals heal faster when in a calm, home environment than they do in the noisy, cold, busy shelter.

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A foster home can also be called up on to keep an animal who was found on the streets while authorities try to locate the guardian. Sometimes a military family has to move for six months and can’t take their dog with them. Whatever the reason, foster families are stepping up and taking animals in under their temporary care.

Fostering Saves Lives

Pets almost always do better in a home; there’s a lot to be said for being in a loving, nurturing environment. Many times dogs in shelters are put to sleep for being “aggressive”, and snapping at kennel attendants, growling at visitors, and picking fights with other dogs. Not all the time, but many times these very same dogs would behave completely differently in a home.

Time and again this has happened. A dog who is labeled as aggressive is given a second chance and put in a foster home. After a day or two, he becomes more relaxed. He remembers how to wag his tail. He plays with toys. He seeks affection from you and from other dogs. In a shelter, this dog would be considered unadoptable and would be destroyed. In a foster home, he is sweet and loving and after a while is even trainable. The next thing you know he’s adopted into his forever home.

Fostering Benefits for the Foster Family

Pet fostering can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever experience in your life. Not only are you giving an animal a chance at life, but you’re always broadening your horizons as well. It’s almost like having your own pet.

You have a new playmate to toss the Frisbee with and a new friend to snuggle with. One of the things you don’t have to worry about is the cost of vet visits and medication, as the rescues and shelters pay for that. You’ll also garner a new circle of friends. When you take the dog to the park to play, inevitably you’ll start running into faces that become familiar and you start to put names to them. Your foster dogs will have favorite dogs to play with too!

Fostering a Pet Changes Lives

It really is a mutually beneficial relationship. Just think about all the things a cat or dog doesn’t have in the shelter. Most don’t have beds, toys, or love. These things are all crucial to the proper development of a domesticated pet. They need to know the sense of security and love only a guardian can give. They need comfortable places to nestle and burrow and hide in. They need toys for stimulation and mental alertness. You can provide these things.

Most of you Green Monsters probably have innate talents for taking care of animals. You don’t even have to think about it – the playfulness, the tenderness, the love just comes out when you see a cat or dog, right? Foster!

If you already have a dog or a cat, that’s even better! Did you know animals learn from each other? Ones that have been in the shelter often forget how to play or be affectionate. Being around a “normal” cat or dog reinforces the kinds of behavior they have forgotten.

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So go ahead and take the plunge. Go visit an animal shelter or look at their photos online. Look into their sad eyes and see the desperate pleas for love. Fostering a pet is not a lifetime commitment; it’s a commitment to save a life.

Image source: Grant Frederickson/Flickr