Whether you spend a long weekend or months sharing your home with a foster pet, it’s easy to get attached. The secret to letting go when the time comes — and it will — is focusing on the many positives.
Ask anyone who fosters a cat or a dog, and you’ll hear over and over again that they do it because fostering saves lives. When a person fosters one or more pets from an animal shelter or rescue group, he or she is opening up cage space for more animals — offsetting the some 2.7 million animals in shelters that are euthanized each year.
“When people foster pets, they are getting them ready for their forever homes by socializing them,” said Bridgett Knote, the intake and foster care program coordinator at the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in New York. “Socialized pets spend less time in our adoption center. They get adopted quicker because they are comfortable being around people. What’s equally important is the feedback we get from our foster parents about the behavior of the animals in their homes.”
Foster parents are required to take notes about the animals’ behaviors, temperaments and health, and share that information with the rescue group.
"In even the best animal shelters, pets are stressed," said Marc Peralta, executive director at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles. "In a loving home — even though it’s temporary — pets can relax and be themselves. Our foster parents see the pets’ true nature. Foster pets benefit because they get more attention, care and exercise, and they learn how to behave around people and, in some cases, other pets."
Both the ASPCA and Best Friends Animal Society provide foster parents with veterinary care, pet food and pet supplies. (Not all animal welfare agencies can afford to cover the costs of pet food and pet supplies — and many foster parents working with the larger agencies tend to pay for the food and supplies out of their own pockets.) Foster parents must be 21 years of age or older, and need to provide temporary housing, water, exercise and lots of love. They also must complete an orientation, which usually takes an hour.
"The foster parent and animal welfare agency stay in close contact through emails and phone," said Knote. "The satisfaction from fostering a pet in need is huge."
Laurette Oldewurtel, 54, adopted two dogs and two cats and wanted to do more. She lives within easy walking distance of the ASPCA in New York City, and started fostering three years ago. Now, 70 animals later, she is caring for Lola and Aura, kittens in need of socialization.
Seventy sounds like a lot of pets! Yet that number was spread out over three years, and some of those animals were litters of kittens. Some weeks, she cared for litters of five or six foster kittens at a time. "For kittens, socialization isn’t long," she explained. "Some of them are here between two and six weeks. Kitten season starts in spring and can last through early fall. That’s the time when animal shelters and rescues are in desperate need of temporary foster homes."
For Oldewurtel, who runs a financial consulting business in her home, fostering is hugely rewarding. "Kittens are so entertaining. When it’s time to give them back, I know they will be placed in loving homes. That is what I focus on. I’m helping more animals by fostering than by adopting."
Kiem Sie, 48, has "let go" four times. A volunteer at Berkeley Care Animal Services in Berkeley, California, Sie is on her fifth foster, and she credits her two adopted dogs — Leo, a pit bull mix, and Bimo, a Chihuahua terrier mix — with making the good-byes less difficult. "Having them here makes it a bit easier to let go of the foster," she said.
She also keeps in touch with the owners of her fosters. "Sometimes we hang out at the local dog park."
A member of the IT department at Mills College in Oakland, Sie can work from her home office, so she’s able to keep an eye on Leo, Bimo and her newest foster, Winston, a pit bull mix from Home at Last Animal Rescue. "I tell myself each time I place a dog in a good home, I’m able to save another dog," she said. "If I keep this dog, I wouldn’t be able to help a lot more."
There are thousands of animal shelters and rescue groups in need of foster homes throughout the U.S. To find one near you, check with your local animal control or animal shelter.
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