How to Foster Dogs: New Book by P Miller

Fostering dogs from shelters, as a way to get them into a home setting while they wait for their forever family, used to be a rare occurrence. Many years ago I remember hearing about a shelter whose policies prevented workers and volunteers from taking dogs or cats home with them, even for brief periods. The most common exception in times past were pregnant bitches, who could be taken home to whelp in the comforts of someone’s back room.

Now, of course, fostering dogs is a common practice, and yeah for that. Even the best of shelters is not an ideal environment for many dogs, and is downright destructive to some. However, (there is always a however, isn’t there?), the multitude of foster opportunities means there is a vast range of knowledge and ability of people and organizations doing the fostering. I’ve met foster caretakers who were brilliant dog handlers, and I’ve met well-intentioned people who knew so little about dogs that I feared for everyone’s safety, both two and four-legged. Mostly I’ve found that foster homes are full of wonderful, hard working people who are well motivated, have a moderate amount of knowledge about dog behavior, but are always in need of all the help that they can get. That’s why I’m so happy to see a new book by Pat Miller on fostering, How to Foster Dogs: From Homeless to Homeward Bound.

The book is full of useful nuggets of information, here’s a sampling:

*** A comprehensive list of what to ask the foster organization you’re considering pairing with (ex: whose insurance pays for a dog bite if the dog your fostering goes after the delivery person?). This section is vital, be sure to read it before starting with an established foster program.

*** A short but oh-s0-important section on the importance of taking care of yourself and your own dogs first. I’ve seen way too many fosters who are exhausted and overwhelmed to not beg people to be thoughtful about whether to take in “just one more dog.” As importantly, what about the effect on your own dogs? I well remember taking in a troubled Border Collie for several months while I worked to keep him alive (His name was Blaze, you can read more about him in For the Love of a Dog.). I had four of my own dogs at the time, and they were absolutely paw-perfect with Blaze, but it took a toll on them, and when our visitor left I think the very house we lived in sighed with relief. Pat writes that she’s met with numerous clients whose dogs developed serious behavioral issues after foster dogs flowed through the house like a river overflowing its banks. Neither of us are saying “don’t foster,” not at all. We are saying, “First things first,” and “first” needs to be you, your family and your family of resident dogs.

*** A solid section on the the logistics of bringing the new dog into your home. No matter how often you’ve done it, it never hurts to review the basics here, from preparing the house (an oft-overlooked task in my experience) to introducing the dogs. The latter, dog-dog introductions, can be so complex and variable that it is impossible teach someone how to do them correctly in a book, but this is a good start. Some other resources are the ASPCA Pro webinar on Introducing Dogs, and one I just did recently for them, Multi-Dog Households (soon to be available as a recording, go to ASPCA Pro Webinars for more information.

*** A large part of the book relates to “Care, Behavior and Training,” and problem solving, most of which is good advice, but not necessarily specific to a foster dog. There are good sections on fearful behavior and separation isolation, problems that appear to occur more often with foster dogs than others and without question deserve their own discussion.

*** The book ends with a short but compelling chapter, “It’s Okay to Cry,” about the day your foster dog leaves your home and goes to his or her “forever” home. It’s beautifully written and is sure to bring a tear to the eyes of some.

*** I wish…. The last section, compelling as it is, begs for another scenario, the one in which your foster dog goes off to a new home…. and then comes back. We all know it happens often, and it’s hard, Just plain hard, no way around it. Pat does briefly discuss the “worst case scenario” in which a dog has to be euthanized, but in my experience one of the toughest things for fosters to deal with is a dog who just can’t quite seem to settle into a permanent home, but isn’t the right dog for them to adopt themselves. That’s a tough situation for everyone, and not uncommon I’m afraid.

What about you? Have you fostered a dog, either as an official representative of an organization, or casually because a dear friend desperately needed someone to take on a dog until it could find a new home? I’d love to hear about your experiences, I’m sure we could all learn a lot from them. But I’d especially like to ask foster families one question: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began to foster dogs? I look forward to your answers.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We’re not doing any fostering right now, but I am trying to get qualified to be a volunteer at the American Family Children’s Hospital with Tootsie in the Pet Pals program. Tootsie passed with flying colors, but me…? I’m still working on it. The challenge is that so many of the children are immune compromised, and so it is essential that the volunteers aren’t bringing in any pathogens that could cause havoc among a vulnerable population of children. And so, after a mandatory evening program about volunteering at the hospital, I began filling out the required health form. Have you had a flu shot? Well, I hadn’t, I don’t usually, but okay, got one. Check. Next: “Please provide exact dates and proof of vaccination for measles (both red and German), mumps and chicken pox.” Exact dates? I’m 65 and my chance of finding accurate records of vaccinations from 58 years ago are, uh, small. So I got a blood titer test, waited for results, and discovered that I’m immune to all but red measles. I suspect no one even knew about ‘red measles’ in the 50’s, and so I was probably not vaccinated for it.

“Can I get vaccinated just for red measles?” Nope, it comes in a one-size-fits-all package. So soon after the flu shot I got vaccinated for 4 different diseases. Next question: “Provide dates for two TB tests, each one administered and then read about 48 hours later, done within the last three months.” Okay, I drive in and get a TB skin test, drive into town again and get it read. Negative. Great. Now I drive back into town with my health form and vaccination proofs, to turn in my form, get a second TB test and schedule an interview.

“Oh dear. You can’t have the TB test within a month of the MMRV vaccination,” said the woman at the office. Oh. I’d had the first test (and MMRV) done at my own clinic, and they’d never heard you had to separate the 2 by 30 days. Okay, so first TB no longer valid, need two more. Given that all these tests result in stimulating the immune system, I was reluctant to have yet another set of immune challenges. When I asked, I discovered that one can have a TB test through a blood draw, so back I went to the clinic to have that done. Still waiting on the results. Whew. What happens then when I finally get to the interview and they discover I was a Go Go girl for one poorly considered evening when I was 18? Will I be tossed out on my ear? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of “Trisha and the Great Volunteer Adventure.”

It was a gorgeous weekend at the farm, after a nasty ice storm on Friday night. I’ll  just leave it that our car appeared to be the only one that made it over the steep hill a quarter of a mile before the farm, at least judging by the car in the ditch and the 5 other cars parked on the side of the ice skating rink-like road. So we made it home from a movie and got to enjoy the warm weather (3o’s!) on  Saturday. The sun even came out on Sunday, and I got to go outside and play with my camera. Polly thought she’d accommodate me:

polly in sun (1)





  1. Susan says

    Back in the 90’s I was a fosterer for Australian Shepherd rescue. One at a time, I fostered 22 dogs over several years. I had many great experiences and met many great dogs (and adopted 2 of them). The one thing that surprised me was that you don’t bond with them all. In my naïveté, I thought that because I love Aussies, and these poor babies were homeless, I would respond to them all in the same way. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were some that grabbed my heart instantaneously, and others that never did. I gave them all the same care, affection, and training, but in my heart of hearts I knew that some would never make it into the deep places of my soul. One of those, who seemed like a great dog, found a forever home where the adopters made her the queen of their world, and that’s what we hope for for every dog. Just because she and I never bonded it didn’t mean that there wasn’t someone out there who was the perfect fit for her. I finally learned not to feel guilty for liking some better than others, but it took a while.

  2. Tiffany says

    What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began to foster dogs? –

    There is no rush. You don’t have to introduce your dogs to the new dog at the beginning. Give everyone time to calm down and let that stress reduce. If you are only going to have the dog for a few days, is it really worth it?

    Try to get as much information about the dog, but take it with a grain of salt. Do your own investigation.

    Keep a simple log (or blog about it) about the dogs first days in your home. Pass that along to the new home so they can have a good idea of what their new pet may behave like in the beginning.

    ~~There are more, but those are ones I try to keep in mind.

  3. says

    We have fostered over 140 (mostly) Jack Russell terriers since 2006. What I wish I had known then but sadly do know now is that not all dogs are “fixable”. We started off with such naive optimism and we would work with a dog for however long it took. What we discovered was that the hardest part of fostering is to take a dog who you have worked with for 18 months in to be euthanized because the dog proves to be unadoptable to a normal home – and they pretty much do all have to be SAFELY adoptable. So to sit with a healthy 6 year old dog at the vet’s and have to explain to a slightly sceptical veterinarian that Oscar bites people – that he is a fearful reactive dog who resource-guards his humans to the max – while Oscar wags his tail and licks your ear because he absolutely adores YOU at this point after 18 months of treats and positive reinforcement – well, that more than sucks.
    Since I happen to be the adoption & intake coordinator of this rescue, I am also responsible for taking ANY foster dog in to be euthanized if that dog proves to be unadoptable. So that the volunteer foster does not have to be the bad guy. We always plant a shrub or a tree for any dog that is euthanized on our watch – and this includes a couple of senior dogs too of course who died while in foster care before being adopted – and the 8 rhododendrons on the hillside above our house haunt me. We have fine-tuned our intake criteria as a result – we no longer just take a dog into rescue simply because that dog is a Jack who needs to be rescued. We have become far far more selective. I do not want to be that person sitting in that vet’s office with the Oscars of this world. Because despite knowing we really did our very best, I have not forgiven myself for Oscar.

  4. Mireille says

    Polly is gourgeous (and so is your choice of background).

    Just one question: did you get the TB test and the MMR vaccination on the same day” Because then the TBC test is valid, it’s only a problem if you got it after the MMR vaccination ;-). Pff, they are pretty defensive & thorough in their policies. We Dutchies are a bit more, well, shall I say pragmatic 😉 ;-). FYI: red measles in Dutch is called “red dog disease”. You probably have had it as a child, but blood titers decrease with age, f.i. even people in their thirties often test negative while they have had the disease or have been immunised in their childhood.

    Sorry for the off topic post, can’t comment on the fostering. Since I know I would fail absolutely to have a dog leave again…

  5. Leda Van Stedum says

    Yes, I have fostered dogs and I have also been a “foster flunky” twice. On the first one, I flunked. I just could not let him go. I panicked when a potential adopter came to visit but the man still wanted to meet a few other dogs before making his decision. The dog soon became part of our family. A year or two later, there was pee everywhere. I thought all 5 dogs had become unhousebroken. I took 5 leads and walked the dogs around the house “umbilical style” for several days, taking them outside multiple times. Yes, it was quite a site. It seemed it was predominently one dog with the problem. Off to the vet we went and the vet said it was Cushing’s or Diabetis Insipitus. Tests would need to be done if it was Cushing’s. It has so many possible causes with expensive tests to follow. If it was Diabetis Insipitus the medication was incredibly expensive. I asked if my dog was in pain and the vet said no. My dog did not act like he was in pain. For months, I cleaned our hard floors constantly. It became so frustrating I would get angry at all the dogs. I did not think that was good for the pack so I made arrangements to walk him over the Rainbow Bridge. Half way there, I cried so hard, I had to pull over. I canceled our visit to the vet and prolonged it for months. In the end, my chronic illnesses got worse and of course, Rainbow Bridge became the answer. Almost magically, the floors seemed to remain clean for days.

    The second was an easy case, except my legs were in danger when sleeping. She ducked quickly under the covers but growled everytime I moved in my sleep. She had her own little bed and was even able to cover herself up with a blanket, so the bed went in a crate and that took care of that. Within a week I was asked to visit a family and determine if their dog would get along with the foster dog. Their dog was a mellow old sweetie and really did not care that she was there. She was readily approved to be adopted.

    The third dog was an 8 month old, just neutered horny toad. He was mounting everything all the time! He was incredibly smart and thanks to a clicker, I was able to teach him to unmount my dogs and jump up on the sofa bolster and sit. I would have loved doing Obedience Trials with him in my younger years, but I was not feeling well so I was very happy when he was adopted quickly.

    The fourth foster spent the first three years as a stud in a puppy mill. He was unsocialized to both humans and somewhat to other dogs. I put him on a 25 foot lead (with the handle cut off so it would not catch anywhere.) He would not allow eye contact without fleeing. Fortunately I had studied dog body language intensely. He would lay away from us in a tight little egg shape and if we looked at him or got up to get water, he would spring open and run. Thankfully obedience training had taught me to dip the shoulder when I got up to get something. My study of body language told me to look small and NOT to look at him. That 25 foot lead was his safety and my only connection to him. It also taught him to follow me. He did have one potential adopter, a couple going to college and studying psychology. As soon as they adopted another dog, we snatched our foster dog up. He was making progress and I was learning so much! One time as he was first learning to play, he put his teeth on my wrist and bit down a little, then harder and harder. I bled but did not say a thing. When he saw blood, he was mortified, sinking lower trying hard to appease me. He is 11 years old now a bit skiddish at times, but almost normal. He is presently sleeping with his head on my leg.

    Later I was asked by another organization to take in a chow mix 5 months after Hurricane Katrina. This dog was tied to a street sign and thrown food to by rescue teams. I don’t know why it took 5 months to rescue him but as we know that was a time of frustration and confusion in that area and in our nation. This dog became very territorial of “his space.” They had him in a kennel and they knew he needed more room and a homelike situation before he was adopted. He was in our home and making progress. We were doing the “Nothing in Life is Free” program because of his resource guarding. One day I was feeding him by hand outside on the deck (stupidly) sitting in a corner chair. This dog stood on hind legs and stared at me eye to eye. I slowly looked away, dropped the food, and made my escape. My husband scoffed at the story (he loved that dog), the foster people scoffed, so he remained in my home. I doubted myself, a lot! Later my 25 year old son came in through the door to say hello to me. This dog sunk his teeth into my son’s elbow. My son was wise enough not to react or rip his arm away from the dog so the dog let go. Fortunately this group had a sanctuary and possibly the dog still lives there.

    Yes, fostering was very hard on my dogs. My ten year old Mini Aussie became ill with Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia but fortunately it is in remission. I can’t say his disease was related to fostering because we lost one of our sons, lost 4 pets and adopted a three year old Tibetan Spaniel mix. We have a cozy pack of three plus a cat who are peaceful and joyful. If we lose the 10 and/or 11 year old dogs, we would like to take in one or two old dogs to foster or adopt for as long as we have the health and money to do so.

  6. Julia says

    I have fostered several dozen dogs so far. I thought I knew what I was getting into. I thought I knew a lot about dogs – both training and care. I thought that one rescue organization was as good as the next. I believed the rescues when they said “fostering is free!” (obviously they don’t include the cost of extra cleaning supplies, gas, destruction of property, etc in that equation). I thought I was jaded about how horrible some people are to animals. I wish I had known how much I really didn’t know about all of this when I began fostering.

    I think it is hard to really comprehend what fostering is all about until you are bathing your puppy mill foster for the 5th time in one day, comforting the terrified little guy even as you try to rinse the urine stains out of his paws, trying to remember if you have showered yourself that day! Or how bad your heart will hurt from joy the first time he sits by the door and whines to go out. Or the awfully wonderful day he finally finds a fur-ever home. I have only had one of my former fosters returned. I will spare you the details, but suffice to say the adopter had undone nearly everything we had accomplished with the sweet little girl. I am much more cynical about humans now.

    That being said, I love fostering. I love being able to help a dog and to watch them blossom.

    I think the thing that surprises me the most is how incredibly much I have learned about dogs in the past few years. I have had dogs pretty much my whole life and have spent a lot of time educating myself about them, but there is nothing like having a different dog with a different background and a different temperament every month or so to really drive home how unique and special each dog is.

    I think it is definitely true that you need to take care of you and yours first, and that was most definitely the hardest thing for me to learn. It is so hard when you work with a rescue and see how many dogs are killed every year. But I realized that if I didn’t take time to spoil my own babies and to get my own stuff done, I wouldn’t be much use to the dogs who needed fostering.

  7. says

    I fostered for aussie rescue a year and a half ago. The dog I fostered had lots of issues, extreme reactivity being the worst one, barking when left alone and cat-chasing came in close seconds. I thought that because I was allowed to foster in a one-bedroom apartment, I should. I ended up passing him along to another foster family after 3 months, and to my surprise he was adopted a month later.

    I would love to foster again, but not until I have the space and resources to work on one issue at a time. I certainly learned a lot from him though!

  8. says

    I am currently a rep (person in charge of a state) with Italian Greyhound Rescue. It’s a position I have held for about 5 years now. I share duties with one other person in the state. We have an all volunteer, all foster care model. All dogs come directly into foster homes, get the vetting and some behavioral work as needed, then we place them with screened applicants. Luckily most of the dogs we get are easier, but occasionally we get some touch behavioral dogs, fearful and mill type dogs in particular. All of the fostering (and my previous work in a shelter) actually led me over the entire time to a new career in dog training. I spent a lot of time developing and building manuals and helping improve best practices for making the way we rescue these dogs better for both the dogs and the foster homes. We have a great team of volunteers here in Ohio. These days dog numbers are down and applicant numbers are up! The dogs we place tend to stick (we might have a 5% return rate… probably lower). It’s great! I would be happy to share ideas to help other organizations if you like. We have developed a great system to make a spread out volunteer base work – as well as having to still work with the national part of the organization.

  9. Cris V. says

    I foster for a greyhound rescue and I got kind of used to fostering dogs straight off the track or the occasional brood, who was a little older, but all still very adoptable. That was until our most recent foster, who was returned after three years in a home and was twelve years old. A member of the adoptive family has cancer and they did not have time for the little girl. She was in poor health (lymphoma was highly probable) upon her return and we had to euthanize after two weeks of fostering, even though she had a person pre-approved to adopt her. We did everything we could to help her; it broke our heart.

    So, the first thing that popped into my head when trying to answer your question – I wish I had known that a foster situation could end up like this. Although, I don’t know how the knowledge would have helped me.

  10. Barb Tesser says

    We are currently fostering for the first time and I have started a FB page for the big guy. Tucker Tales is a blog about his journey from 8 years on a chain with no shelter and little food to a house dog. I have learned so much I can’t possibly put it all down in this fine little box but I can mention a couple of things. 1. just because the rescue says he seems good with other dogs, doesn’t mean he’ll be good with yours! 2. Crate/Gate/Rotate worked for us but can’t be rushed. Dogs integrate on their schedule not ours. 3. We also put the Nothing In Life Is Free into action and while training the “new” dog our horribly spoiled Labrador has benefited as well. 4. The rear leg grab is a lifesaver! I was able to stop a dust-up that erupted in a very small space using that technique. 5. I will be more careful to gather information about the proposed foster before I accept the dog into our home. My dogs deserve consideration first. All that said, after 53 days doing the gate and rotate thing all 4 of our dogs are finally sharing space. I’m hopeful that the worst is over and we can consider it a 4 dog pack! Anyone reading this who wants to follow Tucker’s story can do so by sending a friend request to Tucker Tales on Facebook. There are tons of pictures of him and his new siblings posted there and a day to day description of all he and we have accomplished as well as the mistakes we made.

  11. Felicia says

    I go to a rescue/foster friend’s house every other weekend and clean pens and food bowls for a couple of hours. I want to thank all of you who do foster work – most sincerely, thank you. Kyra, my heart goes out to you, and I wish you peace.

  12. says

    I gave up fostering for quite a while due to my own dogs’ needs, and just recently fostered again. My life and work schedule is wacky enough that long term fostering isn’t really a good idea, but I’m willing to do short term fosters, so I took in a female that someone else sprung, with a definite date for her to get picked up. Worked out just fine, but was made more interesting by the fact that neither the shelter nor the person who sprung her realized she was in season! I picked her up in the dark, so didn’t realize till I got home- to my 10 month old intact male and my 6 year old intact female who wasn’t keen on having another intact bitch in the house! She spent more time crated than I liked, but seemed the best option.

    I’ve found the regulations of several therapy dog groups to be excessive and disheartening. I’m a nurse, for crying out loud, taking care of sick people every day, but I wouldn’t be able to pass those tests, and am not willing to make my dogs eat commercial food (some organizations don’t allow the dogs to be fed raw).

  13. Jan McAfee says

    I’ve fostered and rehabbed more than 20 dogs in the last decade or so, most of them schipperkes. The one thing I’ve learned is just how important routine and absolute consistency is for a dog. Once they know what to expect, every day, they settle in and any anxiety subsides.

    I’ve only had one “failed” foster. She was almost untouchable but bonded strongly with me after a few days. I was afraid she would never be able to trust anyone else if I sent her on to a new home. It didn’t hurt that she was tiny, cute and perfectly well behaved! 9 years later she is a very happy dog and will let just about anyone do a full body massage on her now.

    There were a few others I was tempted to keep, but there always seemed to be a reason that they couldn’t stay, such as they didn’t like the cats, or the cats didn’t like them, or they couldn’t do stairs. And all of those dogs found wonderful forever homes, so I know they just weren’t meant for me.

    One other thing I’ve learned is exactly what you mentioned above – if the foster dog causes any trouble with my personal dogs, they have to go to another foster home. My dogs do half the rehabbing, so they must be happy with the houseguest. I’ve only had two so far that this happened with. I’ve learned to be more careful about what I agree to.

  14. Rose C says

    I’ve never fostered dogs but have considered it. One of my fears is that it may be hard to let go but I’m sure it will get a tad ‘easier’ with each one that goes to a good home. If and when my home setup will accommodate, I will consider fostering in the future.

    Love Polly’s photo.

    Volunteer program is pretty strict with their requirement — understandable but still can get frustrating. Don’t you wish all that was required is that you can balance a treat on your nose and off you and Tootsie go and see the kids? :)

  15. Joanne says

    I have fostered so many dogs over the years but a few come to mind. My second foster dog ever was one that needed “evaluation” to see if he was adoptable. After 4 months of love, care and some wonderful training, I remember the day where he was on my fence barking enough to foam at a couple with a baby stroller across the street. He was unpredictable and you just could never tell what set him off. That moment was the hardest for me. I had to consider what “could” happen should my fence ever fail or an accident ever happen. I shed lots of tears, told him I was so sorry and let him go in my arms after a long day of play, a cheeseburger and an ice cream cone and a foster mom that couldn’t have loved him more.

    My second case was a young German Pinscher with self control issues. She was a Ferrari that went from zero to 100 in 5 seconds. I thought I was a much better trainer than I actually was. Don’t get me wrong, that dog had some wonderful training but what I missed was her bullying behavior of my young BC. He was a soft dog anyway and when she got aroused she would just target him. She backed him into corners, stole items and just plain made his life rough. She never hurt him so I didn’t see the magnitude of what she was doing to his confidence. To this day I still see the repercussions and apologize to him for it all the time.

    I have a few other stories that I won’t bore you with and thankfully they didn’t have any effect on my personal dogs, but I will say this… Fostering these dogs, owning personal dogs with confidence issues, health issues, mobility issues and a myriad of other things, I truly believe that these experiences gave me so much knowledge to become a trainer. I take lots of seminars, watch tons of videos and do all I can to learn, but when it really comes down to it, I think living with issue dogs gives you so much more than you can read in a book or watch in a video. These dogs become part of your world and you live for them each and every day. They need your help as much as you need to help them, but you get to a point of knowledge when you say “what am I doing to my own pack in order to help one dog”.

    And let me leave you with one last story… After years of gaining this knowledge, I had a dog come back after 6 years in a home. Got married, had a baby, you all know the story… Anyway, Trixie was amazing and such and easy dog in every way but the fact that she was a resource guarder with other dogs and she meant business. I had her for almost a year and had to keep her separate in the house from my dogs as I never knew if it was a bone, toy or a tiny piece of string that she found important enough to protect. I can say that she has finally found a new home again but living separated in my house did no good for her or my dogs. She was isolated and had to deal with that because I couldn’t find a single study addressing dog/dog resource aggression or a trainer that actually had suggestions on how to train to fix it (without using aversive methods). All the dogs were safe, but unfortunately Trixie had to deal with daily indoor separation because of her issues. I’m so happy that she found a wonderful home, but what do you do when you know enough to separate to keep everyone safe but not enough to keep everyone happy. These cases are the most sad to me where the dog is alive but the quality of life is compromised because we just don’t have the research, ability or knowledge to make them work in the foster environment that can actually take them in?

    As a final note, if anyone knows of a vet student looking for a final thesis, it won’t be easy but dog/dog resource guarding just doesn’t have any science out there. There are so many dogs that need this help to not only stay in their homes but to stay alive.

  16. says

    There were no vax for childhood diseases when we were kids. We got vaccinated for tetanus every year, for a long time, but we just had to catch measles, chicken pox, German measles, and mumps. My kid, who is 25, had shots for measles, German measles, and mumps, but the chicken pox shot wasn’t available until after she had it (at 6 years of age).

    So your vaccination records wouldn’t have been useful, even if you had them. :-)

    I am pretty sure that “red measles” and “measles” are the same….

    I have only fostered one dog. I have him because someone was sure he was a corgi mix (“if not a purebred corgi”!). The person who saved him and got him to me had a Rottweiler. Maybe in comparison to a Rottweiler, he looked like a corgi, but in comparison to a corgi, he looks like a beagle. Not that he looks that much like a beagle……..

    Corgi rescue was ready to help me place him, but when he turned out to not be anything like a corgi……..

    I discovered that I couldn’t bear to place him. I can identify with the person who had a panic attack when the dog was supposed to meet prospective adopters.

    So many bad things had happened to this dog (including, though I didn’t know it at that time, being shot! He still has two pieces of metal in him.). I knew he was better off with me, and I just couldn’t bear the chance of him going somewhere else where people might spray him with the garden hose or hit him with chairs (his fearful behavior showed these things had been done to him before he came to us).

    I knew no one would do bad things to him at our house. He’s still here, 14+ years later.

    I guess the lesson I would offer is that fostering is tough, and it is easy to end up with a dog that you would never have chosen for yourself, because he is better off with you than the other options you see before you.

  17. says

    I’ve been fostering for about three years. I’m currently on Dog #23. Things I’ve learned:

    (1) It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say no to adopters if it doesn’t feel like a good match, it’s okay to say no to the rescue if they want you to foster a dog who’s not a good fit for your home, it’s okay to say no to shelters even if that means the dog might get euthanized. IT’S OKAY. Protect your own interests and the dog’s.

    (2) It helps A LOT to record your observations on a blog. Not only does this give the adopters a much clearer picture of the dog’s personality and behavioral quirks — both good and bad — but it’s a tremendously powerful marketing tool that works to both attract good adopters and deter bad ones. Since I started extensively blogging about each of my fosters, and being as candid as possible about their good and bad points, I have gotten a much MUCH higher caliber of adopter. Every one of the homes I’ve found since I started blogging has been just a wonderful, patient, eager-to-learn home that has gone above and beyond for their dogs. I have had zero regrettable placements since I started doing this.

    What I have learned is that serious homes LOVE to have all that extra information, and will really truly fall in love with the dog long before they take it home (which is great, because they are gonna need that reservoir of goodwill when the dog inevitably does some doggy blunder shortly after adoption). And crappy homes are scared off by it, because (I guess?) reading all that stuff seems like way too much work for them. I send them the link and I never hear from them again, which is just fine by me.

    (3) I don’t like doing behavioral cases. This is a thing I had to learn by doing — but, having worked a couple of fear and aggression rehab cases, I’ve discovered that the honest truth is that I don’t enjoy fostering these dogs. I can DO it, and (immodestly) I can do a good job of it… but it’s not fun for me. And the need is still so great in some parts of the country that personally I would rather save four or five good, easy, highly adoptable dogs than spend the same amount of time rehabbing one iffy dog. Time = lives. Spending months rehabbing one borderline case means letting several other dogs die for lack of space — and even then, you have to spend more time finding just the right safe, skilled, patient adoptive home instead of just handing a family their dreamed-of easygoing pet. That’s not easy. So I don’t do it anymore.

    I appreciate and value the volunteers who WILL do rehab cases, because it is a hard and emotionally draining task for sure, but I am not among their number any longer.

  18. Trisha says

    To Merciel: Truly excellent advice for everyone, from it being okay to say “no,” to providing detailed notes about the dog’s behavior, both as a screen for serious adopters and a wonderful way to convey important information. I especially appreciate your acknowledgement of your own boundaries. Good for you for deciding what kind of case works for you, and what doesn’t. Yes yes, those problem dogs need homes too, but we all have to decide wha our limits and strengths are, and play to those. Good for you for knowing how you can help best.

  19. Laura says

    I’ve fostered dogs for 3 different organizations over the past 11 years and have truly lost count of how many have passed through my doors but it is likely in the 100 range, give or take a few. I have had many dogs that were considered “difficult dogs” — not really unsafe or unadoptable, but needing the right situation. Many of these difficult dogs I fostered I had for 12 – 18 months. Most either needed an environment that was not overly stimulating, with adult-only homes, or ones that truly understood how to be a leader that is both understanding and firm. (The dogs I fostered were primarily Dobermans and border collies — both with pretty specific placement needs and not the kinds of dogs that can go just anywhere as a general rule.) Others were much easier and fit into many situations so they came and went more quickly. I am fostering very little these days due to my work load. I have some guilt associated with not fostering but I really need some peace and tranquility, or at least as much as I can with 6 of my own dogs! I still do volunteer work on a smaller scale for two of these organizations but severed ties with the third.

    It’s a bit hard to put myself back to when I started fostering, but the biggest things I wished I had known then that I know now are:

    1) How to better read dog body language and what it communicates. I suggest to all people that want to foster dogs to study up on this as much as possible, watch videos, read as much as you can, etc. I am certain that I had some squabbles in the early years between foster dogs and/or my own dogs that I could have avoided if I had only known how to better read their nonverbal communication.

    2) If you don’t have an external source setting limits on your volunteer foster work (a spouse, a zoning ordinance, your homeowners insurance), make sure that you establish some reasonable parameters for what you will do and STICK WITH THEM. It is very, very easy to get sucked into taking in just one more foster and before you know it, you never have a break and have 5 of them in your house and you have no life outside of fostering (and no friends that are brave enough to come to your house). Many of us that do this kind of thing are over-achievers by nature anyway and it is very easy to get over-committed. If you are one of those people that finds great joy and satisfaction in having 10 foster dogs, then the more power to you; but if you are not, don’t feel guilty about it. Every little bit you can do helps!

    3) Prioritize yourself, your family and your dogs. Make up a note card and post it on your bathroom mirror so you don’t forget!

    4) Go very slowly with giving the new dog freedoms in the home, mingling with other resident or foster dogs, and set a consistent schedule and routine. Dogs that are in rescue have commonly either just been dropped off by their owners (the owner turn in, which is often the most heartbreaking to watch the dog go through the confusion and anxiety of being left behind), or in shelters or different homes, often different transporters, and are totally confused. Their world has been turned upside down. The best thing to do for them is to let them rest in a quiet location, taking in the sounds and smells of the home. The last thing they need to deal with is strange people and dogs in their face or a lot of behavioral expectations. Remember that they don’t yet know “the rules.”

    5) Learn to be a leader that is kind but firm, compassionate yet not a push-over. Fostering is not about just showering “the poor dog” with love, but is about guiding them into their new life as a good citizen. That requires benevolent leadership. With many foster dogs you will need to say “No. Listen, I really mean no! Let’s do this instead.” Others are reserved and scared and need to find some self-confidence. Each is very different and your role as a leader is to figure out what works for each dog.

    Some foster dogs are hard to let go and others you are glad to see leave and just hope that they don’t come back! Sometimes it is just a matter of “fit” and there’s nothing wrong with not connecting with your foster dog. I have several dogs in my household that would be a terrible fit for the average pet owner, but I find their high drive, high energy, smart and pushy characters to be fun. That probably says something about me :)

  20. Elisa says

    “I guess the lesson I would offer is that fostering is tough, and it is easy to end up with a dog that you would never have chosen for yourself, because he is better off with you than the other options you see before you.”

    This. I have one of those now. He’s been here for six months, he has a nice life with me, he’s happy and he thinks he’s my dog. He had a tough life before he came to me, and I really can’t stand the thought of him going to a less-then-perfect home, so until the perfect home comes looking for him, he’s staying.

    Know that if you decide to foster a hard-to-adopt dog (say, a nondescript-looking male pitbull with skin issues), the dog may be with you for a long time.

  21. Margaret McLaughlin says

    I have only done 2 fosters, both for Keeshond rescue. Both were kind of wished on me: the first had been pulled from a shelter by a friend who was the local contact (she turned up at my house at 10p on a New Year’s Eve & said, “Can you take her?), the second was a referral from a friend of the trainer I used to train with. We had no info on the first, since she was a stray, but she turned out to be the only dog I’ve ever known who might actually have had ‘dominance issues’. She would growl if I attempted to push her of my lap or off the bed. I worked with her a lot, & she improved a great deal, but I sent her on to the rescue with a strong recommendation that she not be placed in a home with children. The second was a hot mess, bought at a pet shop 8 months before, he had spent those months either on a chain or in a crate. Intact, of course. The owner hadn’t even finished paying for him ($1000 for what turned out to be a dysplastic dog),but was ready to hand over his leash to the first person who would take him, & I decided it had better be me. Again, I worked with him a lot, but never really bonded with him. I had lost my own Kees to congestive heart failure a few months before, & I just couldn’t forgive him for not being Cobie. I had his hips x-rayed when I had him neutered, & my vet strongly recommended that he not be worked in agility, & at that point I decided to send him on in rescue as well, since the vet thought his hips would not be a big issue in a pet home, & I thought he would be better in a home where he would not be constantly (& unfavorably) compared to the dog I no longer had.
    I know several people who were shocked that I could let a dog go if it were not the right ‘fit’, but there were several factors operating. I’ve had lots of practice is sending the guide dog puppies on their way. I need a dog to train for competition. I have retired dogs of my own, & a new guide puppy every year. AND I’m already violating my town’s 2 dog limit. I hate to invoke a cliché here, but you do have to make choices, & I think my calling is raising guide dog puppies, not fostering.

  22. Trisha says

    Good points, Robin. I define “freeze” as more than stopping. I see it as going stiff and still, which to me is a sign of serious trouble, at least, potentially. But I see that people can define it a number of ways. Perhaps “freeze” means more to us in the northland right now? Where “frozen” means stiff, still and hard as a rock!

  23. says

    We have a dog who came from a foster home. He’s a great dog, and I’ve grown ridiculously fond of him. We picked him up at a highway rest stop and haven’t regretted a second of our experience. Thanks to everybody who fosters, you are awesome!

  24. Marcia in NorCal says

    No fosters yet, but Husband will consider it when our two (elderly) BCs have left us. I think we can do this and I hope we can do it well. Books such as Pat’s (and Tricia’s!!) will help.

  25. says

    I used to foster quite a bit for a few organizations, and have been thinking about it a lot lately, now that I took some time off. The things I wished I knew going in were first- Not all organizations are the same, or reputable. We went through a few before we settled with a proper rescue that was doing things right. Second is that dogs are going to die. In our city only about 40% of the dogs going into the city shelter make it out alive. I see so many people that are trying to save every dog they can, but at the sacrifice of their own dogs or their own lives. Some foster coordinators (the bad ones) are very pushy, shame people when they say no, and push the pictures of all the dogs the city killed yesterday in your face. You need to have a tough skin, go in prepared and be able to say no, or walk away and find a new organization all together. Help the dogs you can with the resources you have and don’t feel like you need to save every one. I had to stop fostering because of a feral dog I adopted. I know that in the year I spent rehabbing her I probably could have saved twelve other dogs, but she is smart and a perfect addition to our family despite her problems (although at the rate she is improving she will appear pretty normal soon). I get a lot of pressure from my friends in the rescue about fostering again but I did what was best for my family, and the dog I adopted who would have been put down otherwise certainly appreciates it. I guess what I am saying is it is not a numbers game. If you enjoy working with one difficult dog a year that is just as valid as taking on 50 easy to adopt puppies. Find out what you are able to handle and stick with that.

  26. Katy says

    Being relatively new to fostering, I really appreciate all the information that people have shared here! I’ll certainly be looking for a copy of that book, too. A chapter on how to deal with the returned foster dog would be great, as my second foster dog was adopted twice – returned by owner after the first time and ran away from the second home. For a number of reasons, I could not keep her permanently, even though she clearly loved me and my dogs, so she was sent to another rescue organization that was more prepared to deal with her need to be socialized with people.

    I guess the one thing I have learned from fostering is that, like Susan said, some of the dogs are great dogs and yet I do not get attached to them, despite them having nice manners and getting along well with my dogs. I also find it interesting to see how my dogs and the foster dogs interact. So far, Yuki has adored all the female foster dogs we’ve had but his reaction to the males has been quite variable. One he completely ignored, other than to have peeing contests with. Another he just didn’t seem to care about, one way or the other – didn’t ignore him but also didn’t really do much with him. The third had an ill-omened start, with Yuki actually being rather grumpy to the poor thing but Yuki also gained 5 pounds in that 2 weeks – once he started on thyroid meds, he and that boy were good friends. Claire-dog only deigns to notice the foster dog when she feels foster dog is doing something she/he ought not do, but this is how Claire acts towards everyone, human or canine or feline, that is not one of her family members, so I don’t worry about it. I did once bring in a foster dog that Claire actively disliked, as evidenced by her consistently standing between me and that dog, so that dog went back to the rescue that same day.

    Red measles (rubeola) are the more serious viral infection. I suspect they are called red that to distinguish them from rubella, which is also called German measles. Rubella can cause birth defects but is otherwise generally more mild.

  27. Annie R says

    One important question to answer is what the rescue’s parameters are for deciding that a dog needs to be put down for behavioral issues; because they own the dog, you don’t. Someone I know ended up in a situation where the dog she was fostering was to be put down for a quick nip to another volunteer, in a situation where the dog had been startled, and she was not listened to or allowed to adopt the dog. Not a situation most of us would want to find ourselves in.

  28. Julia J. says

    I have lost count of how many dogs I have fostered and adopted out. Well over 200, I guess. My “career” in rescue started out with a friend asking me to foster a dog (which we kept), then joining the rescue group, then starting my own rescue with my friend. I also volunteer at the local animal services.
    So, what do I wish I knew when I first started to foster dogs… honestly, it would be that I would become bitter of the human race. I have to remind myself that most people are good, even if they do irresponsible/bad things like buy a puppy and then dump it at a shelter when it becomes unmanageable because they were too lazy to teach it manners. Or don’t get their dogs (or cats) fixed because they “wouldn’t want that done to them” and then they bemoan the fact that shelters may have to euthanize. Then there are the horrors of neglect and abuse. I can’t even look at a commercial or TV program depicting cute puppies and kittens, because “for every puppy/kitten born, one dies in a shelter”. On the other hand, I get to work with and meet many amazing people. I know that I have saved that dog’s life, and (the frosting on the cake), enriched that person’s life. That is what I try to remember when I begin to feel “burned out”.
    An observation I have made over the years, most people end up adopting their first foster dog (like I did), don’t say you haven’t been warned!
    So many people ask how I can let go of my foster dogs, my answer is 1) If I keep all the dogs I foster, then I can’t foster (save lives) any more. 2) my heart has learned that the bit of pain I feel when a dog leaves only lasts a short time, but the joy of knowing that the dog is now in a loving forever home lasts forever.

  29. Debbie S says

    Trisha: your description of the convoluted hoops you’ve had to go thru to volunteer with Tootsie is an echo of my biggest gripe about the “profession”. My dog and I have been volunteering for a number of years, associated with Pet Partners (fka Delta Society), a local hospice organization and a local therapy “club” and the amount of time to which I have had to commit before I can even BEGIN to offer my time is overwhelming–proof of vaccinations, vaccinations themselves, annual seminars on HIPA and infection control procedures, and re-certification to see if we are still a fit team. I realize that there is logical rationale for these requirements but I do think they are taken to an extreme–depending upon the venue, volunteers can be a scarce commodity and to make the process onerous doesn’t encourage participation. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do so I grudgingly accept that I have to sit thru all those repeated seminars and fill out all that paperwork so I can continue to do it!

  30. Nancy Anderson says

    I’ve fostered two dogs so far, as well as a stray cat (who turned out to be pregnant) and her subsequent four kittens. We ended up keeping the second dog, a beagle-chihuahua mix, because he just didn’t get adopted in the ten months we fostered him. A lot of people thought he would play too rough with the dog they already had, or we thought they would be gone too long during the day, etc.. My husband loves him, even though he is not nearly as well-behaved as our own two Labrador mixes.

    A lot of you may know this, but it’s good to wash the shelter funk off of a new foster dog. My lab-chow mix, Marley, seemed very uneasy about our first foster dog. She trembled and drooled profusely until I gave him a bath. He smelled (even to me) like the shelter he came from, and that set Marley off, because she had also come from an institutional shelter like the one he was pulled from. The smell didn’t faze my other lab mix, River, because he had never been in that kind of shelter. His former owner surrendered him directly to a foster home. Anyway, the bath changed everything. Marley was suddenly fine with the newcomer. It was like magic. The second foster dog was freshly bathed when I got him, so it wasn’t a problem.

  31. LS says

    I have primarily fostered very senior dogs, which often means being a permanent foster and providing hospice care. I volunteer with a senior dog organization and work in variety of capacities to help homeless senior dogs, but I don’t always foster. Senior dogs sometimes need a lot of care at the end of their lives. I found this was something that I didn’t find emotionally upsetting at all, but that was not true for all the members of my family. It is difficult when there is something that you really feel called to do, but that is hard for others (human or dogs). I’ve found it’s important to balance my need to ‘save the world’ with my responsibility to make my home a place where everyone’s feelings are honored and respected.
    Currently my own dog, who I’ve had since she was a puppy, is a senior at 12 years old. She has always been an affectionate, but never a clingy dog, always very independent and active. In the last few months she has become increasingly attached to me. I have been around enough senior dogs to see in her the sweet vulnerability and growing dependence of a dog who knows that things are changing. She wants to be next to me, to see me all the time, to lay outside the shower, to touch when we sleep…. I will not foster for the rest of her life with me. Sure she would be ok without my constant attention, but if what she wants in her old age is the comfort of my constant presence, then that is what she will get every minute that I can give her. She has been my best friend for a lot of years and it I want to honor her and respect her needs above all else. I can resume ‘saving the world’ later…

  32. lynn says

    I have fostered for a New York shelter and fthe biggest problemI had was that once I started to interact with the shelter I became aware of how awful a place it was for the dogs, and how slim their chances were tehre. So … I found I couldn’t give them back. It became de-facto adoption. Not a bad result for them or for me, but untenable as a model for fostering. I would like to continue to foster but I can’t do it for them. I already have all the animals I can reasonably take on as permanent residents! I am now looking for a local place to foster for that can be trusted to work with. Many sad stories at the shelter I was working with, some preventable and none, I am glad to say, that applied to my pups. But at great expense in terms of my peace of mind.

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