October is “Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.” With more time at home, many families would like to adopt a dog but aren’t ready for a lifetime commitment. Fostering is a great way to test the waters to see if a dog – and what type of dog – is right for your family.


What Is “Fostering?”

“Fostering” means that you keep a rescue dog in your home until he is ready for adoption to a “furever” home. After being abandoned, lost, abused or surrendered by an owner, rescue dogs are often disoriented and confused. The shelter environment —rows of metal cages, hard concrete floors and a background of loud, incessant barking — can be a harrowing experience. A foster home gives the rescue dog an opportunity to recover from the stress of the shelter and begin to trust humans again.


What Does a Foster Family Do?

As a foster family, you will be responsible for providing your rescue dog a safe, clean and caring environment. Fosters provide food, water, enrichment (such as toys or games) and exercise. You may need to transport the dog to veterinary appointments and meetings with potential adopters. Some rescue organizations have “matchmakers,” who communicate information about the dog’s personality and behavior to potential adopters. In other organizations the foster family takes that role. If the dog has medical needs or injuries, fosters give medicine as directed. Of course, one of the most important things you can do for your rescue dog is spending time with him. Go on walks in the neighborhood. Throw the ball in your backyard. Help him learn good dog behavior, such as waiting for a signal before he takes his food. Be consistent with commands and give lots and lots of praise.


Who Pays for Medical Care, Medicine, Food and Supplies?

The rescue organization provides medical care for injuries or medical conditions at intake and during the foster period. They also provide heartworm and flea prevention, as well as any needed medication. The foster family provides a leash, high-quality dog food, bowls, treats, bedding and toys. Sometimes the rescue organization or one of its volunteers will have a crate that the foster family can borrow.


What Does a Foster Family Need To Learn About Their Rescue Dog?

In many cases little or nothing is known about the rescue dog. An important job for the foster family is to spend time with the dog to gather information for a successful placement. Does the dog enjoy interacting with kids or does he go somewhere else when they enter the room? Is the dog afraid around strangers? Does the dog have separation or thunderstorm anxiety? Does the dog spend the days snoozing, or does he need a more active lifestyle? Does the dog need training? For example, does he walk nicely on a leash or pull? Does he know “sit” and “stay”? When you encounter another dog on a walk, does he wag or show signs of aggression? Do you notice any potential medical conditions, such as excessive licking or scratching? It’s important to learn as much about your rescue dog as possible to help determine if a prospective adoptive family is a fit. For example, if a family is looking primarily for a dog to hang out with them on the sofa, an active dog who needs at least an hour of exercise a day and frequent ball-throwing sessions is not a good match.


What if We Want To Adopt Our Rescue Dog?

Many times fosters become “foster failures,” which means they fall in love with their rescue dog and want to adopt it. Rescue organizations expect this to happen and have policies to support foster adoption. Most of the time, the foster has a specified length of time for deciding whether or not to adopt. After that, they must relinquish the rescue dog to an adopter who has been approved through the rescue organization’s process.


What Is a Virtual Foster?

If your family isn’t ready for a live-in furry companion, consider becoming a virtual foster. This program from Austin Pets Alive! gives dogs who reside at the shelter the benefits of advocacy that a foster home would offer. Volunteers learn about their dogs’ behavioral and medical histories and how to market them on social media. As champions for these dogs that have been housed in the shelter the longest, virtual fosters interact directly with potential adopters from an informed advocacy perspective. Contact Austin Pets Alive! for more information about this program at austinpetsalive.org/foster/virtual-foster.


Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin, Texas.

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