By Brandon Castner
My first foster dog struggled with separation anxiety, an issue that required patience and work on a day-to-day basis. It wasn’t until she found her forever home that I realized that I truly felt an overwhelming sense of pride. My attention to her special needs gave her a better chance to find her forever home.
Each foster pet brings its challenges, but the benefits to both the shelter animal and the foster family are worth the investment. From personal experience, I know that the process can bring up a lot of concerns. You may find yourself asking, “Is this behavior normal? Are they eating enough? What if I can’t give them the help they need?”
It’s good to be concerned about the quality of care you’re providing; this means you’re doing it right. The important thing to remember is you are not alone. The shelter representatives are available for help along the way if you decide that fostering a pet is an option for you.
Fosters are people in the community who volunteer their time and home to a shelter pet in need. The fostering process, while full of commitment, is one that is bursting full of benefits not only for the shelter pet, but also for you! Fostering helps Heart of the Valley because of the consistency that a dedicated caregiver offers in a quiet, low-stress setting. Fostering provides the animal more opportunities for socialization, exploration, and expressing a wide range of normal behaviors that are difficult to achieve when the animal remains in a shelter environment.
Which types of shelter pets can benefit from a foster home?
- Feral or unsocialized kittens
- Kittens or puppies under 8 weeks old, possibly with nursing mothers
- Long stays, both cat and dog
- Unsocialized dogs
- Medical recovery
Feral kittens or feral young adults need regular one-on-one time with people to bring about more social behaviors. In order to do this in a shelter would require hours dedicated to each specific animal, all the while trying to manage adoptions, medication and other various daily shelter tasks. Your home allows the kitten or young adult to have that time with people, otherwise that would be hard to accommodate.
When kittens and puppies are brought to the shelter at an early age their development is critical. It is important to the kittens and puppies to be socialized, and monitored properly over the course of the few weeks after birth. Because kittens and puppies have vulnerable immune systems, a foster home is a better environment for young animals to build active immunities against disease. Kittens often come into a shelter weighing about a pound and need to gain the appropriate weight for their spay or neuter surgeries. A foster home is a good place for these kittens to pack on the ounces.
Long stay animals (shelter stay that exceeds 3 months for dogs and 6 months for cats) benefit from fostering for a few reasons. First, fostering increases exposure to the public (your friends, relatives and people you meet with your pet) and increases the chance the pet will be adopted. Second, when pets leave the shelter environment, they have increased access to training. This is especially critical for dogs that have not lived inside a home before, and for pets that struggle with inappropriate bathroom and/or greeting behaviors. Cats, on the other hand, benefit from the increased stimuli and interaction of a home environment. Although shelter staff do their best to enrich the lives of every animal, very active and outgoing cats can become lethargic or even ornery when left along for long periods of time in the shelter. These cats, brought into foster homes, thrive on positive interaction and stimulation.
Unsocialized dogs also benefit from fostering. Of course, each dog is unique. Although some struggle with the move into a home, others have issues with the exposure to new people and pets. Foster homes allow the individual dog time to adjust to new situations, unfamiliar people or simply becoming accustomed to being around one person for extended periods of time. Fostering is especially helpful for dogs on the “thin line” of social or unsocial, or in what most shelters call the “gray area” of adoptability.
Fostering also comes with the benefits that we give ourselves. By opening our hearts and home to a shelter pet, even for a very short time, we feel a sense of accomplishment. When our duty has ended for each pet, we can be happy knowing how much difference we made. The commitment to fostering is as important to you as it is to the animal. You have shown compassion in ways most only wish they could.
Bringing pets and people together is simple when you give each animal — regardless of special need– a brighter future through fostering.
Brandon Castner is a senior at Montana State University studying Fish and Wildlife management and ecology. Brandon works at Heart of the Valley as a Feline adoption counselor, where he devotes his time caring for the animals and finding their forever homes.