As responsible pet owners, we make sure that our fur-babies are raised in an environment that enables them to lead healthy, happy lives.
But for every well-cared-for house pet, there are countless more stray cats and dogs roaming the streets―and if they’re lucky, they are rescued from inhumane conditions and placed in animal shelters.
These shelters, operated by animal rights advocates such as Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) Philippine Animal Rescue Team, and Philippine Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) are not meant to permanently house strays and rescues, but serve only as a temporary home until they are ready for adoption.
But as non-profit organizations, animal shelters run on limited resources and are, more often than not, stretched to full capacity (or, more often than not, beyond) and are unable to take in additional animals, except for the most dire of cases.
While this ensures that their caretakers are still able to provide a modicum of care for the animals, an overcrowded shelter environment is not the most conducive space for those in need of medical and emotional attention. Even worse: other strays that could have been sheltered are left to roam free and be in harm’s way, or impounded and euthanized by city shelters because nobody stepped up and claimed responsibility.
WHAT IS FOSTERING, AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM ADOPTION?
It will take the proverbial village to solve the problem of overpopulation and irresponsible pet ownership, but animal-loving households can help free up rescue and shelter services by fostering cats and dogs until they are ready to move into a new home.
Fostering pets is not a task to be taken lightly. Bringing a new animal into your home, however temporarily, entails affection, commitment, resources, and the cooperation of the human and non-human members of the household.
Consider the responsibilities of raising your own pet: the cost of food and healthcare, the time and space allotted for play, exercise, and emergency care, the discipline needed for training and socialization. If you feel that you are up to these tasks, then you are definitely ready to foster a pet.
But why foster, instead of adopting a shelter animal outright? While the end goal of fostering and adoption are the same―to provide a loving home for strays and rescues―fostering is usually the middle step between rescue and adoption. It allows shelter animals to become used to interacting with caring humans and furry friends; the same holds true for house pets, who are compelled to improve their socialization skills when foster pets are regularly introduced into a household.
Fostered pets, or pet wards, also receive basic manners and obedience training, which increases their chances of adoption. The time-bound aspect may also play a factor for some pet owners who have an abundance of love but not enough resources to care for a new animal full-time.
Once you’ve made the decision to foster a pet, the next step is to inquire with your local foster pet program; in Metro Manila, PAWS and Compassion and Responsibility for Animals (CARA) Welfare Philippines, offer foster programs for their shelter cats and dogs.
Potential fosterers undergo a strict evaluation process and are asked to sign an agreement form delineating their responsibilities; PAWS and CARA reserve the right to decline applicants and to request for care updates from their fosterers.
While much of the costs and responsibilities rest on the fosterer, fostering pets from shelter organizations has its advantages. First, you are able to pick a pet ward that suits the level of care that you are able to give: you can pick a smaller pet if you don’t have a big home, or pick difficult behavioral cases if you have prior experience with obedience training. The organizations will provide you with your prospective ward’s history to help you assess suitability.
CARA and PAWS also offer discounted veterinary services and can contribute to the care costs depending on the financial status of foster parent and availability of shelter resources. And lastly, they take in the pet wards once the contracted foster period is completed and have equally stringent protocols in place for adoption.
Another way to foster pets is to personally take in strays: no paperwork and approvals involved, but the responsibility to find adoptive homes for the animals rests solely on you, the foster parent.
Pet ward concerns vary per case, but foster parents will do well to keep an eye on their ward’s physical and emotional health before introducing it to the other household pets. Having a time frame makes it easier to plan the care and rehabilitation of your ward: set realistic health and behavioral goals, and above all, shower your ward with the love and affection that it did not have in its previous living situation.
Perhaps the most difficult part of fostering is returning your happy and healthy ward back to the shelter. Forming an attachment is unavoidable, but knowing that you have helped prepare a pet for its new home, should balance your feelings of loss with joy and accomplishment.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests becoming actively involved in finding an adoptive home for your wards to help ease the transition.
And if that doesn’t work, then perhaps the adoptive home for your ward is your own.
This story appeared in Animal Scene’s March 2015 issue.