Today I wanted to post about the importance of being a dog (or cat) foster and about how rewarding it can be.
I have been volunteering with RESCUE since February 2001. Over the years I've volunteered as a Dog Walker, a Dog Caretaker/Chaperone, a Cat Foster (once...), a Dog Foster, and the coordinator of the Dog Caretakers. My favorite role has and is still that of a Dog Foster parent. I've fostered more than 15 dogs since 2001. I managed to pass Dog Fostering 101 (meaning I didn't adopt that first foster myself). But,there have been three foster dogs that I wish I could have adopted. The first was an 85 lb brindle coat pit bull named Mikey. He was the biggest baby ever. Then there was Guido, a little red Chihuahua/Min Pin mix. He was the one foster that my Min Pin truly loved. The two would play non-stop and even liked to share a crate. And the third was Tango, a Queensland Heeler mix. We had him for two years and came very close to making him permanent, but then his forever mommy found him and gave him a new home. He was the most rewarding foster. He started out a bit of a problem child, but with lots of patience and work, we helped him become a great dog.
Now, there are many animal rescue organizations in the Phoenix area, and all across the country. Most are for dogs and cats, some also include horses and livestock, small animals, and even reptiles. The one thing all these groups have in common, besides a love for animals, is the need for volunteers. Most shelters and rescue groups work on limited funds. And many are non-profit, and rely soley on donations and the occassional grant (which are hard to come by). Without volunteers, most shelters and rescue organizations would not be able to do the work that they do, which is helping abandoned animals get a second chance at life. Volunteers are the lifeblood of organizations like RESCUE.
Most shelters and rescue organizations will gladly accept your monetary donations as well as your donations of bedding, food, and other supplies. But they also really need volunteers. They need people to give a little bit of their time to help clean cages and dog runs, to transport the animals to vet appointments and events, to help groom and take care of the animals, to give the animals attention, and exercise, and public exposure. But one type of volunteer that these groups really need is that of foster homes. Some organizations do not have a facility of their own and must rely on the generosity of vets and boarding facilities that are willing to give them a few runs or cages. But what they really have to rely on is foster homes. Even the groups that have their own shelter facilities need fosters. There will always be animals that are too sick to be in boarding, too scared to be in boarding, that need extra love and attention and care. There will be animals that don't do well with other animals. There will be animals that will just deteriorate behaviorally the longer they spend in boarding. People who are willing to open their doors (and their hearts) to these special animals, foster parents, are the answer to these animals' prayers.
What does it take to be a foster? Part of that will depend on what a specific group may require. But that is something you can check into depending on what rescue organization you'd like to volunteer with (RESCUE is always looking for more fosters ;D). In general though, what is needed first of all is a real love and passion for the animals. Second, patience and understanding, and a bathtub.
Many of these dogs (and cats or other animals) are coming to your home from a kennel environment, and sometimes directly from the pound. They're scared, nervous, disorientated, unsure of their surroundings, maybe a little distrustful of humans, and in need of a lot of TLC. And to be frank, they're often pretty dirty and smelly too. That's where the bathtub comes in. Patience and understanding will come the first time they have an accident in the house or mark your favorite recliner. It will come when they destroy a shoe you carelessly left out. It will come when they get into the kitchen trash while you step out to get the mail. It will come when they roll in something stinky in the backyard and then jump up on your lap. It will come when you tell them no and they ignore you. But eventually, that all pays off as your foster learns the ropes of living in a house and living with others. It pays off when they learn some basic commands, listen to you, and walk by your side on leash. It pays off when you see them transform from a shy, skittish, unsure dog to a happy, playful and confident dog. It pays off when they meet a potential adopter and wow them with all they've learned and all they can do, and that adopter becomes their new forever home.
Now, most of what I've just mentioned applies more to dogs, but the same general idea can be applied to any type of animal you open your home to.
Becoming a dog, cat, or other animal foster, is one of the most rewarding ways you can help a shelter or rescue organization. You can see first hand the fruits of your labor and time with these animals. You get to be there every step of the way as these animals grow and become the dog or cat they were meant to be. You can reap the rewards when the day comes and you hand them off to their new forever home, wave good-bye, wipe away a tear or two, and prepare to open your home to the next animal in need.
Thanks for reading, and see you at the dog park (hopefully with your new foster dog)!