Pet fosters provide dogs and cats with a temporary home until they get adopted.

There are many ways to help your community's homeless animals beyond adopting them.

If you can't handle the commitment that comes with pet adoption, foster a dog or cat instead.

Below are some common scenarios where a foster is needed and how fostering makes a difference.

A family chooses to adopt a pet, but needs a few weeks to get ready, and the shelter is short on space. The foster could care for the animal temporarily, giving the shelter increased capacity to take in more homeless animals.

A shelter dog has lived on the streets for most of its life and thus wouldn't know how to act in a home. A foster who's skilled at training could teach them basic manners like scratching the door to notify an owner when they need to potty.

A shelter cat had babies too young to be adopted by somebody who isn't experienced in caring for baby kittens (hint: it's a process!). Any foster aware of their needs could give mama cat a more comfortable environment to raise her babies.

A pet's sadly spent most of its life in an animal shelter and the stress is getting to them. They used to be upbeat but now seem sad all the time. Fosters could rebuild the animal's spirits by taking them home and showering them in love and attention.

Now that you understand what animal fosters do and when they are helpful, let's explore the steps involved in fostering a dog or cat.

Understand the time commitment.

An animal could need a foster home for days, weeks, or months. Be aware of what you're signing up for.

Some pets already have a home or rescue lined up, but can't be transported until later. This is the lowest level of commitment and comes with a predefined "end" date.

Other pets have no forever home. You're providing a temporary home until somebody adopts them. This is the highest level of commitment and comes with an undefined "end" date.

The first scenario often lasts days or weeks. The second scenario could take several months. If you've never fostered a pet and want to confirm it's for you, try the lowest level of commitment first and then work up to the highest level later.

Tell your local shelter you want to help.

Animal shelters almost always need fosters. Don't be surprised when they jump for joy after you offer to help.

Call your shelter or send a message to their Facebook page and tell them you're willing to offer a foster home.

If you have any preference, make sure to specify which type of animal you'd like to foster.

Soft spot for seniors, neglected pets, or long-time shelter residents?

Only able to offer a home for a predetermined amount of time?

Well-versed in caring for puppies or baby kittens safely?

Willing to open your home to a shelter pet indefinitely?

Share relevant details like these with shelter staff.

Invest in the necessary pet supplies.

The transition from shelter to foster home should be a smooth process. That's only possible when you have the right stuff.

Most shelter animals have lived a hard life. They've probably been neglected or abandoned by previous owners.

Your goal is to ease their fears by caring for them with more consideration than they've ever experienced.

If you earn a dog or cat's trust now, the process of settling into a forever home will be less difficult later.

This isn't something to "figure out as you go." The pieces should be in place before the pet arrives.

Below are basic supplies you'll need to foster a dog or cat (ask the shelter for more advice):

Pet food
Litter box
Hair brush
Puppy pads
Water/food bowl
Leash and harness
Flea/heart-worm medication

Know best practices for pet owners.

Fostering requires more care and caution when you're introducing a new dog or cat to an existing family.

One of the biggest mistakes new fosters make is failing to introduce their existing pet to the foster pet correctly.

Dogs are territorial. If you show up with a stranger dog, don't be surprised when your family dog is unhappy.

The first meeting should happen in a neutral location such as a park or the play yard at your animal shelter.

You should also take preventive actions such as feeding the dogs separately to avoid food aggression.

That could mean investing in a separate crate and food bowl to be used by foster dogs.

Alternatively, you could simply feed the foster dog in a closed bedroom or bathroom.

Tell the rest of your family members about these precautions in specific detail.

Interested in fostering a dog or cat?

View dogs and cats that are currently available at Petworks animal shelter.

Interested in fostering a pet but need to convince a spouse, parent, or roommate first? Show them this article.

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