There are 70 million stray animals living in the U.S with only about six to eight million cats and dogs of that 70 million entering the nation’s 3,500 shelters every year. Given the staggering numbers of the pet overpopulation crisis, one of the best ways to help is to foster animals through your local animal shelter.

Even considering the urgency of the situation, if you’ve been on the fence about fostering animals with your local animal shelter, the trepidation is reasonable. You may wonder how fostering works … do I pay for the animals medical bills? How long will the foster be living with me? Will my animals get along with the foster? Am I going to be able to say bye?

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I’ve been fostering animals through the Asheville Humane Society for about five years now and it is truly one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I’ve ever had. Knowing that I’ve given a warm, loving, home to an animal in need is one of the best feelings. And seeing the animals personalities come out as they learn they are safe … priceless! Plus, fostering is a great way to get involved within your local community and meet like-minded people.

Along with the adorable moments, there have been many learning experiences I’ve gained over the years. If you’re a foster parent, some of these probably sound very familiar to you!

Get Your House Ready

Amid all of the excitement of bringing home a new foster animal, you’ll want to make sure your house is prepared for your new friend. Prepare your home by creating a safe place for any pet by having stair gates, securing exposed electrical cords, keeping all chewable items out of reach, and setting up a sleeping space the foster can have all to himself.

When you foster an animal, the shelter or organization should provide basic needs for all animals like food, bedding, toys, ID tags, kitty litter, medications, and veterinary care. Before going to pick up a foster, especially kittens, I like to have the room prepared as much as possible before they arrive. This way, after I bring them home, I can focus on the foster animal and I’m not worried about setting up their litter box or having their beds ready, etc.

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It’s also important to make a foster pet feel extra welcomed by preparing all who live with you. All humans in the home need to agree to work together with a foster pet and all permanent pet residents must have vaccinations up to date to prevent the spread of communicable diseases commonly found in a shelter environment.

Let the Animals Meet Slowly 

When you bring home a foster animal, the first thing you want to do is probably take them out of their carrier and play with them. For almost every single one of the animals that I’ve had the pleasure of fostering, there is a hard truth when you first bring them home: they usually want their alone time.

You’ll want to make sure to 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.

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When fostering dogs, I let my dogs and the foster dog meet each other in our fenced in backyard, off leash. Thankfully, there has never been any signs of aggression or fighting, but it seems like allowing them to meet first outside is the better option.

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For foster cats, the very first thing I do when I bring the cat/kittens home is put them in their own room, complete with a litter box, food, water, and toys. My dogs get really excited when kittens come into the house and want to cut straight to playtime, but that’s probably a bit overwhelming for the kittens! So, for about a day or so, the door is kept closed so that the cat/kittens can adjust to their new surroundings.

You could also put up a baby gate so that the cat and your cat/dog can still see and sniff each other. To also help them slowly introduce themselves, you can feed each animal on their side of the door. This will help the animals associate the other animal with something good: food. Another option is to swap out the cats bedding with the dogs bedding and vice versa. This allows them to get used to the other animals smell, but they are overstimulated.

Be Flexible 

So much of animal rescue work is done, understandably, without a concrete plan. With fostering one lesson I’ve learned about the process is to be flexible. With the most recent batch of foster kittens, there was one set return date but then Asheville Humane Society asked if the kittens could stay longer due to overpopulation at the shelter.

I’ll never turn down extra cuddle time with kittens and it goes without saying that I was happy to help out the Asheville Humane Society when their spaces were full. But it is important to be prepared for last minute changes. Your local animal shelter or group may need you to hold on to the foster animal for various reasons or they could even ask you to return the animal at an earlier date. You just have to go with the flow!

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Fostering Saves Lives 

If you’re thinking of becoming a foster parent, know that each organization will have their own set of requirements and paperwork for becoming a pet foster parent, so you will need to check with the shelter you want to foster for. There are common need-to-knows that include making sure you meet foster requirements, being physically able to care for an animal, and attending an orientation and foster training.

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The foster program will select a good match for you, your family and other pets you may have in the home based on meeting and the answers given on your foster application. From educating yourself on the kind of animal to the foster pet’s individual needs, the things you need to know before becoming a pet foster parent can be similar to that of adopting.

Fostering animals is truly a rewarding experience. If you’re a foster parent and have a tip to share, leave a comment below!

Lead image source: localpups/Flickr