Foster Dog
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.

Before You Foster: Nine Important Questions

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.

Do you have time to take this animal to weekend adoption events? Some rescue groups post pets online and take applications for them, but others hold regular adoption events at local pet supply stores or other venues. You may need to take your foster pet to those events until she’s adopted, which means looking carefully at your weekend schedule.

Are you prepared for a long-term commitment? A foster animal may need a place for only a few weeks, or his stay could stretch out for months. There’s no guarantee that a foster animal will be adopted within a certain time frame, but until he's adopted, he needs a home. Be sure you can commit before you accept a foster pet.

Is the organization run in a professional manner? You should expect phone calls to be answered or returned promptly and veterinary expenses to be covered by the organization. In addition, the adoption organization should be in contact frequently and should make every effort to find the animal(s) a permanent home.

When the time comes, will you be able to give up your foster pet to an adoptive home? It’s all too easy to become attached to this little creature who is living in your house. People who end up adopting their foster pets are known affectionately as “foster failures.” Some rescue groups are OK with that, while others frown on it because it often means that you’re no longer available as a foster home for future animals. If you're not sure you will be able to say goodbye, think twice about fostering.

Fostering pets has its ups and downs, and you will likely cry when your foster pet walks out the door for the last time — but the rewards of seeing him blossom and watching a new family fall in love with him will have you signing up to do it all over again.