We’ve all done it. You’re scrolling through animal rescue videos late at night and sobbing, it’s all very casual. You see the dog get rescued and be fostered, then be put up for adoption. You scan through the comments through tears, and see floods of “I don’t know how you foster, it must be so hard to give them away!” or “I could never do it!” or “Why don’t you just keep them?” 

And we get it. We used to think that too! It seems so hard to take in an animal and not want to keep them forever. But there is a reason why fostering is so important.

The truth is, approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs. That is an insane amount of animals and is completely overwhelming for the approximate 13,500 animal shelters and rescues across the United States. Many of these rescues are short on money, or run solely off donations. Some don’t even have brick and mortar buildings and rely on fosters just to stay afloat. 

There are a few reasons why fostering is so important.

  • It frees up a spot at the shelter or rescue so they can help another dog.

  • It gives your foster dog the time they need to decompress and prepare for adoption.

  • Fostering helps the shelter or rescue learn more about the dog so they can end up in the best home possible.

  • Fostering socializes the dog to a home environment and gets them used to being around other pets, different types of people, helps them learn manners, and more.

The 5 Hardest Parts About Fostering

Young Fawn Mixed Breed Puppy Laying on Striped Bed

It’s easy to think that fostering is all sunshine and rainbows. Ideally, you get the perfect dog who is well trained, hang out for a while, have a great time, then send them on their way to a perfect forever home.

Oh how we wish that was true. Unfortunately, fostering is not all the glamour and cute Instagram posts. There is some blood, sweat and tears, but it is all worth it in the end. Let’s talk about the five things you should expect when it comes to fostering.

1. You Get Little Information about the Dog

When you sign up to be a foster, you agree to foster any dog that needs help. While some rescues may let you pick and choose, most simply pass the newest pup along to the next available foster.

They will work with you to ensure the dog would fit into your home (ie: not an aggressive dog if you have other pets), but they can’t customize and tailor each fit due to limited resources and space. 

When a dog comes in, they will have a quick health and behavior evaluation, and possibly a quarantine, but due to limited space, they pretty much instantly go into foster care following these events. This means there is not a lot of information available about them. Dogs often come into the shelter as strays, so not much information is known about them. 

This means they may be weary of certain noises, or may distrust a certain gender of person. They could have separation anxiety, or not even know how to live in a house, walk on a leash, or play with toys. The dog could have a reaction to other animals or resource guard their food or toys, they may not even be potty trained.

These are all things you have to be prepared for with fostering, which can be difficult. It’s best to be equipped with gates to block off certain areas of the house to keep the peace, be ready to potty train, and be patient enough to slowly introduce your new foster pup to their surroundings.

2. You Will Feel Overwhelmed 

That last paragraph alone was probably enough to stress you out. Sorry about that, but there’s a reason why fosters are dearly beloved people. They put up with a lot. But they are only human. No foster is perfect, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed as you try to learn about your new foster dog.

It’s guaranteed the foster dog is overwhelmed, so it’s not surprising that you are. You are trying to see what they like and dislike, make them comfortable, figure out their past and prepare them for the future. It’s normal to become frustrated by an accident, or overwhelmed when they don’t listen. It’s how you cope with it that matters.

Many rescues are willing to work with you in terms of supplies and training to lessen the burden. Financially, the rescue almost always pays for food, supplies, and even sometimes training. It’s okay to ask for help from the rescue or fellow fosters with experience! The foster world is a great place and full of connections to help you help your foster pooch.

3. The Dogs You Get are Often Untrained

Like we mentioned earlier, not every dog comes in as a surrendered pet. Many have lived lives of neglect. Some have lived outside their entire life, or only in a cage, so they won’t have perfect manners in the house. You may foster a three-year-old dog who has the social skills and training of a 9 week-old-puppy, so it is up to you to help them learn the basics. 

This can be overwhelming, especially if you expect a well-trained dog, but there are many training resources for free online and a network of fosters across the country that have had similar experiences and can offer advice.

4. Some Days Will be Harder than Others 

Just like with anything else in life, there will be good days and bad days. Some days your foster dog may be the most amazing dog in the world, and those are the best days. They’ll listen to sit and stay, and you think you’re really making a difference.

Then there will be days that are tough, where you feel like it’s impossible to teach this dog everything they need to know. There will be accidents and days where you’re convinced that you’re not making a difference at all for this dog, but the truth is you are. Fostering is all about small victories. 

When you feel down and defeated, remember that your foster dog is learning right along with you. They may feel they are disappointing you, so it’s important to be positive. If you need inspiration, check out these foster success stories.

5. The Hardest Part is Saying Goodbye

And there it is, the hardest part, the goodbye. This little terror has pooped on your floor, eaten approximately 25 dog beds, snatched the delicious food right off your plate, and now you have to say goodbye.

Even with all the frustration or tough moments, they make up for it with that first tail wag or the warm cuddles on a rainy day. You watch them fall in love with life and it’s all because of you, then you send them on their way to a different home to make new memories.

While the goodbye is difficult, there is also peace knowing you saved a life and have room to save another now.

The 5 Best Things About Fostering

Young woman with worker choosing which dog to adopt from a shelter.

Alright, now that we’ve scared you, let’s talk about the good parts of fostering, the sunshine and rainbows, the puppy eyes and wet kisses, and so much more.

1. Fostering Helps You Grow as a Person

You will never feel more humble than when you foster a dog. You take in an innocent life, who is scared of the world, and help them come out of their shell and start anew. You learn so much about yourself and what you are capable of. You find patience you never knew you had, persistence you didn’t know you were capable of, and a love for life that feels brand new. 

If you have children, it helps teach them compassion and respect for life. Even if you think you don’t need it, fostering a dog teaches you a lot about the same things. It can help your family grow stronger, catering to defenseless animals’ needs. If you don’t believe us, just read these testimonials. And have tissues on hand.

2. You are Saving a Dog’s Life 

You’re a hero when you foster. You save not only one dog’s life, but two. Because you freed up a space at the shelter, now another dog can take it. Imagine if a hundred people fostered a dog, that’s 200 dogs saved.

You not only save them from euthanasia, or neglectful owners, but you give them a great life with toys, food and love they may have never known. Sure they were alive before, but with you, they are truly living. And that’s all because of you and your commitment to foster them.

3. It’s Amazing to See Dogs Grow

Dog walker strides with his pet on leash while walking at street pavement

As we mentioned, when a foster pup arrives, they are usually scared and nervous. They may hide, withdraw, even seem a bit angry or aggressive out of fear. As they come out of their shell, you get to see their first gentle tail wag, or their first time playing with a toy. For many of these pups, it’s the first time they have been shown compassion or love.

You get to watch them grow up. Whether they are a puppy or a senior dog, you give them a second chance at life. They go from shy and nervous to confidently sprawling across the couch and snoring away. They get their own collar and wear it proudly, proud to be a part of your pack, even just for a while.

4. It’s a Great Way to Give Back 

Giving back to your community is very important. While fostering animals doesn’t seem like community service, it certainly is. During Coronavirus, a record number of pets have been adopted and fostered, which has had a great impact on the communities. Shelters are able to help more pets who need them and communities are able to get stray cats and dogs the help they need.

Your community is not just the people around you, but also the animals. By helping one stray, you’re helping your entire city. There is a growing number of stray dogs across the US due to negligent breeding and care, so fosters really do help save the world. 

5. You will Complete Someone’s Family

Black and white rescue puppy in child's arms

Think about this, you hold someone’s forever pet until they’re ready for them. Remember the first time you saw your first pet and fell in love? Imagine if you never got to meet them how different your life would be. Maybe they weren’t brought into the rescue you got them from because they didn’t have enough space. Suddenly, you wouldn’t have your best friend.

That’s where fostering saves the day. As a foster, you prepare a pup for their forever home, full of love and happiness. You not only complete the dog’s life, but also their owners’. You fostered their missing puzzle piece and helped shape them into the perfect family dog. You helped train a little kid’s best friend, a mom’s walking companion and a dad’s table scrap eater. 

Without you, that dog may have never been seen at the shelter. He could’ve hid in the back of the cage, scared, and been looked over. Thanks to you, he came out of his shell and got to act like the dog he truly is, then he met his forever family.

How to Get Started with Fostering

Beautiful young woman with a funny shaggy dog on a dark background. Love, care, friendship

Have we convinced you to foster? Great! If you’re ready to go, start by researching local animal rescues or shelters in your area. Some are all foster based, or some are brick and mortar who only use fosters temporarily until space clears up or a dog isn’t thriving in the kennel environment.

Reach out to their foster coordinator and explain your household situation. If you have current pets, explain how old they are, their temperament, etc. Mention if you have children, a backyard, if you rent or own, etc. You’d rather provide more information than necessary than not enough. After all, you want a pup that will fit into your lifestyle, for both of your benefit.

Feeling overwhelmed? Petfinder has a great guide on where to begin your fostering journey.

Our Final Thoughts 

Now you know the highs and lows of fostering a rescue dog. You will have some of your hardest days, but also some of the most amazing days of your life. It brings your family together, and completes another family. You save two lives and learn so much about yourself and about compassion and love. So what are you waiting for? Go reach out to your local rescue and begin the process! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Fostering a Dog Important?

When you foster a dog, you not only save its life, but also the life of another dog the rescue can now help and provide housing for. It also allows dogs’ true personalities to shine in a home, instead of a kennel, and increases their chances of adoption.

How do I get Started With Fostering?

Start by reaching out to your local rescues to see what the needs are for fosters and what the requirements are. Be sure to ask plenty of questions and describe your household situation to see if you’re a good fit.

What do I Need to Start Fostering?

This varies for each rescue, but really you just need a living space and room in your heart! Most rescues provide all the supplies you’ll need for your foster dog. Don’t be worried if you don’t have much, you can always add more!