Pet fostering — taking in a pet from a local shelter for a short period of time — is becoming more popular in Maryland and is a way to help animals in need without having to commit to a pet long term.
When Emma Powell’s beloved beagle Corduroy passed away in August, she and her husband, Josh, knew they wanted another dog right away.
“We were heartbroken and it felt very lonely without a dog in the house,” Powell says.
The couple from Annapolis visited their local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals intending to adopt a dog, but instead ended up as foster parents to Chloe, a pit-bull/terrier mix and longtime shelter resident.
“Chloe had been a shelter resident for more than a year and she needed time in a home to be nurtured,” says Jessica Stuby, foster coordinator for Anne Arundel SPCA.
When the Powells first brought Chloe home, she was excitable and skittish around others — understandable since she had been found tied to a tree in Baltimore City with a litter of puppies at her feet. After just a few days at the Powell’s home, however, Chloe began to relax and quickly came out of her shell. Two months later, she is thriving.
“She will do anything for affection and is the biggest love bug I’ve ever met,” Powell says.
Why foster a pet?
Almost 8 million animals live in shelters in the U.S., according to the American SPCA. Many are not ready to be adopted, making foster care a vital resource for saving an animal’s life.
“We try to put animals in foster care that can’t be in a shelter, specifically because of age, a medical issue or a behavioral issue,” Stuby says.
Dogs like Chloe, a longtime shelter resident, can get a break from shelter life by spending time in a home and bonding with people.
“It can be too stressful for certain animals to be in a shelter, and we want to see if a home environment can help them,” Stuby says. “It’s amazing to see the things that can happen for the animal in a home that don’t happen here in the shelter.”
Fostering also promotes higher adoption rates, as it makes room in the shelter for adoptable animals.
“For every case that an animal is fostered, it saves the lives of two animals — the one leaving the shelter and a new animal that is able to gain space in the shelter,” says Nejla Solano, foster coordinator at the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, the state’s largest open admission shelter. “The sole purpose of fostering is to ready an animal for adoption,” she says.
Fuzzy side of fostering
When the Green family of Arbutus began fostering five years ago, they were instantly hooked.
“I went to BARCS intending to adopt,” Michelle Green says. “Three weeks later, I picked up my first foster, a cat and her litter of eight kittens. I’ve had a foster ever since.”
In the past five years, the Green family has fostered more than 300 animals, mostly cats and kittens but also puppies that needed a home as they grew.
Green’s daughters Devyn, 22, and Jayden, 12, both play an active role in helping to socialize the animals by feeding, cuddling and playing with them so they are more used to human contact.
“Fostering has been great for our family. It has taught my daughters so much,” Green says. “They have gained more compassion and they know what it’s like to help a living thing that cannot repay you.”
The family’s pet cat, Leo, started out as a foster. He was found in a plastic container on the streets of Baltimore, and the Greens spent months helping to nurse him back to health. After the ordeal, they decided to adopt him.
“We had been through so much with him, and I hate to say we ‘foster failed,’” Green laughs. “But we just couldn’t give him up after all we had been through together.”
Becoming a foster family
Fostering a pet requires commitment, and families must go through an application process in order to be approved as a foster family. Foster coordinators consider factors such as how many animals currently live in the home and whether a family has young children. The next step is getting matched with the right animal.
“The most important thing is to find the right fit for a family,” Stuby says. “We want the animal to be successful, but it also has to be a good fit for the family as well.”
Though cats and dogs are the most common foster pet opportunities, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets and birds are sometimes available.
“Families can foster any kind of animal, so long as they have the equipment like a bird cage or rabbit pen,” Stuby says.
There are some requirements of the foster family, such as keeping foster pets separate from other family pets when they are first brought home — a “two-week shutdown” period — so they can get acclimated. Foster families must also devote time to veterinary appointments and shelter visits so the animal can meet potential adopters. Although the shelter pays for medical and vaccine costs, foster families pay for day-to-day expenses like food.
Fostering can also have its fair share of emotional challenges, as some animals are fostered due to poor health.
“There have been sad times while fostering, and it can be upsetting,” Green says. “We’ve had animals that are very sick and a few of them haven’t made it. It can be hard emotionally, but the reward of seeing these animals thrive is totally worth it.”
A foster experience is successful when the animal is sent back to the shelter to be adopted — an outcome that inevitably means saying goodbye.
“There are always animals that pull at the heartstrings,” Stuby says. “But when you get to see the animal adopted by their forever family — that reward is so much greater than adopting every dog that comes through the door.”
Green has had her share of goodbyes, but focuses on the end result.
“To know you’ve helped an animal bridge that gap and find success and a forever home, it helps you realize that you can save so many more lives by fostering than by adopting,” Green says.
The Powell family will say goodbye to Chloe sometime in the future, but they cherish their time with her for now.
“She has been an absolute pleasure, and we are willing to foster her for as long as it takes to find her forever home,” Powell says. “Chloe helped us heal from the loss of our dog, and fostering has been a wonderful experience. To see these animals know what it’s like to be loved — it’s the best feeling in the world.”
By Katie Riley
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