Help one pet, save two

foster a dog or cat

Have you ever thought that you would love to have a pet, but you travel on business, or work all week, or have other lifestyle concerns that would make it unfair to the animal? Consider becoming a dog or cat foster parent!

According to the Humane Society of the United States, more than 2 million healthy, adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized in county and municipal animal shelters every year. Rescue groups, which typically are registered nonprofits, work closely with shelters to save these animals from euthanasia and give them a chance at life. And every dog or cat that a shelter places into rescue opens up space in the shelter for another animal.

Every animal that is accepted into rescue has to be housed, however, and for most rescue groups, foster families provide that housing. Many municipal facilities also offer fostering opportunities, including the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. Foster families give homeless animals a safe, caring place to live until the right adoptive family comes along.

For some dogs or cats, a foster home may be their first taste of a comfortable, loving home, with plentiful healthy food, clean water and shelter from the weather. Others may have always had those things, but circumstances beyond their control, such as the death of a guardian, left them homeless, scared and confused.

While different rescues and shelter facilities and have different policies, all foster families provide a home, structure, and an abundance of love and caring for the foster animal. Medical expenses are paid by the rescue group, so even a dog or cat with medical issues will not be costly for the foster parent. Beds, toys, carriers, leashes and collars are also supplied, as well as food if necessary.

While some nonprofit rescue groups have rules concerning the minimum number of adoption events that an animal must attend, others do not have this requirement. Potential adopters, after having been screened by the rescue, meet the dog or cat in the familiar environment of the foster home, which can be much less stressful for the animal and result in quicker adoption.

Guidance and support

Whether fostering for a rescue group or a shelter, families are offered guidance and other support to make the fostering experience a happy, rewarding one. If you foster a dog and work during the day, many rescue groups will arrange for a dog walker to provide a potty break for your foster. And if you are taking a vacation, or traveling for work, the rescue group provides an interim foster home. Most groups also welcome short-term fosters such as teachers who are off for the summer. The Fairfax County Animal Shelter even offers weekend and “Power Hour” dog fostering opportunities, allowing the dogs a break from the shelter environment.

A fan of small dogs, or Hounds, or Shepherds, or giant breeds? Love puppies and kittens, or seniors, or calico cats? Whatever your preference, there is a rescue group looking for you! While many dogs and cats are mixed-breeds, breed-specific and size-specific rescue groups exist as well. Whatever your lifestyle or preferences, there probably is a dog or cat out there who needs you. And foster parents typically report that fostering has been the most rewarding thing they have ever done.

If you are interested in learning more about fostering, the first step is finding a rescue group or your local shelter. Below are just a few of the dozens of rescue groups in our area, although there are many, many more.