A cat peers out of its cage at the Central Missouri Humane Society

A cat peers out of its cage at the Central Missouri Humane Society in Columbia.

On the road to adoption, dogs and cats may pass through foster care for many reasons. Fostering a pet not only creates more space in animal shelters, but a private home can provide a quieter environment for a stressed animal, according to foster parent Allison Hofer.

This one-on-one care is essential for young puppies or kittens, it corrects behavioral issues in older animals and it allows potential adopters to see how the animal functions in a home.

Before deciding to foster a temporary guest, here’s what you should know:

Choose an organizationIn the Columbia area, the Central Missouri Humane Society, Columbia Second Chance and Unchained Melodies Dog Rescue provide and pay for all supplies and vet care, along with training courses for new foster volunteers.

Charlene Emerson, who fosters through Columbia Second Chance, recommends finding a contact or mentor in the organization to assist foster parents when questions inevitably arise.

Puppies vs. adult dogs While pets enter the foster program based on need, volunteers most often can decide if they want to foster younger or older animals. Prospective pet fosters should consider their lifestyle and how much time they are able to dedicate to at-home care.

For younger kittens or puppies, fosters may have to bottle-feed and provide around-the-clock care for newborns.

Hofer, animal care counselor at Central Missouri Humane Society, fostered a pregnant dog who gave birth but then repeatedly endangered the litter by almost crushing them.

Hofer and her sister watched over the mother and litter 24/7, trading shifts to sleep. In essence, be prepared for more pressing responsibilities when fostering younger animals.

Lifestyle and environmentPeople can foster one animal for a different lengths of time, sometimes as short as one week. Emerson typically fosters for one to two months, while Hofer fosters for two to three months on average.

The age of the pet is an important factor to consider when deciding to accept a foster pet. That being said, foster parents can still work full-time jobs while fostering an animal, especially if the animal is older.

Fostering isn’t limited to households with no pets. Through careful introduction, some permanent pets can get along quite well with a temporary foster pet in the home.

Emerson often has no trouble bringing a foster cat home to meet her own two cats. She joked that the permanent residents teach their foster sibling “the rules of being cats.”

However, Hofer cautions foster parents to introduce pets and fostered animals gradually over time.

“Just because dogs play well at the shelter doesn’t mean that they’re going to instantly get along in their own house,” she said.

The dreaded ‘goodbye’

The most obvious challenge that comes with fostering pets is having to give the animal you love up when another family adopts it.

Though some families “foster fail” and end up adopting the foster pets, some shelters do not advocate fostering with the intent of adopting. It makes it more difficult for that family to continue fostering other animals in need.

Emerson suggests setting boundaries as reminders that the animal is not actually “yours.” For instance, Emerson doesn’t allow her foster animals to sleep in her room at night because she knows it would create an emotional attachment.

Hofer’s solution to the sadness of saying goodbye is quite simple — get another pet.

“As soon as you get one out, just get the next one in immediately and fill that hole super quick,” she said. “The best thing when you’re sad to cheer you up is a dog.”

It takes time

Don’t give up the first night. Hofer said it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when the foster pet doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit when it arrives. It can take from three days to three weeks for an animal to get settled in a new home.

With persistence, dedication and care, foster volunteers can then help abandoned animals enter the homes of loving, adoptive, forever families.

“They get another chance at getting to grow up happy,” Emerson said.

  • VOX reporter, fall 2021 Studying journalism Reach me at elisevmulligan@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700

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