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I am a huge fan of adopting pets from shelters — that’s how we acquired our dogs, Quora and Amazing Gracie. Adoption is a gift to yourself and to the animal. But sometimes I think an even greater gift is to offer to foster a dog or cat in need. Foster owners give animals a place to stay while they wait for a forever home, relieving crowding at the shelter and accustoming the pet to a home environment. Foster owners must sometimes see their charges through necessary veterinary care like heartworm treatment, help them lose weight or teach them manners before they can be put up for adoption. Fostering takes patience, love and a good eye for observation: One responsibility of a foster parent is to provide the adoption group with information that allows them to make the best match between the pet and potential owners. Fostering also requires the skills of a diplomat to ensure that your family’s own pets don’t feel left out.
Fostering is a good way to “test-drive” an additional pet or a different type of pet. For instance, fostering a kitten can be an opportunity to see how a cat would fit into your current lifestyle and get along with your other pets. But before you respond to that Craigslist ad or Facebook plea for foster pet owners, there are some important questions you should ask yourself — and the organization in charge of the foster program.
How much care, socialization or training will this animal require? Bottle-feeding babies often means round-the-clock dedication. Older kittens or puppies, on the other hand, need lots of handling, training and socialization, and they may need to be taken to the veterinarian for spay/neuter surgery or teeth cleaning while they are with you. Adult animals may simply need a place to stay until they are adopted, but sometimes they have special needs as well. Be sure you know what you're getting into before you bring a foster pet home.
Is this animal house trained? If the answer is no, are you prepared to teach that skill and to ensure that your belongings aren’t damaged in the process? If you're up for potty training, you may want to roll up valuable rugs and put them away while you’re fostering — and you might need to pull that crate and baby gate out of the attic, too.
Are you prepared to treat a foster animal as a member of the family? Fostering isn't just making sure the animal stays healthy and safe and eats well; you're also responsible for teaching your foster pet how to be a good family member. For this reason, it's important to make sure that everyone who lives in your house is on board with the foster plan and willing to help your temporary pet fit in.
Will your own pets get along with a foster dog or cat? If your pet is possessive of your lap, how will she respond when a guest animal tries to sit there? Some breeds are more prone to quarreling than others, and the arrival of an additional animal, even just temporarily, can upset the balance of pet power in your household. Your normally well-behaved dog or cat may “act out” or forget his house training. You may need the skills of a circus ringmaster to maintain harmony.
Can you afford to care for an additional animal? Ask up front what your out-of-pocket expenses will be. The rescue group should cover any veterinary expenses, but it may or may not pay for items such as food or cat litter. In addition, if you know that you will be traveling for work or vacation during the time you’ll be fostering, say so up front so the rescue group can decide whether it can afford the expense of a pet sitter or will help you find someone else to care for the animal while you’re gone.
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