What is Foster Care?
Being a foster home means sharing your home with a rescued dog or cat: providing food, shelter, toys, walks, and lots of attention, until a permanent home for the animal is approved. We count on our foster homes to evaluate temperament and observe behaviors in a variety of situations, and we welcome those updates so we can assess the dog and enhance the description on the web site. Positive reinforcement training is encouraged. Most foster care situations require 2 weeks to a month of residential foster care, and in some cases where the animal is ill or older or harder to adopt out, several months.
What You Need to Foster a Rescued Animal
The most important requirements are time and attention. You must be willing to include the animal in family activities, allow the animal to live in the house with much human companionship, and provide some daily one-on-one time with your rescue, including cuddles, play, and walks on leash, with a secure collar and AARF tag on a dog at all times. The dog may not be completely house trained, in which case use a crate (provided by AARF If necessary) and take the dog out on leash, giving praise and treat reward when the dog is successful. Crates are an invaluable piece of equipment for rescue people. We will loan foster homes a crate if requested.
Our animals must be kept indoors except for exercise and elimination for dogs. A fenced yard is not required, assuming you are responsible about keeping your dogs on a leash. At no time are our dogs to be confined in the yard while caretakers are away. These are rescued dogs who have sometimes been runners and escape artists, and we do not want people to have to chase and capture our dog in what can be a dangerous situation for both dog and pursuers. Apartment homes can also be excellent foster homes, with proper attention to providing several leash-walks daily for the dog as well as adequate off-leash exercise in a safe area like a fenced dog park when possible. Proof from landlord is required prior to approving a foster home.
Introducing Your Foster Animal
AARF Coordinators will discuss with you the best methods for introducing the new animal into your household. During this time, the rescued animal may appear shy or submissive, may drool a bit with anxiety or attempt to hide. Your foster may also have been hit, dragged by the collar, or kicked, which you’ll know immediately from his behavior around you and your family. Take it slow and easy; let the animal learn to regain trust; give him hugs and kisses as he can tolerate them; he may be surprised at first, but will eventually relish the attention and return it. You will know the animal is relaxing when his eyes soften, tail begins to wag or sway, and he seeks you out.
Kids and Foster Animals
If you have children, never introduce a new rescued animal to them without assistance. It is preferred to make introductions with an AARF Coordinator present. Never leave a rescued animal and a child unsupervised. Sometimes, even though we make every attempt to uncover all available history on each animal, we may not have the full truth about the animal, and he or she may be a fear biter or dislike kids because of prior abuse from children who had not been taught how to treat animals kindly. It is preferred that foster homes have experience with pets, and that children in the foster family are over the age of 5 years, though we realize many children even younger have a special rapport with animals. We will work with the family and animal on a case-by-case decision. Because these situations between kids and rescued animals can be unpredictable, under no circumstances will we place our animals in homes that run a baby sitting business.
Your Pets and the Foster Animal
Though many dogs and cats, especially those used to their owners’ rescue work, welcome the rescued animal, keep in mind that there may be a period of adjustment for the first few days up to 2 – 3 weeks depending on the rescued animal’s history and personality and the resident animals’ willingness to accept the foster pet. As he becomes more confident, your foster may change his behavior towards resident pets, beginning to play and explore the pecking order. As the resident animals accept the foster, the bonding becomes beneficial for both. Unless the animals get along famously from the beginning, feed your pets and your rescued foster separately; consider feeding the rescued pet in a crate if you notice any food aggression between animals. Be careful when dispensing treats or other high-value items like rawhides or favorite toys. Sometimes what is thought to be food aggression is actually just a territorial imperative that will take care of itself as the pecking order is established and the animals relax. Keeping this in mind, always supervise the interactions of your rescued animal with other pets. When leaving the rescued animal home alone (even if you have other pets at home), the use of a crate or gate is recommended at least the first few days up to two weeks; for dogs going through Heartworm treatment, the crate is absolutely necessary to keep the dog quiet. Confining your rescued pet protects him, your pets, and your property from possible injury or damage.
AARF recommends that all resident dogs be inoculated for kennel cough along with their regular vaccinations, as many rescues coming in from shelters contract this disease and are being treated for it. We cannot stress this enough: the incidence of kennel cough in dogs coming from Shelters is increasing. However, we always recommend the bordetella inoculation for kennel cough in all resident dogs because the disease now has some 600 strains: it can be picked up by your own dogs on a simple walk in the neighborhood or nearby greenbelts. Though kennel cough is treatable with medication and rest, it has become so virulent that dogs can too easily go quickly into pneumonia. Please have your veterinarian include the bordetella has part of the regular vaccination regimen. Also, some dog owners mistakenly think heartworms are contagious: they are not. Finally, AARF requires that all resident dogs in the foster home are neutered or spayed. Spaying and neutering your dogs is better for them both medically and behaviorally. Talk this over with your own veterinarians, if you have any doubts. We sometimes make an exception for certain individuals who want to work with our program to help save animals in the Upper Cumberland, but cannot have their animals altered for one reason or another. In these cases, to avoid accidents, of course we would only place a rescued Sheltie that had been spay/neutered already.
What to Do in a Medical Emergency
We will try to place ‘easy’ animals in new foster homes and will not place a seriously ill animal in a foster home until the family has gained experience. But if you do feel you have an emergency, and you cannot reach AARF Coordinators, you should take the injured or ill dog to the nearest vet who can stabilize the animal until AARF can authorize further treatment. This is particularly necessary if your foster dog is going through Heartworm treatment: any vomiting with listlessness must be reported immediately, and the dog taken to a vet as quickly as possible. Because we are responsible to our donors, dogs, and program welfare, AARF Coordinators are the only persons who make major medical decisions for program dogs. You don’t want that responsibility, and we have years of experience in making those decisions with the clinics.
How Expenses Are Handled
The foster home is responsible for food (if not donations are available), toys (if no donations are available), and in-home bathing and grooming; we are happy to provide tax receipts for expenses and can authorize necessary expenses for each animal (professional grooming, specialized vitamins, supplements, food, etc.); please keep your receipts for all expenses if you would like a receipt from us for a tax deduction. AARF coordinators usually transport the animals for veterinary care and sometimes for home visits (for example, a home-bound family), though foster homes are encouraged to participate in those transports as well because the dog is more comfortable with the foster family. Finally, we will reimburse you for approved emergency veterinary care and medications (again, save all your receipts).
Most Frequently Asked Questions
“Don’t you get attached to the animal?” — Yes, and that is what we want for both you and the animal. It’s fun to get to know new animals, and for your foster animal and resident animals to make new friends, too. Often, your resident animals will be revitalized in the presence of the rescued animal, and you will witness amazing developments in both animals. It’s educational to see how different dogs react to training, how they play with and teach one another. It’s also educational to see when any territorial problems develop and learn to deal with those, usually allowing the animals to work things out within reason, calling for crate time when the problem needs to be dealt with. You will fall in love with your foster animal, which is necessary to his or her rehabilitation and also leads us to the next question.
“How can you give him up?” — This is probably the number one reason why a lot of caring people do not offer their homes for foster care: they are afraid giving the animal up will hurt too much. However, it’s a hard truth, but without enough foster homes, we cannot rescue and save these animals: they will die in the shelters if we don’t have space for them in our program. It helps to think of your foster animal as your neighbor’s pet that you are keeping during a vacation. Sure, you like him and will take really good care of him, but when your neighbor gets home, you will give the pet back! Some of us think of ourselves as the rescued animals’ ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle,’ a loving guardian for the animal on his or her way to a permanent home. This is an animal that ultimately belongs to someone else, who is in our care for only a short time. When you give him or her up, it will be to a ‘forever home’ that this animal has been waiting for–and you will be opening a space for the next rescue that needs you so desperately. There is ALWAYS another rescue animal waiting for us. But, also, after many years of fostering, your fellow volunteers can assure you there is nothing quite as moving as seeing your beloved foster animal happy, healthy, loved, and cherished by the forever home that really wanted him or her and in some cases really needed your animal. It’s contagious, and we hope you will be hooked on fostering, too.
“What if I don’t think I have enough room for a foster dog?” — Our rescued animals are generally small, take up very little space, and won’t be with you very long as indicated earlier. You might be surprised by how quickly they work themselves into the family situation and your hearts: all they really need is a small space to recuperate until they are ready for their forever homes, and they are touchingly grateful.
“What if I’m afraid my foster dog that is ill might die?” — We ease foster homes into the work very gradually and never give a heartworm patient or other very sick or injured animal to a home until they feel ready to take on that responsibility. To be honest, though, we can tell you that if you foster long enough, you may very well eventually lose a foster even with all our efforts to save him or her. Tragically, most of us who have fostered for a long time have gone through the pain of loss because, after all, most rescues are in the program because they have been neglected, abandoned, and abused: and that includes previous owners not giving them heartworm pills or other medical care. The illness is not the animals’ fault, and sometimes the weeks or months he or she is with us are the only medical care, peace, and love the rescued animal has ever known. We have held them in our arms when they crossed over and wept tears for them. It happens. But in every case, if we hadn’t intervened, the animals would have had a far worse experience, dying on a cold steel table at the end of a needle in an overworked shelter putting down dozens of animals every day, or alone, frightened, and sick on the streets. The animals we do lose in our program knew we loved them and did the best we could for them; and we are humbled by their sweetness and understanding even as they cross over. It is, in fact, a very humbling experience, and we’re never sorry we tried to help these animals. However, it’s also important to remember that through loving foster care and the best medical care in our region, we save over 90% of even the sickest animals. Most of your fosters are not only going to make it, but are going to thrive, become unbelievably gorgeous, go on to a wonderful new life, and make you very proud.
“What if I really like the animal and want to keep her?”— This does happen. Sometimes the “perfect pet” comes along, and everyone in the family just seems to agree that theirs is the “perfect home.” Fortunately, qualifying as a Foster Home usually qualifies you as an Adopter as well. AARF is concerned to place our animals with their needs and preferences as important as the adopters’. Sometimes the animal tells us which home is right; and we respect that. Should this happen, and we all agree, then the foster home will pay the adoption fee, complete the Final Adoption Agreement, and assume ownership of the animal. Please think about this carefully, though, as often adoption means the family feels it no longer has foster space available, and we desperately need those homes.
Other Things You Need to Know
- If you have a problem or a question, call AARF Coordinators. If the animal bites someone (actually breaks the skin), you must call AARF Coordinators immediately, and we will remove our animal from your home. Though some biting is fear biting and can be corrected, no animal will be allowed to remain in the program if he has become aggressive. If the animal escapes the fence, fights with other animals, won’t leave your cat alone, or has other behavior problems, we need to know this and will probably move the animal to another home, giving you a new foster. We may also be able to help with management or training suggestions, and will take these facts into consideration when screening potential adoptive homes for the animal.
- When your foster dog arrives, AARF Coordinators will tell you everything they know about the animal and its history. The dog will have a collar and a tag with “AARF” with the phone number on it, which shall remain on the dog at all times (except during bathing and crate time). If the foster home picks up the animal at the clinic or from a volunteer, be sure the collar with AARF tag and rabies tag are on the dog; if not, put them on immediately. The animal will be vaccinated and neutered; any health problems or behavior issues will be fully discussed. The Coordinators will keep in touch with the foster home through E-mail and by phone; we need occasional updates on the dog’s progress for our records and the web site descriptions, so the foster home would need to be available to exchange information with the Coordinators at least every couple of weeks. We also appreciate updated pictures for the web site if you can help with that. Foster homes need to administer prescription medications and HW preventative (provided by AARF), crate a dog going through HW treatment, follow all veterinarian directions, alert AARF officials of any medical emergencies or if the animal is being taken out of town or out of state for family visits or recreation. Foster homes also need to observe the animal’s behavior and report any concerns, including if the animal seems to be a runner or actually escapes so we can assist in recovery. If the latter happens, the foster family must call us immediately as time is of the essence in capturing our animal.
- Adoptive homes, of course, are free to change their animal’s names, but foster homes must not do so as the name is the one we use for all our medical records, web site, and program statistics.
- AARF Coordinators are the only persons who can accept an animal into the program. If you learn of an animal in need of rescue, please notify us as soon as possible with the information, and we will take steps to work with you to bring the animal into the program. Additionally, AARF Coordinators are the only persons who can approve a permanent home for your foster animal. If you have a family member or friend interested in adoption, or you meet a potential adopter, by all means, encourage him or her to apply and provide him or her with the phone number and/or web site. You must not promise or place an animal yourself. AARF must screen the applicant through an impartial volunteer and interview all potential homes, and has the paperwork necessary to finalize all adoptions. Foster homes give our animals the love and renewed trust they need to move on to their new homes with confidence; they know their foster animals better than anyone else in the program. We appreciate the work our fosters do more than can ever be satisfactorily expressed. In return, we appreciate our foster homes’ trust in us as well: the coordinators are extremely careful in our adoption procedures, and though we welcome our foster homes’ love for and concerned interest in and suggestions about our dogs, taking them very seriously in our adoption decisions, because we are a charitable organization overseen by the IRS and health organizations, the coordinators make the final decisions about the actual adoptions of our programs’ animals.
We deeply appreciate your concern for the homeless animals of the Upper Cumberland and your willingness to become involved with foster care. If you think you would like to do this important work in helping us save and rehabilitate our precious animals, please complete the foster application. Thank You!