Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dispelling the Myths of Fostering Dogs

I am not an active dog foster, so perhaps it is hypocritical for me to speak to fostering, and to encourage many to address the myths and learn how powerful you can be in the world of saving dogs' lives.  In fact, I know how and why I failed as a foster, and I hope to return to fostering in the future when the time is right.  I failed because I *wanted* dogs.  There was an open and available role in my permanent life to add a friend or two, and entering into fostering knowing you have a permanent void makes it hard to give a great dog to someone else.  Now with a full house, I do not have the room to care for more lives. It's never fair to pile animals on top of one another!  I also have cats..  and I have to respect their needs as far as finding places to get time away from dogs.  When some things change for me, I intend to initiate being a foster again.  My interest is in senior and special needs dogs.

When it comes to saving dogs, the thing over and over again that really makes the difference is having *somewhere to put them*.  People can give money, volunteer time at events, but it really all boils down to having a physical place.  Amazing people spend countless hours of selfless devotion to physically removing dogs from shelters and bad homes.  Not that money is in surplus, but money doesn't seem to be the reason more cannot be saved.  There is simply NOWHERE TO PUT THEM.

With Colorado being such a huge dog state, we must communicate the need for fosters everywhere possible.  I think more people are able to foster than they themselves realize.  Let's address some myths, that tend to discourage people from taking on this noble, life-saving endeavor:

  1. I can't afford it.  Most rescues will help absorb the cost to foster.  Vet bills, food, you name it.  No rescue is looking for someone to lavish expensive toys and grooming on their fosters.   If you can provide love and attention and some direction if they need training, likely your rescue will take care of the rest.
  2. I don't think my other pets would like it.  This rolls of the tongue very easily, yet have we really thought about it?  Some people truly have dogs that are not great with other dogs, but more often than not, most dogs would happily welcome a temporary play mate.  If you have cats, address the territory needs of your cats and you  may do just fine introducing a temporary buddy.
  3. I don't have the time.  When people say this, I think it's based on an assumption that fostering will require them to work with the rescue more than they have the time to do.  Most rescues will do that leg work:  they'll post the dog's story, talk him up, and get him exposure.  Fosters aren't expected to spend every weekend at events.  And honestly, most rescues have a good application process which screens out bad owners and leaves you with "meet and greets" that are quality and don't take up all your personal time.
  4. It will be too hard to let them go.  Don't be so sure.  Not that you won't love them deeply, but when you find the right match for them, letting them go will be so easy and rewarding.  You anticipate that "next" foster with such excitement.  If it feels wrong to give them up, it's likely because you don't support the family match presented.  This is a good thing.  When the match is right, you may miss them, but you know there is another life waiting around the corner.
  5. I don't want to be scrutinized.  A lot of people dread that process.. home visits, reference checks.  As a private person, I can understand why this is daunting.  With nothing to hide, it can be hard to put your life on display and feel like you need to be "approved".  The good news is, is that organizations do this one time.  They don't come to your house looking for reasons to say 'no'.  They want to be sure you are not a hoarder, don't have a dangerous back yard, and want to be sure your current pets are well cared for and like your potential new foster.  Don't sweat it.
  6. I can't trust a strange dog.  I get it, you don't know them.  You don't want to come home to destruction or a dog fight.  Like adopting any dog.. puppy or adult.. there are ways to ensure they acclimate to your home and your family.  You crate them while gone, and spend good quality time with them otherwise.  An unknown dog isn't like renting your room to someone who just got out of prison.  They are dogs, and they understand limits and leadership.
  7. I don't want to get stuck with a dog I don't trust/like.  You won't.  Rescues aren't in the business of making bad foster matches.  If you meet a potential foster and aren't "feeling it", say no.  Tell them you would like to consider another foster instead.  The rescue isn't going to judge you for that.. they are so grateful to have you.  Don't feel like if you go down the road of fostering that you'll be obligated to foster whatever dog they 'throw at you'.  It doesn't work that way. 
  8. I'll feel bad if I have to give the foster back.  Fostering is a commitment that you will provide optimal care and guidance while you have them. If it is not working, for any reason, talk to the rescue.  People want reliable fosters, but not at the expense of it not being the right fit.  If your other pets are just not loving it, or the dog is not a match for your family, the rescue shouldn't hold that against you.  Perhaps there is a better fit.  And never, ever, let one foster match that wasn't great put you off from fostering.  I fostered a dog for 3 months.  She was not a permanent match for my life due to her prey drive with my cats.  I asked Dawn to switch me out with another dog who may need me more (a sick dog, etc). 
  9. Fostering should be fun.  Okay, I tricked you.. that is NOT a myth.  Some dogs will need training, encouragement, love.. no dog comes "batteries included" unless you are very lucky.  It should be fun.  You should invite a dog into your home, see them blossom, and encourage great behavior.  You help them find a forever home, and you are ready to help save the next life.
So what next?  You are interested.  You are nervous, and aren't sold on the whole fostering thing.  Give your local rescue a call.  Having a conversation with their coordinator doesn't cost anything.  It doesn't obligate you.  You can ask all your questions and get all your answers.

Never foster a dog breed you are not educated about, or you will set yourself up for failure.  A little bit of research goes a long way.  Think about something great you can do this year.  Think about how proud you will feel to make a real difference.  Again, donating money is fantastic.. but there are homes out there with room to spare.  Encourage your friends to consider this great way to save a life.

-Shannon Murphy

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