Do you like the title? I thought it was a great way to grab your attention, and I see it worked!! The thing is I mean it!
You may have been thinking of welcoming a dog into your life, but aren’t sure you’re ready for the commitment. I get it. I’m not great at committing either. Other than marriage and having pets, I like to keep my options open. Fostering is a great way to see what it’s like to share your life with a dog, (in this case of course I’m advocating for old dogs), without having to commit the next 10+ years.
Oh, you didn’t realise fostering was an option?
Don’t worry you’re not alone. We tend to be familiar with the concept of fostering children, but not so much when it comes to dogs. I wrote a lot explaining what fostering is to help you decide if it’s right for you.
The importance of fostering
You will offer the warmth, love, comfort and attention they wouldn’t get in kennels, and may never have known before. You may also be the difference between life and death for that dog, and that is a feeling you can’t describe.
Fostering from a shelter
Even though the animals have a place to live, there are many reasons why fosters are need.
Some dogs have a much harder time then others adapting to life in a cage, and can suffer psychologically. If the problem becomes too severe, they will be killed. These dogs stand a better chance if awaiting adoption in a home.
Dogs with behavioural issues will benefit from one on one training, something they won’t get in a shelter.
Senior dogs who have spent their entire lives with a family may have a particularly difficult time adapting to being abandoned in a strange, and noisy environment.
Illness, post surgery or those needing medication require more time, attention and one on one care than shelter staff can usually give.
Some dogs have never had the opportunity to live in a home before, and sadly it’s hard to find people willing to take that on. A foster parent can teach him, socialise him, and make him a more attractive candidate for adoption.
Senior, or special needs dogs that have very little chance of ever finding a home, don’t deserve to spend their final days alone. Offering to foster means they will have a chance at happiness.
When a dog enters a shelter very little, if anything is ever known about them. They’re put in a kennel and that’s often it. While this isn’t true for every shelter, it is true for most. This leaves little or no chance to get to know the personality of the dog, their temperament, how they are with other dogs, cats, kids… Being in foster care will give staff that crucial information, increasing the chances of a successful match.
When shelters start running out of room, the kill facilities just start killing. The truth is most never stop, and kill even when cages are empty. Fostering can reduce the number of dogs losing their lives for no reason. For old dogs entering the shelter system the situation is even worse, their lives often ending soon after arrival.
Fostering from a rescue group
- Most rescue groups do not have brick and mortar buildings, so rely on foster homes to help them save lives.
- There are plenty of groups that specialise in rescuing seniors from shelters and commit to helping them find loving homes.
- Many groups work exclusively in finding homes for dogs, including senior dogs, from places like Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Afghanistan to name just a few. Conditions are particularly brutal in many countries and they need foster homes (and forever homes) for these dogs to travel to.
- These groups can only rescue as many dogs as they have homes to put them in. Sadly, with foster homes in short supply they are often so desperate, they end up having to pay a fortune to board them. It’s a shame because that money could be put to better use – veterinary care, food…
Consider fostering rather than adopting
Perhaps this is your first experience with a dog, and although you know you really want one, you’re not sure how he or she will fit into your life. Fostering is a great way to try it, see how you handle the added responsibility, and if you really have room in your life. Having said that, a dog is not like a sweater you try on and then return. You have to be quite sure, but discuss that with the organisation and perhaps foster a dog that only needs short term care.
You’ve had dogs your whole life, but now feel you’re getting too old for a commitment that may last many years. Another ideal situation for a foster parent to help an older, less active dog. It will give him a warm place to lay his head, and will do both of you a world of good.
Finances are not what they should be, and we all know how expensive it is to care for a dog, never mind a senior who may have health issues. You really miss the companionship, and you want to open your heart and home to an old dog who has little chance of getting adopted. Most groups and shelters pay for medical care, and some even pay for food. Of course if you have some money to contribute that would be a great help.
You love taking vacations but don’t like to leave your dog, so you haven’t been away in quite some time. Calculate how many weeks, or months you have until you’re off on your next adventure, and foster within that time frame. Many rescues need emergency foster care and that may be ideal for you.
What fostering entails
Fostering means you agree to take in a homeless dog, care for him, love him, train him (not always the case), give him attention – do everything you would do for one you adopted.
The main differences are:
- Expenses are usually covered
- He isn’t technically yours so you need approval before you can take him away with you
- If you need to take him to a vet and expect to be reimbursed you must speak to the rescue first, unless it’s an emergency
Where do the dogs come from?
Shelters get them from owner surrenders, abuse cases, strays people bring in…
Rescue groups usually pull them from high kill shelters and animal control facilities, but they also bring in strays and dogs dumped by their owners. Many specialise in rescuing old dogs from countries where they are very badly treated and often have nowhere safe to go.
Finding a dog to foster
- Contact shelters, animal control facilities and rescue groups in your area.
- If you can’t find one in your area that has a foster program, or you weren’t happy with the reception you got, widen your search.
- Distance isn’t necessarily an issue. Some groups have volunteer drivers who may be able to deliver the dog to you, or at least meet you half way.
- If you would like a dog from another country, Facebook is the best place to find one. Type in old dogs Romania for example, and you will find a list of rescues.
Trust me when I tell you, there are amazing people out there who will welcome you with open arms. So if your first experience (or second) is less than positive, don’t be discouraged, keep looking.
What to expect from the fostering process
Typically the first step involves completing an application form. Once that’s done they may call you, or have you come in for a chat. They will also want to see the home environment their dog will be going to.
Some people get annoyed by home visits, but you should be happy about it. It proves just how much they care about doing what’s best for the dog. They don’t know you, and there are too many horror stories for them to take risks with the lives in their care.
Once everything has been approved, they will find you the dog they feel will be the best match, or you can search available dogs on their website and inquire about one that catches your eye!
Details of what’s to be expected from you should be given, and all instructions clear. Make sure you always have support available should you need it.
That depends on your availability, and the needs of the organisation you got your dog from.
You can apply to be an emergency foster – that means they may call you at the last minute because they have an emergency situation.
Offer to be vacation cover for a foster parent. You would only need to care for the dog while the foster parent is away.
There are also opportunities to foster for a few weeks, months, or the dog’s entire life.
In my experience, whatever time you can offer, there is a dog in need you can help.
You decide how much time you’re willing (able) to give, and they’ll find you the right dog. Please be realistic, and don’t feel obligated to commit to longer than you would like. You’ll be doing more harm than good by not being up front.
Most shelters pay for everything (food, medication, veterinary care…), rescue groups tend to expect you to pay for the food. However, since these shelters and groups rely on the generosity of the public for donations, it’s always appreciated if you cover some of the costs – look at it as a donation. Maybe you can even get a tax receipt for your outlay.
Many people worry they may not be suitable because: they have kids; live in an apartment; are older; don’t have a lot of time…
While many places are unreasonable in my opinion and experience, don’t let that deter you before you even start. You will find a rescue that will be happy to work with such a kind and compassionate person like yourself. Sadly not a lot of people are interested in taking on an older dog.
Wanting out of your commitment
Everyone understands life happens, and it may happen that you are unable to fulfill the entire commitment you made. Make sure you know, in advance, what the policy is in these circumstances. Another foster home will need to be found, but please understand it may take some time.
If at all possible, don’t notify them 10 minutes before you have to bring the dog back. It’s hard enough finding one foster home, so give them as much advance notice as you can.
You have fallen in love with your foster dog, now what!
I understand, because I am what is known as a “foster failure.” Any cat or dog I have fostered has never left my house. I fall in love with them, worry their next home may not be as good as mine, so I just keep them.
As long as everything went well, and you meet their adoption requirements, there’s no reason why you can’t adopt him. The thing is though, foster homes are in such short supply, the group you’re helping may need fosters more than adopters. Speak to them, and see what they say. I can’t imagine they’ll pass up the opportunity of getting another dog a home.
Health risks to pets already living in the house
You should, of course, get as much of the dog’s medical history as you can before bringing him home. Your own dog should be current on all vaccinations. If the foster dog has health issues you’re concerned about, bring them up with your own vet and get his opinion. If you already share your life with an old dog, particularly one not in the best of health, you need to be sure your foster dog’s health challenges will not affect yours.
What happens in the event your foster dog requires medical care or urgent care
That depends on the policy of the rescue group or shelter you’re fostering for, so make sure you understand theirs in advance. You don’t want to rush the dog to the emergency hospital, only to find out that exorbitant bill won’t be covered.
If you need to take the dog to the vet, you are usually required to consult with them first so they can approve the visit. Once you know what treatments and costs are involved, you would need their approval if you want them to cover those costs. The same may hold true in cases of emergency, but be clear.
Are you expected to call someone in the middle of the night? What happens in the event you can’t reach anyone? Do they give you permission to take him to a 24 hour emergency hospital, and pre-authorise a set amount of money, if they can’t be reached?
Are you prepared to cover some medical costs? Discuss with them how much you think you’re able to pay.
Re-naming your foster
It’s best to keep the name given. Imagine he comes to you with one name, you change it, then it gets changed again when he’s adopted. Again, it’s up to the rescue to determine what’s best.
A few other considerations
Find out if the dog is fixed. It matters if yours isn’t, or you take him to the dog park where not every dog has a responsible owner.
Don’t bring a dog into your house that isn’t up to date on flea and heartworm treatment. A heartworm positive dog can be very difficult to treat, and a flea ridden one will quickly infest your entire home. While de-fleaing your house can be done, it is a nightmare.
Do they know how he is with other dogs, cats, kids, men, women?
If the thought of a dog peeing on your floor is more than you can take, re-consider, because even the most housebroken dog may have an accident or three in a new home. If he isn’t housebroken, can you cope? Maybe he’s paper trained. If you’re not okay that’s fine, just be honest. It isn’t fair for you to take him on, than return him for doing exactly what you knew he would do, and weren’t happy with from the beginning.
Is he okay being left alone, or does he suffer from separation anxiety?
How much support is there from members of the group, or shelter staff? Can you always reach someone in the event of an emergency?
Why fostering an old dog is great for commitment phobes
Fostering any dog is an incredibly rewarding experience, but there’s nothing more rewarding then fostering an old dog. I know this first hand because I do it and I love it. You can’t match the feeling of knowing you’re changing, and saving, the life of that animal.
The most important key to fostering success is communication between you and the group or organisation. Be clear about their expectations and your responsibilities, and honest about what you are willing, and not willing to take on.
I hope this has gotten you thinking about saving the life of an old dog…there’s nothing better for the soul.
If you are interested in rescuing an old dog from another country, this FB group is a good place to start. They do tend to only send these dogs to the UK as they are closer and able to travel by road.
Although this article has focused on dogs – cats, rabbits and other animals are also available for fostering.
Drop by my Facebook page and join a community of people who share their lives with senior dogs. Please like and post your stories, photos, advice and questions.
**I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, my Facebook group for senior dog parents. It is a wonderful community where you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.**