Why should my shelter have a foster program?

  • Fostering creates space in a shelter for another cat in need, allowing organizations to save more lives. 
  • Fostering is important work that provides so much value for cats and shelters: Care, training, and socialization for the foster cat, plus information and photos. 
    • What do we mean by information and photos? In order for organizations to match cats with forever families, they need to know about the cat’s behavior in a home, their likes and dislikes, their personalities. And they need photos and videos to show potential adopters how cute they are! Fostering gives you time to get to know a cat, in a home environment, which helps organizations learn as much as possible about that cat in order to make a great match for their new home. Fosters learn all about their foster cats, and it’s nearly impossible to resist grabbing adorable photos.
  • Fostering is a more natural way for a cat to live during the transition period between a past family and their new forever future. An environment that feels like a home instead of a shelter is usually best for cats. 
  • When you offer a foster option, you positively impact your community instantly. Fostering opens the door to a giant network of pet lovers throughout your community, and all over the nation, and expands adoption marketing opportunities outside of the shelter’s usual network. 
  • By providing a safe and stable environment for a pet, foster families can help pets heal from any physical or emotional trauma they might have experienced, and develop into the best family member they can be.  
  • By opening your heart and home, younger family members can experience the value of helping others, while learning the best ways to care for a pet in need.  The lessons learned through fostering a pet, translate to different situations throughout life.

What kinds of cats should we place in foster?

  • Nursing moms: They need quiet and safe places to care for their kittens without fear of predators or environmental challenges. 
  • Motherless kittens: From itty bitty neonates to toddlers learning to play, young kittens need an extra set of eyes on them while they grow healthy enough to be adopted.  Have a specific question about this?  Check out The Kitten Lady, Hannah Shaw, who has an entire library of videos all about caring for wee kits!
  • Sick and injured cats who need medical recovery:  These felines often heal and recover more quickly in a home than in a shelter environment. Having a quiet, safe home to relax and be loved, allows the immune system to focus on the body’s needs.
  • Stressed cats: Often adult cats struggle to make the sudden adjustment from home life to a kennel. There are strange sounds and smells, their favorite blanket is gone, the food is different, and there’s no sunny window spot! That can be really stressful. For those cats that end up shutting down in a shelter environment, a foster home is the opportunity for them to adjust and to be themselves while the foster parent helps get them ready for a forever home. 
  • Shy cats:  Many cats have only lived with one owner their whole lives, and when they arrive at a shelter they are terrified!  Fosters can teach a fearful feline that new people and places are ok!  Using techniques from The Jackson Galaxy Project, you can teach kitties to high five and simultaneously build their confidence!
  • Hospice cats:  No pet should spend the end of their life in an impersonal shelter environment. As great as your local shelter may be, a home is typically better.  A fospice (foster/hospice) home keeps a kitty comfortable, for as long as they can, until they can’t. Many times, a cat who was predicted to have weeks left, ends up sticking around longer due to the love and care they receive in a foster home. 
  • Cats displaced by emergency situations:  During times of crisis, shelters may be overwhelmed with pets in need.  Emergency fosters pledge to step up and provide a temporary safe space to alleviate the need for shelters to create space through euthanasia.  This may be during an extreme weather event like a hurricane, a sudden expansive wildfire, or even, a pandemic.
  • Cats that shelters need to learn more about:  There are some things that organizations just can’t learn about a cat in the shelter. The role of the foster caregiver is to learn as much as possible, and share that information with the shelter/rescue group, and all the friends and family you know, in order to make a great match with their new forever home.

Should we provide supplies to our foster families?

Many shelters and rescue groups will provide food, supplies and medical care for pets in foster care, because they would be providing these same items in the shelter.  Talk to your foster families  about items they might need to provide, if any. And if you are providing supplies and medical care, make sure your foster caregivers know how and when to obtain them throughout the time they are caring for a foster cat.

Should we let fosters adopt their foster pet?

Foster parents are taking care of a cat that belongs to the shelter or rescue organization. Now, that foster cat in a home doesn’t know the difference between foster and adoption, but you sure do!  It can be hard to invest your time and energy into training a foster home and it can feel like it was wasted when that foster parent has adopted themselves out of fostering.  Instead, look at it from a different view:  your former foster is now prepared to be a great forever home, who will advocate for your rescue or shelter every time they talk about their new family member.  Keep them engaged by offering other volunteer tasks like followup phone calls, fundraising, or writing social media posts.

Can I offer foster to adopt? Like a trial adoption?

Foster homes are intended to be temporary, transitional homes between a cat’s past and her future forever family.  A “trial adoption” is really just an adoption and should be treated as such.  However, there are also many groups that allow a temporary accommodations for trial adoptions or foster to adopts.  Whatever your group chooses to offer, just make sure that your foster families understand what they are signing up for.  If you need more foster homes, make sure you sign up through the form below.

How do I help our foster parents emotionally when they let a foster cat or kittens go to another family?

Help them focus on all of the happy! Nothing outweighs the joy of knowing you helped save a life (or a whole litter of lives), and because they got their  foster cat to an adoptive home, they can now foster another cat in need!  

It is important to acknowledge the feelings that come with saying goodbye to a foster kitty, and sometimes the best support comes from other fosters who have experienced this feeling before too.  Offer a social media or virtual groups where your fosters can talk to each other and share their success and ways of coping.  

I signed my shelter or rescue up through StayHomeAndFoster.org and now I have too many potential foster homes — I just can’t contact them all! Help!

For the first time EVER shelters across the nation are housing more pets in foster care than in the shelter! It’s an incredible and exciting change in the animal welfare field. The willingness of people to step up to save lives has provided a cushion so that shelters can continue to serve their communities during this crisis, without running into space constraints.  Now is the perfect time to analyze your onboarding processes and find ways to make them more efficient!  Can you offer a video orientation?  Electronic forms?  Can you eliminate time intensive steps that have been proven not to indicate who is a better foster parent, such as vet and reference checks?  Take a look at our Eliminating Barriers Worksheet in our Foster Program in a Box for help identifying these unnecessary steps. 

My staff just doesn’t understand the importance of fostering. How do I get them onboard?

In order to change the culture of your organization, you have to change the way you train and talk about fostering.  Start with something simple like “is it more humane to spend 24 hours a day in a cage or in a home?”  It’s really hard for anyone to answer with ‘a cage’.   If your shelter is at maximum capacity for cats, try this “Would you rather spend your day cleaning 100 cages or 5?”  Again, it’s really hard for your staff to answer that they want more work!  What if you have front desk staff or dispatchers that don’t directly deal with foster pets?  Here’s one tactic, “How would your job change if your co-workers had an extra hour each day to support you?”  or here’s another idea, “Would it be easier if you had foster parents fielding adoption inquiries instead of the calls coming here?”  Remember that not every team member understands how all of the programs in your shelter fit together.  It’s your job to help them see the bigger picture.

My leadership is scared of lawsuits. What can I do to help alleviate their fears?

Ryan Clinton is an appellate attorney in Austin, TX and former Texas Assistant Solicitor General.  He has been able to pair his legal knowhow with a passion for life saving by founding Fix Austin and playing an integral part in creating No Kill public policy for the city of Austin.  Every year at the American Pets Alive! conference, he speaks on the topic of ‘Can We Get Sued for That?’.   You can read one of his more recent articles on the topic here, to get an introduction to the topic.  

I have questions about foster programs that I can’t find answers to? Where can I find more information?

Email us!  foster@greatergood.org
If we don’t have the answer, we can connect you with other organizations and leaders that do!