In a world where paw prints leave a lasting impression on our hearts, fostering dogs stands out as a noble adventure. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to be a foster parent to our four-legged friends, I’m sharing the good, the bad, and the fluffy.
1. Open Arms, Open Hearts:
Fostering begins with an open heart. It’s a commitment to providing a safe haven for dogs in transition. Whether they’re recovering from surgery, escaping a shelter environment, or simply awaiting their furever homes, your willingness to open your arms (and home) sets the stage for a heartwarming experience. Love and patience are paramount. You need to be prepared for fear reactions – cowering, shaking, urinating, hiding and running away to name a few. There is no room for raised voices or harsh words with an animal that is in a completely new environment with strangers they don’t know. Even the friendliest puppies will take time to get to know you, so be calm, sit still, don’t make direct eye contact, but quietly hold out a hand and let your new arrival settle in. Definitely DON’T rush the hug that we all ache to do.
Time is a precious commodity, and fostering dogs requires a generous supply. From daily walks and playtime to vet visits and the inevitable cuddle sessions, be prepared to invest the time needed to nurture a dog’s physical and emotional well-being. Your foster time period might be a matter of just a few days – enough to remove an animal from a bad environment to decompress before the adoption process begins. In other cases you may have a foster for months. Puppies tend to get adopted quickly, where older dogs and dogs with medical conditions are a bit harder to find homes for. Be prepared that your time commitment to your foster baby will vary by age, breed, medical condition, temperament and even by season.
3.Compassion and Empathy:
Fostering requires a deep well of compassion and empathy. Understanding that your foster dog may come with baggage and being there to help them unpack it fosters an environment of trust and healing. You need to understand and empathize that not all dogs have been treated kindly or trained properly. I volunteer with a rescue group (K9 Safe Space) that saves dogs from puppy mills; dogs that have had little to no contact with grass, collars, leashes, or playing. If you had been penned and neglected for 5 years of your life, trust would probably be the last thing you’d dole out to anyone. House-training, leash training, and basic commands like “sit” don’t exist in their world because they’ve never had a house to live in, a caring family to walk them, or anyone to put any effort into training.
There WILL be accidents… but they WILL learn.
Life with dogs is rarely predictable, and fostering is no exception. Be prepared for unexpected twists and turns, from midnight barking, surprise veterinary visits to the occasional chewed-up shoe. Flexibility is a foster parent’s secret weapon in navigating the delightful chaos that comes with temporary canine companionship.
5. Basic Training Know-How:
While not all foster dogs arrive with a polished set of manners, a basic understanding of dog training can go a long way. Brush up on your training skills to help your foster dog become the best version of themselves, making them more adoptable in the process.
Fostering isn’t a paid position. You need to know going in that the rescue you are volunteering with is working on a not-for-profit basis, and vet expenses outweigh adoption fees by at least double. Most rescues will cover veterinary treatments for the dogs in their/your care, and every effort is made to provide foster homes with food. You should be prepared that any other expenses you incur – by choice or necessity – gas to the vet appointment, leashes, laundry, collars, treats, dog beds, pee mats etc come out of your pocket. There are lots of fantastic deals in used beds and toys on marketplace – so your expenses don’t have to be astronomical – but you should be prepared going in that there will be some.
I was prepared for most things dog-related; I’ve had dogs my entire life so I am familiar with bathing, grooming, poop pick-up etc and was happy and willing to do it all for the opportunity to love these fur-babies. What I wasn’t entirely prepared for was the volume of mess. I have three dogs at the moment; Bentley and two fosters, and it’s mud season. Along with muddy paws, dug up gardens and a plethora of poop in the yard, there has been daily accidents (pee and poo), chewed patio furniture, unearthed trees and most recently a buffet made of my hot tub cover. Mopping is necessary every single morning (the dogs with me now are too old for crate-training, and I’d feel awful given that they were “mill mamas”).
I have baby gates cordoning them off in my tiled kitchen, so it’s a relatively small area of my home that gets filthy. Laundry – for reusable pee pads, towels for mud and wet, and cleaning cloths – is also a daily chore. I highly recommend getting a couple of these Ikea rugs – they are inexpensive and easily washed. Two because one will be clean whenever you need to replace the other. Part of fostering is preparing and maintaining a comfortable and clean haven for your foster dog. Whether it’s a cozy bed, a designated play area, or a favourite toy, creating a positive environment ensures your furry houseguest feels secure and loved.
Expect lots of accidents – some fosters have never been inside a home. This, topped with anxiety and a new diet, will inevitably lead to tummy upset. Just remember, it’s nothing the sanitize function on your washer can’t handle and lessens as time passes.
8. Letting Go with Love:
One of the most challenging aspects of fostering, and the question I’m asked most often is about saying goodbye. Fostering is a temporary arrangement, and your ultimate goal is to prepare your foster dog for a forever home. One thing I’ve noticed is that it is ‘easier’ to let go if you have pets at home already. As you get to know your foster, you will see how they interact with your pets and how your pets feel about them. For example; I fostered an adorable Aussie-cross puppy “Alfie” and for awhile things were perfect – he and Bentley played and had a great time together, but as Alfie became more confident in our home and with our family, it became evident that he was a more “alpha” dog than Bentley, and so came the humping (a dominance act, not a sexual one), the food bowl stealing, and pushing to get through the door first. Nothing wrong with any of these behaviours at all – dog packs need a hierarchy to run smoothly. Unfortunately, Bentley became depressed and wouldn’t eat. As much as we loved Alfie, we knew there was a better home for him for Bentley’s sake.
I also fostered three pomsky puppies (pomeranian-husky cross) and you’d think “a puppy – perfect, you can train on a clean slate!” True, but certain breeds have instinctive tendencies… like huskies have a high prey-drive – not something that my two cats appreciated very much.
They each found much better homes than we could offer here.
There are good homes for all dogs of all ages, so knowing when you fit and when you don’t is a necessary reality check. At the end of the day I can’t keep them all – despite however much I wish I could.
Letting go can be bittersweet, but knowing you played a crucial role in their journey is incredibly rewarding.
10. Celebrate the Wins:
Every milestone, no matter how small, is a cause for celebration. For me, the day any foster feels comfortable enough to allow me to give them tummy rubs is a favourite. It takes a lot of trust to get to that point, and I am so grateful when I have earned it. From conquering a fear to mastering a new trick, take a moment to appreciate the victories – they all contribute to a brighter future for your foster dog.
11. With all this work, time and expense, why foster?
Just look at what you can do!
This is Rosie and Honey (now Holly) – our first foster dogs in July 2023. They were retired breeding dogs from an Amish puppy mill and were scheduled to be shot. They were (amazingly) adopted together and are living a very loved and pampered life with a wonderful couple. They brightened our lives for about 3 weeks.
This is Taffy – a golden doodle and another “mill-mama”. We gave her love and comfort while she healed from her spay and the extraction of 11 rotted teeth and an ear infection from the negligence there. She now lives on the water with acres to run with a loving family and fluffy sibling. She was in our family for about a month.
Alfie and his siblings were rescued from a mill that was shutting down. These puppies hadn’t sold and were in jeopardy of being killed. Alfie now spends his boundless energy by the water with a sibling he adores. We got to love him for about 3 weeks.
This is Sweet-Pea (now Timber), a “pomsky” and the result of another puppy mill shutting down. She and two of her siblings stayed with us for about 4 weeks as they recovered from Giardia and had all of their vaccinations completed. Timber now lives with a doting family and has both a husky and a pomsky sibling to learn from and look up to.
Below is Honey-buns (now Maisie) – sister to Timber. She too was adopted very quickly into a large and caring family that included a husky big brother to show her the ropes.
This is Stella (Stella the Destroyer since she ate my hot tub cover), a French bulldog cross and mill-mama to a few litters. Stella is hands-down the most frightened dog we’ve fostered, and the one least-familiar with human contact. Despite her fears, she is slowly coming around and is the perfect companion to our Bentley. She has been with us for about 5 weeks so far.
And yes, Stella is my first “foster fail”. (for those not familiar with the term, it means we failed at fostering her because we ended up adopting her ♥️)
This is Bella – an old English sheepdog Mama that I had to foster because of my love for sheepdogs. She had surgery this week to get spayed and have extensive matting removed from her paws. While she was under they also found a lump in one of her mammories, so it was amputated and sent for biopsy. The bottom photo is not a flattering shot of her awkward hairdo, but an example of how gentle and sweet she is despite her pain. I and the other two dogs cuddled her on her bed last night until she dozed off. With a few more weeks of healing, love, good nutrition (and hair growth) you’ll see the beauty on the outside, that we see on the inside.
I love dogs. My home and heart felt ’empty’ in those mourning periods between pets. Work, time and expense are a small price to pay to get the opportunity to love up these sweet babies and help them towards a better future. Fostering dogs is a transformative experience that not only enriches the lives of the dogs but also leaves an indelible mark on the foster parent. If you’re ready to open your heart and home to a canine companion in need, the journey awaits – tails wagging, hearts expanding, and a bond forged in the paws-itive magic of fostering.
Who knows, you might just find the love of your life in the process.
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