Just thinking about the stress of living in an animal shelter is enough to make you want to go out and foster a litter of cats or pack of dogs. These poor fur balls have been either rescued, relinquished, or abandoned and are now living in — even in the best of circumstances — a situation that is not ideal.
Karen Ogden of Positive Rewards Dog Training spoke at the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging a couple of weeks ago. “Their original environment is frequently very different than the new one,” Ogden said. “If you have a dog, for instance, who primarily spent their day hanging out with the family, going out for runs, all of a sudden going into a shelter system, they are now in a kennel with a hard cement floor. They have dogs all around them that are equally stressed and barking. Same thing with cats and other animals.”
This is stressful for them, she said, and it isn’t good for the animals to stay long in a kennel situation. Fostering allows time for a little transition, for some decompression so they can start to settle down and better relax, she said. “Having been bounced around moving into and then through the shelter to your house, relaxing is key as it helps them transition more easily to their forever home.”
Ashley Medeiros, director and founder of Sandy Paws Rescue on the Island, fosters dogs out before they find a home, and she says fostering isn’t as difficult as you might think. “Fostering is much easier than some people may think, and it’s a very rewarding experience,” Medeiros says. “A lot of people think it requires being home all day, etc. We really just need a safe place for these pups to land and learn how to just be a dog. Some cases are needier than others, but we match that need to each individual foster’s ability. We provide collar, leash, food, crate, toys, and handle vetting. Some need training with our trainers and we handle that cost also. Some fosters enjoy learning from our trainers, and it helps them to be able to feel confident for the next dog they foster, and gives them the tools to better help a dog in need find a home faster.”
Ogden says that coming out of their original homes is a big style change for these dogs and cats. Some adapt better than others. But animals in most cases are happier when things are predictable. Just like us, you put them in a new situation, and they are under a great deal of stress. They do best with a schedule to follow so they understand when they can get out to eliminate, when their food will come, and other day-to-day occurrences.
One of the most important actions you can take when you foster a dog or cat is to take some notes about the animal you are fostering — about how they are eating, sleeping, eliminating, acting with other animals and people, reacting with the world around them, how they travel in the car, and their health in general. The more information about the animal, the better the chances of making a wonderful forever match. “If you have that animal for three weeks before it goes to its forever home, you can give them a piece of paper that gives them a whole lot more information than they might have had otherwise,” Ogden says.
If you have animals of your own at home, the very first consideration is to make sure it’s appropriate for those in your care — the emotional and physical aspect of a foster or a parade of fosters coming through your household can put stress on relationships between you and your animals and between the animals themselves. “You can have a dog who is happy-go-lucky and social. It may not be an issue for him, but it can take its toll,” Ogden explains. “That new dog that is coming in is an unknown character. We don’t know how it handles the world. It’s going to be stressed. It may be more defensive around resources like food bowls or toys. Your own dog might be more defensive around them than it would normally be just because of the stress of what’s going on.”
The best thing apparently for all involved is to set up a separate environment for the foster, a physical barrier gate so each has their own space. It gives both parties enough room that they can interact if they wish, but they can also get away from each other. “Fostering can be tremendously valuable in getting animals into their forever homes, but it needs to be done with some degree of consideration,” Ogden shared.
Kym Cyr of Second Chance Animal Rescue stresses that fostering can be key to helping save an animal’s life. Animal rescues can take in animals that might otherwise be destroyed soon. And while you can’t save them all, you can do a whole lot of good by opening up your home and heart to a foster pet. After all, Cyr says, “fostering can be the next best thing to having a family.”
Contact Karen Ogden at 508-693-3708 or email@example.com. For fostering and adoption information, contact Kym Cyr of Second Chance Animal Rescue at 508-560-6046 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and Ashley Medeiros at 508-939-1883 or SandyPawsRescue.com.