Each year in Greater Houston, hundreds of thousands of pets are brought to shelters and rescues or are found on the streets. There simply is not enough space to house them all. Even if that space was available, research shows that pets have better health and behavior when living in a home instead of a shelter.
As a foster, you will generously open your home to a pet in need to provide love and care. Fostering saves lives. It helps the pet being fostered and makes room at the shelter or rescue for another pet to enter the program.
If you have love and some space in your home, you can save lives. Most animal welfare organizations in Greater Houston are eager to find fosters and would welcome your help.
Fosters welcome pets into their homes to provide a safe and healthy environment for some period of time. Basically, fosters love and care for the pets as if they were their own. Depending on the program, this could last long enough for a pet to find an adopter, recover from an illness or injury, learn social skills and/or leave for a transport to another location. Sometimes foster programs help owners by housing a pet until the owner gets well, returns from military deployment or is in a position to better care for their pet.
Being in a home environment instead of a noisy shelter allows dogs and cats to feel more relaxed and get used to being a part of a family. They meet new people and, possibly, new pets so they learn to be more comfortable in different social settings. Shy or scared pets can learn how to trust people. Pets who aren’t potty trained or don’t know how to walk on a leash can begin practicing these skills, which prepares them for adoption. Also, because these pets are in homes, there is more space at the shelter to help other animals in need.
Costs vary depending on the shelter or rescue and the pet. Most groups provide all medicines and veterinary care needed. Many will provide supplies such as kennels, collars and leashes, bowls or food. Some ask fosters to provide toys, food or snacks, so you may spend more if you have a large dog rather than a small cat.
The amount of time it takes to care for your foster pet(s) varies. If you have an adult pet that is already potty trained and gets along well with people and pets, it will take less time than if you have bottle baby puppies or kittens that require feeding every few hours.
You should expect to provide time to give your foster pet food, water, potty breaks and loving attention to help meet their behavior needs for exercise, playtime and/or training.
If you have a spare room or can place a pet crate in your home, most organizations will allow you to foster as long as you can keep the pet indoors. If you already have resident pets, ask the organization about rules for keeping your pets separated from fosters.
There are endless options of where to get pets in Greater Houston, including shelters, rescues, rehoming websites and social media sites. It is best to work with reputable groups or people who are referred by others you know. Ask them to provide veterinary records. This is especially important when adopting puppies, as there are some bad actors that separate puppies from mothers too soon, use unsafe breeding practices or lie about what veterinary care has been provided to the puppy. Do your research before adopting your puppy or any pet. Only provide fees once you are confident you are working with a trusted group or individual.
The length of time to foster depends on the type of foster program. One common type of fostering opportunity in Greater Houston is for transport programs, where homeless pets from the region are sent to areas of the country where there is a shortage of adoptable animals. Often, these foster experiences last two to three weeks.
If you are serving as a medical foster, you may be asked to keep underage pets until they are old enough for adoption or transport, or you might have the pet until they’ve healed from an illness, injury or surgery. If you foster for a regular local adoption program, the length of time could vary from a few days to several months.
It’s important to remember that pets take several days to get comfortable in a new environment (often called decompressing). Imagine if you lived in a home or on the streets for a long time, then all of a sudden everything changed and you were in a new place with new people. You would need some time to adjust, and so do they. This idea is captured in the 3-3-3 Rule: 3 days to decompress, 3 weeks to learn your routine, and 3 months to feel at home.
If the pet’s behavior is causing you immediate concern or frustration, talk to your foster coordinator or other fosters. Many organizations have Facebook groups where you can connect with other experienced fosters who have probably felt the same way and can give you tips on helping your foster pet. If needed, you can see what options there are for re-fostering to another home or, worst case, returning the pet to the rescue or shelter (ideally, with a few days’ notice).
Guidelines differ from one organization to the next, and may vary depending on the pet and/or the ages of your children. Every organization bases this decision on what they believe is safest for your family and the pets. Review the organization’s website and speak with the foster coordinator for more information.
Many organizations will allow pet owners to foster if resident pets are current on vaccinations and are spayed or neutered. For the safety of all, most organizations require foster pets to be kept separate from resident pets for several days after the foster arrives and anytime you are not supervising them. Be sure to ask the foster coordinator for additional information to keep all pets safe and to prevent resource guarding.
Your pets should be spayed or neutered and up to date on vaccinations. It’s important that you follow your organization’s guidelines about having fosters and resident pets together – these rules are created to keep you and your pets safe.
Before introducing your new foster to your resident pets, be sure to review your organization’s foster rules as many have very clear guidelines about when, how and if pets can spend time together.
It is best to wait for several days to introduce fosters to resident pets to give your foster a chance to get used to your home. When the time is right, follow best practices for introducing new pets. Even if the pets seem to get along well, you should not leave them together unsupervised.
Policies about adopting foster pets vary from one organization to the next. Sometimes, policies in one organization differ depending on the program. For example, pets that are being fostered for a transport program to another state often have rescues, fosters and/or adopters already waiting to receive the pets before they even get in the transport vehicle. Your organization may not allow transport fosters to be adopted since the pets are already promised. The same organization might allow adoptions for pets staying in town. Be sure you read any paperwork carefully and ask questions before you take home your foster.
It is natural to feel a bit sad when saying goodbye to foster pets after caring for them in your home. Most experienced fosters say they feel better by focusing on the positive – knowing they successfully prepared the pets for adoption and made extra space in the shelter or rescue for more animals in need. Some fosters refocus their attention by fostering another pet right away, while others like to take some time first. Find what works best for you.
Note: Depending on the organization, you may be able to send a letter to the new adopter or to the receiving organization so you can share information you’ve learned about your foster pets and provide your contact information if the new caretakers have questions or are willing to share updates. Guidelines about this vary among organizations so be sure to ask what is allowed.