Animal rescue groups share one common goal — find a loving home for as many pets as possible. But before the actual forever-home adoption takes place, many pets spend time with foster families, an often overlooked, but pivotal resource in the rescue world.
Foster parents take in pets and care for them until they are adopted so the animals don’t remain in shelters. Some animals may require recovery and rehabilitation following an injury, more socialization before joining families with multiple pets or removal from a shelter that’s been exposed to a highly contagious disease, experts say.
Nancy Minion, co-founder and president of highly rated Second Chance Animal Rescue in St. Paul, Minnesota, says her organization couldn’t function without foster families. “Our rescue organization doesn’t have a physical location,” she says. “It’s all volunteers. All of our animals are in foster homes. Without fosters, we wouldn’t exist.”
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Minion says Second Chance works with about 100 foster families, who at any given time provide foster care for about 75 animals.
Janet Mellinger, special placements coordinator at highly rated FACE Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic in Indianapolis, says her organization usually fosters 150 to 175 cats at a time during the spring and summer, but the number decreases in the fall and winter when kitten season ends.
“For people who are on the fence about adopting — maybe they don’t know how their dog or other cat will react to a new cat — I would definitely recommend fostering,” Mellinger says.
While rescue groups typically look for foster homes for dogs and cats, some look for foster parents for more exotic pets. Angie’s List member Kayla Madden of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, says she’s fostered dozens of rabbits, as well as three dogs. She started fostering to find the right companion for her pet rabbit, Ralphie.
“When I decided to get a companion bun for Ralphie, I decided to foster a few buns to see which one would be the best fit for Ralphie,” she says. “Once I found his match, I just kept fostering.”
Mellinger says FACE currently houses 125 cats in foster homes — a larger number than they typically see in the winter — partially due to an increased need caused by an illness outbreak at a local shelter.
“About a month ago, we heard that there was a panleukopenia outbreak at Indianapolis Animal Care & Control, and that the shelter was planning to euthanize upward of 100 cats to control spread of the disease,” Mellinger says. “We knew that the shelter didn’t have the funding and resources to properly manage that volume of cats who’d potentially been exposed.
“FACE, along with other rescue organizations, stepped up to pull as many cats as we could,” she says. FACE took 74 cats directly from the shelter and agreed to take in any strays that were surrendered during the two-week decontamination period. “In total, we pulled about 120 cats from IACC in a three-week span,” Mellinger adds. “So, being a spay/neuter clinic and not an animal shelter, you can imagine we had a space issue.”
Mellinger says FACE then turned to foster homes. While she attributes word of mouth as her most powerful tool to recruit fosters, she refers to social media as a saving grace. “If we need help, we can usually post a plea for fosters, and the community steps up,” she says. “It’s wonderful!”
Madden says she continues fostering to help improve animals’ lives. “You’re saving a life,” she says. “Not only that, but fostering increases an animal’s chances of getting adopted. As a foster parent, you are the first to discover the pet’s personality, which can go a long way in placing your foster pet in the right forever home.”
She says she once fostered for a few months a pit bull with a severe injury that required surgery and physical therapy. Even though the pit bull found her forever home more than a year ago, Madden still feels the impact of fostering her. “That was a life-changing experience for me, and I still tear up every time I think about her,” she says.