Save Furry Lives by Fostering Cats and Dogs

May is National Foster Care Month, which brings attention to the American system for fostering children who do not have or cannot live with their own family or guardians. Care2 Causes writers will be writing about the foster care system for minors.

There is also another kind of foster care — for homeless animals.

The Humane Society of the United States reports that approximately 6-8 million cats and dogs enter the nation’s 3,500 shelters each year. Out of those who are healthy and “adoptable,” 2.7 million are killed for lack of adopters and a shortage of cage space.

ASPCA Volunteer Manager Diane Wilkerson explains, “the more cats and kittens that we get out and into foster homes until they are ready for adoption, the more space we have here at the shelter.”

If it weren’t for people who foster homeless animals, that 2.7 million figure would be higher.

Fostering helps keep animals safely off the street and out of the pound where they may be put down. These arrangements “are the lifeline for these animals. I can’t say enough good things about people who foster,” says Jane Hoffman, President of the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals.

Kittens and puppies too young to be adopted can get care and socialization in a foster home. Often the alternative is death, because shelters want their cage space to go to animals who are immediately adoptable.

Animals recovering from illness or injury are in a similar situation. They are not ready for adoption, and if they are contagious they shouldn’t be in an animal shelter with other animals who could fall ill. These needy souls may find temporary refuge with families who care for them until they have recovered and are ready for adoption.

While fostering is a very good deed, it isn’t all about self-sacrifice and drudgery. It’s fun!

I have fostered cats and kittens. The first time, I took in six kittens and their mother. One morning when I opened the door to their room a tiny phalanx bounded towards me, six abreast, all fluff and stubby legs and joy. They were all over me when I sat down, rubbing their faces against mine and wrestling with each other in my lap.

Lately animal lovers have been making up new words to express extreme, squeal-inducing levels of cute, having found that English is not yet up to the task. I must resort to one of those inventions to describe my feelings that day: Squeee!!! (Yes, three exclamation points are called for.)

Happily, playing with kittens and puppies is part of the job description. So is deluging them with love. I hold them, kiss their tiny noses, and carry them around with me. It makes cleaning the litter boxes entirely worthwhile.

The hardest part is letting them go. When that first feline family left me I cried on and off for three days, but it gets easier to say goodbye each time. To avoid falling in love with and torturing myself over whether to keep every furry bundle, I instituted a rule against keeping any foster, no matter how [new word alert] ridonculously cute she or he was.

The ASPCA has tales from people who foster companion animals in its Foster Diaries. It is inspiring reading and may inspire you to open your own home to some little bundles of joy who would otherwise lose their lives.

To find a shelter near you that needs foster homes, use the ASPCA’s database.


Photo credit: iStockphoto


William C
William C2 months ago

Thank you.

W. C
W. C2 months ago

Thanks for the article.

Magdalena C.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Annelies Haussler
liessi Haussler4 years ago

Foster homes are half-way houses between the big, bad world and the (hopefully!) forever home every pet deserves. Calling it "fun" may be misleading if folks aren't ready for the realities faced by an abandoned, abused or lost animal: not house-trained, fearful, needing medical care, confused, doesn't like kids, separation anxiety, etc.

On the other hand, it's a great way to see whether or not you're truly ready for the commitment of being the custodian of a living creature, through whatever comes up, until the day they die.

Right after Hurricane Katrina, we decided to foster for that very reason -- to give a dog a chance, evaluate the experience and decide whether to adopt one permanently. After practically rebuilding him, we decided to adopt, expecting him to live a few years more at the most. Five years later, we would have given anything for five more years.

Like anything else, give it some serious thought before jumping in but if you think you're cut out for it, call a reputable rescue organization. They'll know if you're ready.

Gina Gutman
Gina Gutman4 years ago

It's easier to let them go than you think. I've fostered dogs and cats and when the right home comes along and you can see the new people love them you are happy to let them go and have a full life with their new family. And the families who take your loved foster send you up dates and pix of them having a lovely life and it makes you feel full and happy to know you were a part of that process. It is like being a parent you prepare them for their next stage of life. We just took back a previous foster who had out lived her owner and rehomed her again and she is very happy.

So for all you out there who think you can't foster think again. It is very worthwhile contribution to helping animals.

Oh and I have kept a few : )

David V.
David V4 years ago

That is awesome if you can do that. I don't think I woud be able to give them up though. This will save lives though and I hope that this becomes a successful project.

Dianne D.
Dianne D4 years ago

I would be a foster failure. My contribution is to care for feral cat colonies, including getting them trapped, neutered and returning them to where they were trapped and caring for them for the rest of their lives. I also rescue abandoned cats. I contribute to 15 animal charities and that is all I can do. I'm thinking of changing jobs and working for a organization that helps and works for the animals.

Isabel Araujo
Isabel Araujo4 years ago

I too am a foster failure.

Manuela C.
Manuela C4 years ago

It feels good, but I agree, the hardest part is letting them go...