Canine Fostering: What It Is and How It Works

The Dogtor is in

Originally published August 3, 2017

Before I get started, let me just say that what I’m about to say will also apply to fostering other animals: cats, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs, whatever you have a heart for will have organizations trying to save. I’m involved in canine fostering, have been for a long time, so that’s the soap box I’ll stand on to pontificate, educate, and encourage others to get involved.

What Is Canine Fostering?

fostering, rescue, canine, dog, JosephineFostering is the short term care of an animal you don’t own. Programs vary: some will provide everything you could need: equipment, bedding, food, medications, everything. Some provide only veterinary care. Most are somewhere in between these. Before joining a fostering program ask what is provided to you and what you need to cover. Get it in writing.  Also ask if they have written procedures that you can study to see how they do what they do, and who is responsible for what within the organization.  Any organization that is not organized is going to be difficult to get along with.

Purposes of Fostering

There are four main flavors, or purposes, of fostering programs:


This program is set up to allow people to “try out” a dog before committing to an adoption. This is rare. You get a chance to live with a dog for a week or two to see how he does with you and your lifestyle. The hope is that you will fall in love with the dog and proceed with the adoption.

In some instances a rescue or shelter will use this sort of program as a stop-gap to allow you to take home a dog that is on a long waiting list for spay/neuter. You get to take her home right away; she gets into a happier, healthier environment; the shelter gets one more open space. Everyone wins.


More common is the program where a shelter or rescue uses foster homes for dogs that have been earmarked for transport somewhere else for their adoption. In this case, these dogs are NOT available for local adoption, they’ve already been promised to someone. You may fall in love with your foster dog, you may want to adopt him, but he’s already promised. You have to be able to accept that.


Sometimes a shelter or kennel based rescue will seek foster homes for dogs undergoing special medical treatments, or pregnant dogs about to deliver puppies.

Some medical treatments, like heartworm, need special conditions and more structure than a shelter environment allows. Puppies have a much higher survival rate in a home environment with a dedicated caregiver than in a “facility”. Not that the facility is bad: some are beautiful, clean, well designed places; but limited staff and the noisy environment mean more stress on a sick dog, or a mom and puppies, and less supervision should complications arise.


Some rescue programs specialize in providing aged or terminally ill dogs a chance to live out their remaining years or months in love and comfort. Think of End Of Life fostering as canine hospice care. It takes a really special person to do this.

Advantages of Fostering

The advantages to the facility with the dog is that they make some room that can be used to save another life by getting one off the street or out of a dangerous situation. The foster dog will receive increased socialization and training, making her more adoptable, freeing up that foster to take another.

The advantage to the adoptive family is that their dog is better cared for, less likely to become sick, and better adjusted when he arrives at their home.

The advantages to the dog include all the above plus having a family to live with rather than being institutionalized.

The advantage to the foster family is that you get to help save a life, mold that life into a well-behaved dog who will be treasured by their eventual family, and have the privilege of getting to know that dog. Some are amazing animals. Some families I know also use fostering as a way to instill a respect for life in their children.

Yes, it is hard to let them go. Sometimes it’s very hard. But this is what we do, it’s how we contribute to a process that is much bigger than just us and our emotions. This too is a valuable life lesson for kids.

It stings to let a favorite go, but that sting is soothed by bringing in another. One does not replace the other, the new one gives us a new focus for our loving attention.

The thing with love is that it is not like a glass of water where you pour out a little here and a little there and eventually the glass is empty. Love is a spring, bubbling up from inside. Sharing that just helps it flow.

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