Fostering a Pet for the Holidays: One Parent's Story
This December, as part of the second annual Foster A Lonely Pet For The Holidays program, more than 1,600 shelters and rescue groups are joining with Petfinder.com to find foster homes for adoptable pets during the holiday season. The goal of the program is to provide a warm, loving place for adoptable pets to stay during the holiday season while giving shelter workers and volunteers a well-deserved break. Fostering is also a great way for families to determine if they are ready to be pet parents, while allowing shelters and rescues to continue helping animals in need.
Erica Leigh, a foster pet parent who has taken in 14 animals, shared her experiences with PEOPLEPets.com:
When I decided to stop by a shelter and offer myself as a volunteer, in my mind it was not even a possibility that I might leave with a house guest – let alone one who weighed 125 lbs. Ozzie, a bull mastiff, was scheduled to be put down that week. He was not responding well to life in a crate and took up a lot of space, a scarce resource in shelters. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I tipped my rear-view mirror to see his massive body sprawled across the back seat of my compact car. "Dont worry," I told him. "It's going to be OK."
Thus began an incredible adventure in fostering that has been joyful, rewarding – and, at times, comical. Ozzie lived with me for two months, which is on the longer end for a foster stay. He had never experienced a loving relationship with a person before but quickly decided that having a human suited him. When he was adopted it was very painful for me, but I knew that I had saved his life – which was such an amazing feeling. He has now been in his forever home for more than three years. Dogs in foster homes are significantly more likely to get and stay adopted, since having already been in a household makes the transition to their new home much smoother than if the dog is coming directly from shelter life.
To date, I have fostered 14 dogs, ranging from 6-lb. Yorkies to 150-plus-lb. mastiffs. Some had been given up by families after they were already trained, others had only known shelter life and required a little more time and energy. One of my fosters was a 2-year-old feral Australian shepherd. She was a handful; when I would crate her she would shred any bed, towel or blanket I put in with her for padding. Only one of my foster dogs found his forever family with me. That is the trouble with fostering; sometimes I really want to keep them.
Every foster parent has his or her ways of helping their dogs get adopted. I have found that giving the dogs human names or placing a title or suffix before or after their name (Mr. Bear, Ms. Mystic, Major, Jr., etc.) draws more hits on adoption websites. Last year I had my foster' s photo taken with Santa and then posted it online. He found a forever family the same week.
Being a foster parent isn't for everyone. Many people want to get a dog and keep it for the rest of its life. That's wonderful; we need lots of folks like that. Having a dog is a big investment; beyond the financial considerations are the demands of time and heart. I can only manage a maximum of two dogs at a time, and I already own one pooch. But as long as I am helping my fosters go to families who promise to love them as much as I do, I can continue to feel like I'm making a difference – and giving another dog a chance.
To learn more about the Foster A Lonely Pet For The Holidays program, check out Petfinder.com.