Want to make the world a better place in one easy step? Take home a foster pet from a local shelter or rescue group.
Fostering means bringing in a cat or dog -- or parrot, or baby pig, or any other homeless pet -- with the goal of nurturing them for a while until they can be dispatched to a permanent home with a family who'll love them forever.
It's a crucial part of the animal rescue world. It's also amazing, for you and for the animals. Here's why:
1. Foster Pets Learn They're Loved
"Watching a dog that has been in a shelter environment, or hurt, or abused or all of the above enter your home is a magical, beautiful thing," writes regular fosterer Tamera Jackson on the Pibbles & More Animal Rescue blog. "Though they may not be settled, yet they surely seem to know they are safe and, yes, loved."
2. It's (Usually) So Fun For Your Other Pets, Too
Lisa Morabito, director of operations for Baltimore's city shelter, has had a lot of foster kittens come through her home.
They always end up snuggled close to the big pack of dogs who live with Morabito and her husband on a permanent basis. The dogs don't seem to mind the attention one bit. (The dueling sweater outfits are maybe another story!)
3. You're Saving Lives
courtesy of the Washington Humane Society
Every animal who goes into a foster home brings down the number of shelter pets euthanized each year.
"Not only are they helping us get animals adopted, but they are freeing up space at our adoption centers for other animals in need," says Zenit Chughtai, spokesperson for the Washington Humane Society, D.C.'s city shelter.
"Fosters are the light and joy of my day. They swoop in and help all the animals that need their care the most," adds WHS's foster coordinator Jennah Billeter. "They're not only heroes to animals, they're heroes to all of us who care so deeply about animal welfare."
4. It'll Make You Feel Great
"It is truly remarkable watching the dogs transition from skittish, scared little animals to trusting, flourishing members of a family," says Steven P. Zimmer, who fosters dogs through Delaware-based Renee's Rescues
. "People find different ways to enrich their lives but for us, fostering dogs is what does it. Both making the dogs feel better about their world and making us feel about ourselves."
5. Foster Pets Will Make You Laugh
Droopy the basset hound was skin and bones and sick with pneumonia, when Emily Gear, director of the rescue group Louie's Legacy
, took him in as a foster.
As he was brought back to health, his goofy personality appeared, and Droopy "became a bouncing, boisterous happy Basset Hound with one of the funniest personalities I've ever seen."
"Droopy is a character and would make me laugh constantly. The more I laughed, the more he would clown," says Gear, who was able to help this lovable guy find a wonderful family of his own after about six months of fostering. He also found his way into a Louie's Legacy fundraising calendar
6. Your Human Kids Will Love It, Too
Kelly Duer takes in a lot of dogs who need socialization. She loves seeing these pups learn how to be well-loved pets. It's great for her human kids, too.
"Interacting and gaining the trust of these abandoned dogs, many of whom have also been mistreated, has been incredible for their self-esteem," says Duer. "It's been a wonderful experience for all of us."
7. You Might Foster A Squeal Patrick Harris
VIDEO: Squeal Patrick Harris
What sorts of animals need fostering? All kinds: cats and dogs, birds and rabbits. Even baby pigs, like wee Squeal Patrick Harris here, who was being fostered with great relish by Kirstyn Northrop Cobb, director of the Humane Society of Calvert County
, and Cobb's daughter Aubrey.
"He is the perfect example of how fostering is such a great thing," says Cobb. "Without someone to take him in and bottle feed him, he probably wouldn't be around."
We say "was" because Squeal has since been adopted -- by Aubrey.
"He is my baby and my responsibility," she says of the sweet piggy whose adventures you can now follow on the Squeal Patrick Harris Facebook page
8. Fostering Is Flexible
Laura Peters and her husband can't take in a full-time foster dog. So they pick up fosters for a couple of days at a time, through the Fairfax County Animal Shelter
in Northern Virginia.
"We can take in a shelter dog on the weekend, give him or her a break from the shelter environment, offer an extended play date with our dog -- which is actually good for her, too! -- take great pictures and learn important things about our foster dog that will be helpful to potential adopters to facilitate the perfect match," Peters says. "All the dogs we have fostered have found their forever home within just a few days of their return to the shelter!"
9. Fostering Can Help You Heal
Julia Grosz started fostering after the death of her beloved cat Monkey.
"She was a spooky little cuss that nobody liked, but she was my rock," Grosz says.
Grosz decided to foster a cat named Heath, who'd been described by shelter staff as a "moody jerk," thinking that this guy would help her get over her heartbreak.
"He turned out to be the complete opposite, which wasn't entirely disappointing," says Grosz. "Heath brought so much joy into my life while he was here, and personally seeing him off to his new mom completely redefined my understanding of love and purpose. To call the experience profound would cheapen it; Heefy showed me my best self, and mended my broken heart in the process."
10. You'll Give A Pet A Chance To Shine
Sam's Foster Kittens
Pets who might not thrive in a shelter setting have "a chance to be healthy and happy," says Sam Querry, whose foster cats have their own Facebook page
. "It also helps potential adopters get to see what a great personality the animal has in a home setting."
11. Getting Started Is Easy
courtesy of Washington Humane Society
Most shelters and rescue groups have information on their websites about how to get started as a foster. Here's the Washington Humane Society's
, for example.
If you can't easily find the information for your local shelter or favorite rescue group, call, or send an email, to find out more. They will be so happy to hear from you.
12. You'll Make Someone Else's Family Complete
Dixie the dog was being fostered by a New Jersey family.
"The foster mom posted that she was available for adoption on a local Facebook garage sale site," says Marcy Duarte. "I fell in love with that forehead on Facebook and just knew she was our dog!"
13. You're Covered
Shelters and rescue groups will typically cover medical costs for fosters. Sometimes, they'll foot the bill for food and other day-to-day expenses, as well.
14. You'll Make New Friends
Pam Townsend stays in touch with the family who adopted one of her favorite fosters.
"One of the added benefits of fostering: meeting and getting to know people I'd never have met otherwise," she says.
15. Goodbye Is A Happy Ending
Don't be put off fostering because you think it'll be too hard when your sweetie gets adopted.
"It’s never easy to say goodbye to these beautiful souls, but seeing their happy ending makes it all worthwhile," says Lucy Rockdale, founder of My Buddy Dog Rescue
. "And just when that chapter comes to an end, there is another one waiting in the wings for a chance to be saved."
16. And If You Really Fall In Love...
Kelly Garrison knew that she was sunk when her foster Bumper almost got adopted. "I cried and cried. Everything happens for a reason," she says.
Bumper is now permanent at her house, and even has a beloved brother, another "foster failure" named Willis.
Garrison is still bringing home new fosters from Missouri-based Mutts n Stuff
on a regular basis.
"There just isn't a better feeling that could ever compare," Garrison says, "knowing what you have done in saving a life."