8 Reasons Why You Should Foster a Pet

Contributions from Emily Fromm, Humane Society/SPCA of Bexar County ASPCA, National Shelter Outreach American Humane

Say yes, and help save the lives of shelter dogs and cats. Give fostering a try!

The lives you save and the love you get will warm your heart. If you have children, the lessons they learn from fostering will enrich their lives!

Our simple foster family program saves lives this way:

Dogs and cats, who may otherwise be destroyed at an over-crowded shelter, are temporarily placed with you, their foster family, until a forever family is found.

You, the foster parent, are never under any obligation! You may return your foster pet to us anytime, for any reason. You may foster a pet once a year or once a week!

We only ask that you give your foster pet food, shelter and love. Medical expenses, if any, are frequently paid by the shelter or rescue group. Or, you may be asked to contribute if you can. You can also take your foster pet to scheduled Pet Adoption Days, or a volunteer from the rescue group or shelter can do so.

I encourage everyone I know to foster — even if they’re set on adopting.

Not only does fostering provide an invaluable service to rescue groups and the shelters who depend on foster homes (not to mention the pets themselves), it’s a great way to learn about your own needs as a pet parent. (You can’t know if you’ve got what it takes to walk a young puppy at 1, 3 and 6 a.m. until you’ve done it!)

But I’ve heard a lot of excuses — er, reasons — why people can’t or don’t want to foster. So I was delighted to get the article below in a newsletter from the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society.

1. “I Don’t Have the Space.”

I used to think this too. Then a cat came along who really, really needed me … and I made the space! All it takes is a small spare bedroom or office, a bathroom, or even a corner where you can set up a playpen cage, which you can borrow from MRFRS! While we do need foster cats to stay separate from your own cats, it doesn’t take much space to do that. And remember, whatever space you have at home is probably more than the kitty has here at the shelter now!

2. “I Might Get Attached.”

OK, yes, you might. But no matter how difficult it is to bring your kitty back to the shelter, just knowing that you’re helping to save a life should ease any short-term pain. When you take in a foster cat, it gives us room to help other cats who might otherwise be brought to shelters that euthanize for time and space. It also lets us learn more about a cat’s personality than we ever could in a shelter environment, which, in turn, makes the cat much easier to adopt out. Yes, some cats are harder to bring back than others, but be strong! You can do it! (And yes, I’ve kept one foster cat, but not the 60 that followed that first one!)

3. “My Own Cats Won’t Tolerate a Foster Cat–Especially an Adult”

If you have a separate room, this shouldn’t be much of a problem. Yes, your cat(s) will know there is another cat in the house, and they may be a little upset about it at first. But chances are they’ll get over it pretty quickly, especially if you make sure you wash your hands after visiting with the foster cat and keep the cats from seeing each other if possible. Feliway Comfort Zone diffusers or Rescue Remedy flower essence can also help. Tell your cats they need to help do their part too! Eventually, they will be totally nonchalant about the whole idea of fostering. My cats no longer even bat an eyelash when a foster cat comes into the house.

4. “I Can’t Afford to Take Another Cat”

This one is easy! You can get all your food and litter from MRFRS if you like, and MRFRS covers all medical expenses associated with foster cats! This policy may vary across adoption groups, so if you buy your own supplies for fosters, save the receipts so you can take a tax deduction!

5. “A Foster Cat Might Get My Own Cats Sick”

If you follow basic health protocols, such as washing your hands between handling cats and wearing an over-shirt when handling the foster cat, you shouldn’t have any problems. A sick cat should be kept in a separate room, and bedding/clothing should be washed with bleach after use. We are also happy to provide you with a bottle of heavy-duty kennel disinfectant for cleaning if you like!

6. “Someone Else Will Say Yes. There Are Plenty of Other Foster Homes”

They won’t and there aren’t. It’s that simple. We have lots of folks who will take kittens, but very few who will take adults, and even fewer who will take sick, feral, and/or otherwise quarantined cats. Please help us! Kittens are easy for us to place. But our poor adults need help too.

7. “I Already Have a Foster Cat”

All right. Well, this gets you partly off the hook. But wouldn’t your foster kitty like a friend?

8. Adoptable Pets Are Counting On You!

Fostering provide an invaluable service to rescue groups and the shelters who depend on foster homes.

While this article is specific to cats and, in some places, to MRFRS, its message applies to most other animals and adoption groups. Of course, every organization has different expectations of fosters, but it’s true across the board that fosters are always needed and fostering is immensely rewarding.

Want to find a group to foster for? Look on Petfinder to find a rescue group near you and then give them a call. You’ll be glad you did — and so will they.

Why Foster Care?

Foster care can give temporarily unadoptable animals a second chance at adoption. It provides these animals with an environment where they can prosper. Such a program allows staff and volunteers to provide foster care in their homes to currently unadoptable animals until they are in “adoptable” condition. Additionally, a foster care program can do wonders for staff and volunteer morale as well as promote positive public relations.

Young animals, in particular, and sick or injured animals do not do well in a shelter situation. Stress decreases their already compromised immune system.


Consider carefully before starting a foster care program. Foster care contracts/agreements should be taken seriously. A disorganized or unsupervised foster program can be disastrous. Staff or volunteers wishing to foster one or more animals should first receive supervisory approval. If the foster program includes members of the general public, they should be throughly screened and show documentation that all animals they own are current on their inoculations and spayed or neutered.

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that are transmitted from animal to person. Common transmissible diseases are: ringworm, mites, fleas, mange and less frequently roundworm, tapeworm, coccidia, or giardia. Foster caretakers should be educated about possible zoonotic diseases and sanitary precautions.

New foster animals should be kept separate from the foster caretaker’s animals for at least a week.

Animal to animal disease transmissions. Foster caretakers that own other animals need to understand the risks of fostering. Cat-owning caretakers fostering cats should make certain their cat has tested negative for feline leukemia and feline retro virus. Both dog and cat owners should have their animals current on vaccinations.


  • Future Adoptability
  • Will this animal, after being fostered, likely be adopted?
  • Veterinary Care Needed
  • Does the potential foster home have the resources available to provide needed veterinary care and/or does the shelter have the available resources to treat the animal?
  • Housing Availability
  • Does the individual wishing to foster have proper housing available?
  • Time Taken From Essential Shelter Activities
  • If the animal is to be fostered by a staff member, will fostering the animal detract or detain the staff member from essential shelter activities?


  • A foster agreement contract is strongly suggested.
  • Animals in foster homes must be regularly monitored.
  • Adoption placements of foster animals should be conducted identically to those of animals in the shelter.
  • Fostering should be a positive experience for the animal not a simple prolonging of life.

A Critical Link Between Shelters and Forever Homes

While foster programs are not a new concept for animal shelters, their role has increased in recent years as most shelters are no longer choosing to simply euthanize animals when they are filled to capacity. Many shelters now house more cats and kittens in foster homes than in their actual facilities during much of the year. It is not unusual for shelters to have as many as 200 to 300 cats in foster care during the height of kitten season. A robust network of fosters can be a lifeline during the spring, summer and early fall when most shelters are inundated with hundreds or even thousands of kittens, many of which are still nursing and cannot be adopted yet.

Although well worth the effort, building and managing a foster program can present many challenges. American Humane spoke with shelter professionals across the country about their foster programs and how they’re making the most of the foster phenomenon.