Sarah Natochenny | June 11, 2018
What is fostering?
Fostering is the most fun you can have without making a long term commitment to having animals in your home. In short - it's an agreement between you and any local animal rescue or shelter to bring animals of your choice into your home for a given amount of time.
The applications to become a foster ask you what kinds of cases you're willing and able to take on, and for how long. If you can't take in a sick animal, that's fine. If you're only available to foster kittens with a mother between April 26 and April 28, that's fine. If you'd like to let an older dog live out his days in comfort and loving arms, there are plenty of dogs out there waiting for you. If you just want a well behaved cat to see how your household handles it, come on down. If you want to give your kids supervised lessons on responsibility, boy is this an amazing way to do it. If you and your family fall in love with your foster, you're at the top of the list for adoption. But letting them go isn't as hard as you may think.
Why do domestic animals even need temporary homes?
Even the most funded shelters are full and the staff are overwhelmed. Irresponsible breeders and owners dump “imperfect” animals on the street, and good samaritans bring them to the shelters, often after they've been mutilated in accidents or acts of violence. But many strays aren’t found. These animals are often “intact,” and find mates quickly. A female cat has a gestation period of two months and can have her first litter of 2-6 kittens at six months of age. She can get pregnant again before they're even weaned, and she never hits menopause. That's a lot of cats with no business living on city streets.
Good people volunteer their time and care for local colonies. If the cats are feral, they let them live on the street. If they show signs of being friendly to humans, guess what? They go to foster homes!
Fun fact: the kittens in one litter can have several fathers!
What if I have pets at home already?
Good for you! Many foster parents do. Unlike humans, your pets can catch the foster's cold. So, only sign up to foster animals who may have parasites or a cold if you can keep your pets away from them until their conditions clear up.
There is a lot of advice online about introducing animals to each other. Some of us are "old school" and let them loose in the house right away. Keeping the new guys in a room with glass doors is, in our opinion, the best way to introduce animals. A scent exchange doesn't hurt either. They may never get used to each other, but fostering is temporary. Many of us get litter after litter during kitten season. Our cats still love us...maybe even a little more. They tend to hiss at first, but after a few days, they start playing with the babies. Free entertainment!
That being irresponsibly said, do be careful. Do not let your fosters loose in the house unless you can supervise them that day. Some animals really hate other animals.
Doesn't all this cost money?
It does! But many rescues will cover food and litter and provide you with any equipment you may need. If you have a car, that's a plus. The bigger organizations will cover a taxi if you need it. If you'd like to volunteer your time and drive animals to and from foster homes, that's also a thing! All this really costs you is the time it takes to feed and scoop/curb your foster. Cuddles are always free for everyone involved.
What if I travel a lot?
Cool! Apply with every rescue and shelter in your area. You'll get emails from them letting you know when there are new animals who need fosters. On your way back home, check your email. You'll be surprised how often they need a home for a few days here and there. These rescues need more folks like you on their rosters, because the more consistent foster parents tend to be full.
I'd never be able to let them go!
Yeah, that's what I thought too, and it's the most common concern. There are many ways to think about fostering:
1. It's like dating. That's how it started for me. After my 18 year old, one and only feline queen Musia (#buiscats) passed, I thought it would be great to get to know a bunch of cats. I saw her as the best cat who ever lived (and my friends agreed). Not true! She was amazing. But she was not alone. They are all so different and wonderful in their own ways. Fostering allowed me to get to know what kind of animal I really want in my life for the next 20 years. His name is Pikachu and he's a ridiculous caricature of Musia.
2. It's like a school. This really works if you're fostering kittens. These bums need to graduate. You spend their neonatal weeks keeping them off electrical wires and teaching them not to bite people (turn their attention to toys when they do that). Congratulations, here's your diploma, off you go to your forever home.
3. "Goodbye is the goal." You're going to get more. They'll be even cuter, sweeter, funnier, more loving, more mischievous than the last litter. They need you. Keep going. Yes you can!
Will you always have a place in your heart for those special few? YES. I miss Bennett and his gorgeous little meows. But they're not dying,* they're moving on to a family who chose to adopt them forever after establishing a bond. And more often than not, adopters are happy to keep in touch with you via social media, so you can see your babies grow up.
*Unless you choose to serve as a hospice for an animal in need, which can be very sad, but very rewarding to know that you served as a light at the end of the tunnel for a suffering animal.
What does a good candidate for fostering look like?
Anyone with a big heart and a good sense of responsibility. A spare room gives you more options. A bathroom will do for many cases, especially if you're just an intermediary between rescue and longer term foster home. Being home in the morning and at night will do for many cases. You must have screens on your windows.
Someone whose kids are begging them for animals they aren't sure their kids can handle.
Someone looking to bring their family closer together, especially after experiencing loss.
Someone whose children have fled the nest.
Someone who has retired and wants to maintain a routine.
Someone who is elderly and wants to keep animals in the house without making a long term commitment.
Someone who works from home.
Fun Fact: Having cats in your home lowers your relative risk of dying from a cardiovascular event. (Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology)
Aren't they going to soil my Ligne Roset couch?
Full disclosure: they might. BUT WAIT. Our last two litters never soiled anything. Our current litter has one wayward monster who pees on the floor. WE HAZ SOLUTIONS.
In the late 1900s, mankind brought forth a solution called Nature's Miracle. I recommend the "Spray No More" variety. It has removed stains and odors of all kinds, from couches, floors, rugs and clothing. Follow the instructions on the bottle. An occasional, tiny mess should not deter most folks from saving adorable lives.
Maybe you have a room you seldom use. Equip it with a few blankets, cat scratchers and toys, and be sure to visit your kittens often throughout the day. It feels so good to know you raised well socialized kittens who love humans. You'll still want Nature's Miracle. I don't work for them.
You'll definitely want to do some kitten-proofing, especially if they'll be spending time unsupervised in that spare room.
Walk me through the process of fostering.
Each rescue and shelter does things a little differently. At both Bideawee and Anjellicle, I applied via email and took a free, hour long course. I'll also tell you about my wonderful experience with a small, local rescue called @NYCkittycats_tnr.
Bideawee is a large, century-old organization with an in-house shelter and veterinary practice. I signed a contract stating when the cats were due back and was asked to bring them to Bideawee for checkups when they were a month old. They sent me home with a ton of food, litter and a large crate, that came in handy when one of the kittens got a cold. I had a point person to contact with any questions or concerns. If a kitten needed immediate, local veterinary attention, that would be covered. I returned them on the due date and they sat in the kitten room at Bideawee until their spay/neuter surgeries the next day. They returned to the kitten room to rest up and started getting visits from potential adopters the next day. I had written an email to the adoption team, describing each kitten and what bonding I had observed. So the bonded kittens were adopted together.
My first foster was a very skittish adult cat I found through Anjellicle. He took to me so well right away, and after making it clear to me how skittish he usually was, an Anjellicle volunteer delivered this cat who would end up staying with me for 15 months. It was open ended, and I had agreed to that. My Musia had just passed a few weeks prior, and now I had this beautiful cat who spent most of his days hiding under the bed. It wasn't easy, but I learned a little bit about socializing cats online, and he and I started bonding more and more each day. I clicker-trained him not to flee when I passed by him on the couch. He wasn't going to do well at adoption events,* so I opened my home to vetted and approved potential adopters. Anjellicle introduced us over email, and we set up a time for them to come by and spend time with my buddy. Bennett failed a bunch of times, until Julia came by. He hesitated on her first visit and didn't allow any touching, but I could tell she was really into him, so I encouraged her to come back a day later. As I worked at my desk, I could hear the unmistakable sounds of a human and a cat bonding.
Each time someone came by, I got nervous. Could I really give him up? I really loved this sweet, sensitive, beautiful cat. But witnessing Julia and Bennett made me cry a few tears of joy. We arranged a time for me to drop him off a week later. I told her I would take him back if wasn't working. A few weeks later, she officially adopted him. Now I get to see him living his best life on Instagram with someone he really loves. I feel great about it.
My experience with a very small, local rescue was very similar. Alfalfa was a very friendly adult cat who was dumped in the street by his previous owner. We coordinated a time for the rescuer to bring him over. She offered supplies, but I just took a few cans of the food he was used to and his favorite toy, to make the transition easier. He was a great cat and stole my heart quickly. @NYCkittycats_tnr worked with @thunderkittensnyc to find a suitable adopter, who visited my place once and agreed to foster-to-adopt Alfalfa. He had another cat at home and wanted to make sure they had a few weeks together to decide whether or not they got along. A few weeks later, he officially adopted Alfalfa. I get to see him on Instagram as well.
What About Food and Medical Care?
Most rescue organizations pay for a foster pet's medical care — typically with a specific veterinarian with whom they have relationships. If you are fostering an animal and have doubts as to whether or not they need emergency care, get the emergency care right away and don't forget your receipt. They also usually pay for food and supplies, although many foster volunteers kindly pay for some or all food and supplies out of choice.
Finding a Permanent Home…and Letting Go
Generally, the shelter or rescue group for which you are fostering will seek a permanent home for your foster pet. However, most rescue organizations welcome your help with this process by sharing news about your foster pet with family, friends, and co-workers. Social media is a great additional tool - just don't forget your #hashtags.
For some people, letting go of a foster dog or cat at the end of the foster term is difficult. This is something you'll want to consider before taking on a foster pet. For most people who foster, any sadness they experience in saying goodbye to their foster pet is decidedly outweighed by the reward of knowing they played a critical role in the life of a dog or cat whose future is far better as a result of the love they gave and the help they offered at their moment of greatest need.
GO FOR IT!
Find your local rescues
by using any search engine and typing in "animal rescue" and your city or zip code. Chances are, they've been rescuing cats in your area without you even knowing. Dogs too.
foster with rescues we love in nyc
The Little Guys (faster response, especially before a storm):
The Big Guys (great to be on their foster roster):