Pet fostering helps countless homeless dogs and cats, but this labor of love requires volunteers who are extra special people. The basic requirements may seem simple—provide food, water, and shelter until the pet is adopted—but successful fostering also requires compassion, understanding, and patience. However, in return for their time and generosity, pet foster parents are rewarded with deep personal satisfaction and, sometimes, a new and unexpected furry friend (i.e., a “foster fail”).

If you’re interested in fostering rescued pets, check out our Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care guide to effective pet fostering at home.

What is pet fostering?

Pet fostering is the process of providing a temporary home and routine care for adoptable rescue pets. While each pet remains under the rescue or shelter organization’s legal guardianship and authority, the foster care provider provides the pet’s daily care, including feeding, medicating, basic grooming, exercising, and socialization.

7 Tips for effectively fostering a pet in your home

If you have a passion for pets and a caregiver’s heart, you’re already pre-qualified for pet fostering. But, a few extra steps can make the difference between a stressful and extraordinary fostering experience. We’ve teamed up with our friends at Island Cat Resources and Adoption in Alameda to provide you with these foster care insights.

#1: Ensure you have the space in your home—and your heart—for a foster pet

This is a big one. Foster pets have physical and emotional needs that may require rearranging your everyday routine and lifestyle. 

  • Home — Your living area must be large enough to accommodate the foster pet and keep them separated from any personal pets, which ensures everyone’s health and safety, at least during the acclimation and quarantine periods. The area must be pet-proofed for all potential hazards (e.g., electrical cords, pet toxins) and to prevent accidental injury or escape. If you’re renting or leasing your home, ensure your landlord approves your plan and that you will not be violating any policies or local codes. All family members and roommates should agree if you will be fostering a pet in a shared space.
  • Heart — Equally important are the foster pet’s emotional needs. While some rescued pets are socially outgoing with natural good manners, others are undersocialized and have significant fear, anxiety, or behavior issues. Each pet will bring their own set of experiences and needs for their foster family to learn, understand, and manage. Ensure you have the time and emotional capacity to meet these needs.

#2: Review the foster pet policy and guidelines

Before you agree to foster a pet, ask the rescue organization or shelter for their foster policy or agreement documents, which can help you understand the organization’s operations and prevent any confusion or misunderstanding. You should know exactly what is expected from you as a pet foster, including:

  • Your financial responsibilities (e.g., veterinary bills, food)
  • Travel expectations (e.g., adoption events, meet-and-greets with potential adopters)
  • How you should respond to a pet emergency
  • What you can do if the foster situation is not working
  • Whether homes with children or pets are accepted
  • The foster pet return and adoption policies
  • Contact information for several rescue members

#3: Be patient with your foster pet

Foster pets are often undersocialized, which may lead to fearful, submissive, or reactive behavior. Others may have been removed from abusive or neglectful situations. No matter your foster pet’s history, you must be patient, open-minded, and understanding. Many rescued pets are experiencing human kindness and gentleness for the first time, and may be slow to build trust or show affection.

Keep in mind the 3-3-3 rule that sets the timeline for dog and cat acclimation as:

  • Three days of nervousness and anxiety
  • Three weeks to settle in
  • Three months to develop trust and bond with their caregiver

#4:  Have basic pet care and behavior knowledge

For some pets, the foster care experience will be their first time living inside a home, and they will require consistent, kind training to help them understand expectations (e.g., eliminating outside or in a litter box, not chewing or clawing on furniture). Knowing about general pet care can help you communicate clearly with your foster pet and see their “bad” behavior as a lack of understanding, not spite.

#5: Be able to transport your foster pet as needed

Young, senior, and special needs foster pets require frequent veterinary care, so reliable transportation is necessary. Rescue organizations often partner with specific hospitals, which you will be expected to use—not your preferred veterinarian. You may also be required to transport your foster pet to adoption events or potential adoptee meet-and-greets.

#6: Maintain emotional distance with your foster pet

Successful foster caregivers acknowledge that their role in each pet’s life is temporary. They realize that each pet will spend a limited time in their home—perhaps months, weeks, or only a few days. Keeping a healthy emotional distance is perhaps the biggest challenge with pet fostering, but remind yourself that allowing each pet to go to their forever home saves more pets, because you cannot possibly adopt them all.

#7: You must be OK with a “foster fail”

Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants, and foster parents adopt their foster pets. While this is jokingly described as a “foster fail,” in these scenarios, everyone—the rescue organization, the foster pet, and the foster—gets a fairytale ending.

Our veterinary team is proud to support the work of Island Cat Resources and Adoption. If you’re interested in becoming a pet foster home, reach out to them online. And, for help with the four-footed non-fosters in your home, contact Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care.