A Vet Talks About Her Foster ‘Failures’

If you’re anything like me, you’re a failure — a failure as a foster pet person, anyhow. That is to say, you’ve “temporarily” taken in a pet, fully intending to find her a home, only to recant, keeping her forever close, instead.

You may wonder how veterinarians like me, who are confronted by an endless stream of homeless pets, decide to take one in, especially given the limits of our time and the square footage of our homes that, let’s face it, already teem with an abundant head count of pets.

It Starts With Good Intentions

I look at every lost or abandoned pet with an eye toward taking her in temporarily. Picturing her frolicking with my own forever pets instead of languishing in a cage is an intrusive thought I can never quite shake, no matter how hard I try. I’m too much of what others sometimes disparagingly call a bleeding-heart animal lover. But how can I resist a homeless animal when there might be room (somewhere, somehow) in the warm embrace of my own household?

The rational me says, “You know it’s not a good idea. You’re already up to your eyeballs in after-hours animal duties. What makes you think you have the time to sanely handle yet another pet, even temporarily?” In the end, if I decide to take in the pet, I have to accept that this may be an irreversible decision.

That’s right. Irreversible. As in permanent, forever, into perpetuity. Because here’s the dirty little secret behind every sad-faced potential foster pet: You may not be able to find her the perfect forever family. Ever. Not unless it’s yours.

Separation Anxiety on My Part

As a serial foster pet adopter, I’ve committed every sin known to temporary petdom, the most egregious of which involves falling deeply, irretrievably, madly in love with the object of my (supposedly ephemeral) affection. Other notable sins I’ve committed on behalf of my foster pets include:

  • Elevating my adoption standards for “suitable” new owners to match my increasing devotion to my fosters
  • Finding (or imagining) veterinary health-related reasons why only I, a licensed veterinarian, can properly care for my foster pet.

It happens way more often than I care to admit it could. Consider the following failures:
Slumdog, the twisted limbed, hydrocephalic (excess water in the brain) puppy mill Pug whose deformities rendered him strange-looking, unable to ambulate normally and behaviorally challenged. Not only did his limbs require extensive corrective surgery but his canine IQ was definitely sub-normal, his willingness to eat paper shocking and his inability to understand even the basics of housebreaking (common in hydrocephalic dogs) made him a poor candidate for rehoming. Plus, after all the love required to see him fixed, who wouldn’t have found separation impossible?

Gaston, a hit-by-a-car head trauma case that was dropped on our doorstep by someone (who offered us $200 to fix him or euthanize him). After two weeks in a semi-comatose state, this sensitive little Min Pin recovered well enough to walk. Six months later he was still afflicted but he was ready to find his forever home. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to see him go.

Sometimes a Letting Go

Then there’s Emily, the rambunctious yellow Lab who arrived looking like a skeleton after being found wandering the western Everglades. Heartworm disease and a repulsive-looking skin condition almost got her euthanized but we couldn’t give up on her. I kept her for six months, way more than my household should have been able to tolerate (what with her penchant for chasing chickens). Luckily, my failure was only partial given that she found her forever home right across the street.

These are my most recent failures. Over the years there have been plenty more: Bruno, Miss Brown, Tybalt, Lazarus… shall I go on? No, I won’t. Because if you’ve ever taken in a foster pet, I’m sure you understand.

By Dr. Patty Khuly | Vetstreet.com

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Susana Merritt
Susana Merritt2 years ago

Two-time foster failure here! The first one was my husband's fault. His job was to transport Lucy from one city to our home an hour away. By the time I came home, approximately 2 hours after he had, I was "mama." What can I say? She was really sweet! The second was in our home because there was no where else for him to go, according to the rescue group we volunteered with. About 30 minutes into his stay, our other dogs decided they loved him and his craziness. A family of four humans with now 4 dogs and 3 cats! We do love our animals...

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Joyce W.
Joyce W3 years ago

I couldn't turn away either! It's heartwarming to see a vet who really cares for animals & does what he can to provide a loving & safe home to pets who have no one and no place to go. I long to volunteer at a animal shelter & walk dogs but I'd walk them right into my car & drive home!

Deborah Servey
Deborah Servey3 years ago

I couldn't foster! I'd keep every one of them!!

Jan H.
Jan H3 years ago

Last year I fostered 2 sets of 2 kittens for our local shelter. Well, they left the first ones with me for so long that I went back and adopted them rather than let them be separated. They were very good with the second set who were so sweet. I didn't fail the second time simply because I couldn't afford to adopt and maintain 2 more and my husband would have not been happy. We also took in a feral stray a few years ago, had her spayed and vaccinated with the intention of socializing her enough to be adoptable. She's still here. We currently have four cats.

Eleni Panagiotidou

To be honest I would be the worst person to foster or to work to a shelter cause I would want to keep them all and that's not healthy. Sometimes love must have some limits. There are cases of people who are "pet-hoarders" and in the end their love for animals looks more like mere obsession having for example 15 cats, 8 dogs, 7 rabbits, e.t.c. while they don't either the space needed neither the money in order to provide them a healthy life. And if you can't provide proper food, shelter, space and medical care then the animal is suffering. I believe that before we decide to adopt/foster a pet we should be mature enough to realize what we can truly offer to that creature in need and then make the decision. Thanks for the interesting article.

Randy F.
Past Member 3 years ago


Natasha Salgado
Past Member 3 years ago

I know exactly where you're coming from. I'm the worst Foster failure. I just kept keeping 1 after another instead of letting them go to new homes. Finally i had to stop fostering. I volunteer once a wk in a non-kill shelter that's tough enough too.