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An estimated 7.6 million animals enter America’s shelters every year. Countless others are taken in by organizations who don’t have brick-and-mortar facilities, and therefore, rely on keeping animals in foster homes until they’re adopted. When shelters are running out of space or have animals who are not faring well in a kennel environment, they often rely on these foster-based rescue organizations to take in animals and help them find adoptive homes. Some shelters also have internal fostering programs where individuals work directly with the shelters to provide temporary homes for animals until they’re adopted.
Fostering is important because it helps reduce overcrowding in shelters and opens up space for another animal to be saved. It also helps prepare animals for adoption by giving them a chance to live in a home where they can fully express their personality, work to overcome fears, or recover from trauma.
Adapting to Life in a Home
Some animals aren’t accustomed to life in a home — maybe they were rescued from a puppy or kitten mill, had previously lived as a stray, or were kept as an outside-only pet. They likely don’t understand the concept of stairs and navigating around furniture, or might be frightened by unfamiliar sounds like vacuums and kitchen appliances. Even knowing how to use a litter box or alerting their humans that they need to go to the bathroom can pose a challenge for them.
By living in a home with a family, pets are able to learn something new every day while getting one-on-one attention from their foster family. New experiences and unfamiliar sounds can be terrifying for an animal not used to them, but by having someone by their side to show them these things aren’t too scary, they get a bit braver each day.
The positive impact of a comfortable home environment is why some shelters have created rooms in their facilities that mimic a living room — complete with furniture, toys, and a television — to provide animals with time away from their kennel, where they can relax and enjoy the comforts of life in a home.
Overcoming Shyness and Fearfulness
Even when shelters make every effort possible to keep animals comfortable and happy, the environment can still be scary and overwhelming for some, causing them to “shut down” emotionally or display destructive behaviors due to stress. When this happens, the animals isolate themselves and fail to interact with people, resulting in them being passed up by potential adopters. Foster homes are also essential for special-needs pets or those who are recovering from an injury or surgical procedure.
When animals are in a foster program, they’re able to enjoy a more relaxing environment while getting the one-on-one attention they need. This can be especially helpful for very shy and fearful animals, or those who need a bit of extra help with socialization. They build confidence by learning how to trust people, how to play with toys and other animals, and by experiencing everyday activities. Foster homes can also help by using positive reinforcement training to teach basic obedience skills and tricks. Each and every one of these things play an individual, yet critical role in helping animals find adoptive homes. Animals who were terrified in shelters often open up once they’re in the comfort of a home, helping them become happy, more well-adjusted animals.
Preparing to Be a Foster Home
Foster homes are needed for animals of all ages, including pregnant dogs and cats who need a calm place to give birth and wean their litters, and for abandoned litters of puppies and kittens who need help with socialization. Organizations typically provide food, crates, litter boxes, and other essentials for use while you are fostering; they also cover all medical expenses for the animal. If you want to go the extra mile, you can pick up fun items like treats and toys that will help your foster pet feel more comfortable in your home.
Make sure you provide a quiet space where your foster pet can have a bit of alone time if needed, especially if you have other pets in your home. Always introduce pets to each other slowly so no one becomes overwhelmed, and know that there can be an adjustment period when another animal is introduced into a home. The organization you’re fostering for will be able to provide helpful tips that can make the transition easy for everyone involved.
Fostering Saves Lives
Some say they could never foster a pet because it would be too hard to say goodbye when the pet is adopted, but consider the alternative. It may be hard to say goodbye to the animal you’ve bonded with, but it’s important to remember that by opening your home, you are saving a life — and each pet you foster is a new life saved. You become an important part of the mission to save homeless pets by not only giving that individual animal hope, but also by making a difference for all animals.
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