The story of how I got into fostering, can be found in a post about me in The Crew page (will be updated soon). Stories of fosters I had or will have, you can follow on the blog. What I wanted to write here is a summed up info of what to expect as well as the rules and ways I came up with, along the way...
Let's dive in.
IS IT EASY? - NOPE
Harsh truth is, every time I foster, it is different and it is ALWAYS for one or another reason - complicated. There are often sleepless nights, ruined things and property, stress, expenses, a lot of worrying. Every time I foster, I feel tired, I can see my dogs getting tired and I tell myself - this is it, we will need a break after this.
I have had problems with shelters, communication with them issues and most often - dogs arriving completely different than I was expecting from their description. Often dogs arrive also in worse physical shape, than I expected. I have had very bad adoption fails and multiple times, adopted dogs, returned. I have changed my ways of doing things, my ways of fostering and my adoption contract many times. I was batteling in courts for a dog, to get him back from adopted family and had multiple threats, to me personally and my organisation. I encountered enough angry people in my way. That's my truth.
Dogs are adaptable and they match the situation they are in. They might be, for example friendly towards other dogs in the shelter, because they have no other option, or are overwhelmed too much, to be bothered to be agressive. This can be complet opposite, once they are removed from that environment. It can also be, that dogs can be super agressive in the shelter, again, because of being overwhelmed, and be completely different in private. One thing is clear - EXPECT THE UEXPECTED.
Shelters are endless noise, day and night. Shelters are lack of exercise and mental stimulation. Lack of socialisation, both with humans and other animals. Shelters are filled with love, just rarely enough hands to spread it. Off-course I am not talking about them all, there are plenty shelters, that are able to provide more, I am just talking in general. So, before you decide to foster, it is important to fully acknowledge where the dog is coming from and have enough patience and tolerance. No dog is ever bad or intentionally "problematic", there are reasons behind everything. You must respect their background and help them go the right way, to be able to enjoy life.
IS IT WORTH IT? - OH YES!
And after all I have said before, I can HONESTLY say, even in those times when it felt I went through hell (like with my own Popsi), the minute the dogs leave to their new home, I can't wait to do it all over again! In that happy moment, I can't even remember what I was complaining about. The moments of getting updates with happy faces from their home - are priceless and WORTH EVERYTHING!
Fostering saves lives, literally. Fostering also teaches you so much and tests your core. It brings some amazing souls into your life, not only dogs, but also people. Fostering enriches your life in ways, you did not knew you wanted. It is a valuable experience, that, again - literally - saves lives. So I highly encourage, to at least try it out and see how valuable your time and energy can be to those in need. You can simply start from volunteering to walk the dogs or help socialise, at your local shelter. Just remember, it's not all fun and games, even with the nicest, easiest dogs. You have to be prepared to prepare them for heir next home.
Fostering, is one thing. The right fostering, is another. I have learned it actually the harsh way.
The first home after leaving shelter, is crucial. That's where the dogs learn the rules of a life at home. That's also who they attach to the most, as they see them as their saviours. While fostering, it is important - VERY IMPORTANT - to understand, that it's not your dog and you won't keep them. That is a crucial part. You don't know what the next home will be, and you can't tell the dog, that they are here temporarily. So when you give them away, they will not understand, why are you giving them away. It may result in problematic behaviour in their new home. Off-course, again, it does not apply 10000% to all cases, but most.
I want my foster to leave to new home and feel happy. While at the same time I want them to be prepared for the new home. So here are my basic rules I follow:
- DO NOT SLEEP IN BED WITH THE FOSTER DOG.
Sleeping together is a pack thing. By doing that, you are strengthening unnecessary bond with the dog, that you have to give up at some point. Also, you don't know if the next home will allow dogs on sofa's and beds. That should be their choice and you should NOT give the dog habits, that should be up to the new home.
You always have the freedom to find a home, you want for a dog, for example one, where they are allowed to sleep in bed. But again, don't form unnecessary bond and don't limit options of homes. While I can't imagine not having my dogs in my bed, some of the happiest dogs I know, are not allowed on the furniture.
- DO NOT SPEND EVERY MINUTE WITH THEM.
Place your foster in their private space, either it is a room or a kennel, or something of that sort, for them to have their own safe space. It should not be at all times, but it should be a space available for use whenever needed. For example at night or when you leave home. It will also be an opportunity for you to have a break when you need it.
Do not include the dog into every aspect of your life. Leave them alone for some periods. It will prevent them from having separation anxienty in new home. It will also be the difference from a real home and a foster home. There has to be healthy distance between you and the dog. Once they settle into their real home and get to be part of every aspect of life, it will help them feel more comfortable and more stable, quicker. You should not form the bond with the dog, that their next owner wants to have. Don't take that from the future owners and don't do this to a dog, that is there only temporarily. Don't get them used to your routine, new routine in new home might stress them out.
- DO NOT FEED FROM TABLE.
This applies not only when fostering, but still. This is a path to a bad habit, that new owners will have problems with. It's is, first of all, not healthy, secondly - stresfull for the dog. Sitting by the table and begging for food is stress, both for the dog and the owners. Do not start this dangerous cycle.
- USE YOUR OTHER DOGS AS EXAMPLE. DON'T FORGET TO PRIORATIZE THEM.
If you have another dog or few at home, they are great help when fostering. Dogs tend to copy from each other, so your dog, in their stable environment, will be a great example. Making your dog a priority not only protects your dog, but also helps keep that safe distance with the foster, that I talked about. If your dog is allowed on the bed, do not automatically allow foster as well. Place a bed near by, so they can be close, but do not include them into pack bonding. Foster dogs will see how you treat another dog and seek the same things. Once they will get it in their new home, the adaptation process will be quicker.
Having new dogs in your home, can be stressfull for your pack, so make sure to prioritise their well being. You can do that by spending one on one time, feeding them separately, giving more attention tha usual, having them separate from the intruder as much as they need, to recharge. Do not force them to bond with the temporary guest if they don't want to.
- ADVERTISEMENT BECOMES FULL TIME THING.
Spread the news about your foster and how adorable they are - everywhere! Use social media, websites, tell everyone you meet. Shout from roof tops if needed. Have small brochures or cards and ask, for example pet supply stores, if you can leave them there. This is certainly the time to spam about a dog, cause you never know where the right home will come from. The sooner they find their home, the sooner their real life begins. And you can take in another one :)
- GIVING BED AND FOOD IS NOT ENOUGH.
Depending on what kind of foster you have, you need to put in the work. If they don't know how to walk on a leash - start teaching. If they don't know how to sit, start teaching them. While training and playing is also a sort of forming a bond, for new owner, you can certainly start, nothing happens over night. Make the transition, both for the new owner and the dog as easy as possible. Try foster dogs out. Can they with kids? With cats? With other dogs? Do they like riding in a car? How are they in the city? Do they show agression over food? The more information you can provide, the better the chances finding the right home. It doesn't have to be full time job, but simply giving them warm bed and food, do not make them ready for a new home. Several stories from my experience with bad fostering, will be possible to find on the blog.
- MOST IMPORTANT RULE - ALL RULES HAVE EXCEPTIONS.
All my above mentioned things are based on the main idea - fostering should not feel like adoption and the dog should be prepared for a new home, instead of settling into yours. BUT off - course every rule has an exception and depends on each dog individually and your situation. The main guideline, in my opinion, should stay the same - you will not teach bad habits and neither of you will cry upon separation. A little crying is ok, but when nobody sees:)
Each dog is unique and you adjust to fit their needs to the best of your abilities. Just remember, to protect yourself, and your dogs and your foster dog, with healthy boundaries. You are just a short stop between their past and their future. But you do play an important role, giving them that future :)