Fostering A Dog – Everything You Need to Know

Beautiful Fleur was severely injured and terrified of everything – fostering gave her the time, space, care and love needed to recover physically and emotionally.

Are you thinking of fostering a puppy or a dog? Fostering a dog can be an incredibly rewarding experience. You are helping to care for and love a puppy or dog in need while they wait to be adopted into their forever home. It’s a truly generous and compassionate thing to do.

However, it is important to remember that fostering a puppy, maybe even a litter of puppies or a dog can also be extremely challenging. You are taking in a a man’s best friend who may have been in questionable circumstances, may need a lot of patience, time care and love, and then, after devoting your time and love to them, you eventually have to give them up.  This can be emotionally and physically tough, and it isn’t for everyone.

If you’re considering it, there are some ways to know if you’re really ready to foster a dog, because this is a decision that requires some serious thinking.

Is Fostering For Me?

Many shelters in Portugal are over crowded often with lots of puppies who really could benefit from being in a foster home

To Consider Before Fostering

Fostering is a big commitment and it is really important you consider all the different factors that are involved in opening your home and your heart to a dog, puppy or litter.

Do you have the time?

Fostering a puppy, a litter or dog requires time, sometimes lots of your time.  Depending on the dog, their past, their health, their needs, fostering can be for a day or two to several months, perhaps even longer.  We would always advise you to talk to the rescue shelter or organisation for whom you are fostering to determine exactly what the expected time frame will be (there can be unavoidable changes to time frames) so that you have an as realistic as possible idea of the duration you are required to foster.

Do you have the space?

Welcoming another dog, puppy or even litter of puppies temporarily requires space, ideally a secure garden and a safe, quiet area for them inside your home.  Be realistic with the space you have and whether you can cope with a puppy potentially soiling inside your home or an injured dog being kept safely in the environment you live in. A reputable rescue will be able to offer you support and advice in dog proofing your home and advising you on any changes that may need to be made.

Do you have other pets?

Resident dog Rufus keeps foster Fleur company during her recovery

Fostering doesn’t just change your life temporarily, it also affects everyone in your home, human and animal.

How are your pets with dogs?  It is one thing your pets enjoying meeting other dogs but are they accepting of puppies or dogs in your home?  We would always recommend introducing your pets to the potential foster outside of your home, prior to fully committing yourself.

Who are you fostering for?

We would recommend fostering for an organisation that provides support, back up should things not work out and who provide clear guidelines as to what your responsibilities are as well as what theirs are.

Key questions to ask include:

Who is responsible for the cost of fostering (food, any medication, toys, leads, collars, bedding….)

Who is the decision maker regarding medical care? (Will you be allowed any input into their medical care, your thoughts, preference?)

Who is responsible for taking the dog or litter or puppies to the vets?

What support will you get? (Will the organisation be available for advice and support?)

Who is responsible for re homing the dog?

Fostering a dog sometimes means that you have to help find a home for the dog (some rescues already have homes for the dogs, and you are caring for them before they can go there).

You may be asked to be able to advocate for the dog, and that means speaking up to others about how great the dog or puppy is. Their likes, dislikes, fears, areas that may need working on.  This may require taking photos and videos to keep the adopter up to date with their progress. If you are shy and you don’t want to have that responsibility on your hands, then maybe you shouldn’t foster — or you should at least only take in dogs who already have a home lined up.

Will you have updates?

Dori was abandoned in Portugal but now leaves happily with a loving family in the UK

Will you know where the dog or puppy you foster end up being re homed?  Will you receive updates and will you be able to contact the adopter?  If you are fostering for an organisation who organises the re homing of the dog and have no say in the decision, do you feel fully confident in their selection process and re homing decisions.

Fostering a dog or puppy inevitably means you will form a level of emotional attachment and will of course want the absolute best for the dog.  For some, not having a say on where the dog is re homed or knowing where they are and how they are isn’t something they can cope with.  For this reason it is really important to discuss with the organisation prior to starting the foster process.

Emotional Attachment

When the time comes to say goodbye, will you be able to let go?  Of course it isn’t always possible to know how we will react in a new situation.  But we would recommend you being honest about how sensitive, or emotional you may be and perhaps start by fostering just for a couple of days.  The longer you foster a dog for, the likelihood the more attached you will become.

Reasons To Foster

Darryl was rescued from a field with his mum and siblings

There are so so many reasons why fostering helps not only the rescue organisation you are supporting but of course the puppies and dogs within the rescue.

Fostering keeps dogs out of shelters

A shelter, no matter how well run and nice it is, is no place for a dog.  It is often impossible to dedicate the time each dog needs and deserves. Fostering means a dog doesn’t spend hour after hour in a kennel, waiting desperately for some attention and of course a home.   You are providing a happy, loving and safe environment for a dog!

Often shelters are full and many have to turn dogs away or leave strays as they simply have no where to put them. Fostering means you are freeing up a spot in a shelter for another dog in need, potentially even saving a life.

Fostering increases the chances of a dog getting adopted

Sofia spent many months in a a shelter before going to foster to prepare her for her new home

You will help the shelter learn more about the dog’s personality so that the right homes are found.

The adoption will be a much smoother transition from foster home to permanent home than a shelter to a home.

Fostering enables a dog to socialise and interact with humans and other animals in a way they aren’t able to in a shelter.  You can help them grow in confidence, be happy and healthy.

If you are not ready to adopt or are still in the ‘thinking’ stage, fostering will help you make that decision.  You may even end up as a ‘failed foster’ and keep the dog.

MOST OF ALL, you will be giving a chance to a dog who really needs it and there is really nothing better than that!

Situations where dogs need fostering

Fostering is a process, a selfless process which enables a chain to form between rescues and adopters. Without this, there more often than not lacks space to continue to rescue the thousands of puppies and dogs that need somewhere safe to go.

Nursing dog with puppies

Many shelter are overrun with Mums and their puppies

In a lot of shelters, conditions can be basic and as previously mentioned there is often a lack of space.  Shelters are also noisy places with many, many dogs to be cared for.  This is far from an ideal place for a new mum to rear her puppies.  Fostering a mum with her puppies can be so rewarding.  There is also less work than fostering orphaned puppies as of course the mum feeds the pups and also helps clean in the first few weeks. Oh and of course seeing them open their eyes, take their first steps and start to discover their surroundings is incredibly special.

Orphaned puppies

Many puppies are abandoned

Similarly to nursing dogs with puppies, shelters are not the ideal place for orphaned puppies.  These may need bottle feeding every few hours and will need to be closely supervised.  Looking after orphaned puppies especially when they are very young is a full time ‘job’ and will require night feeds too.

Sick or injured animals needing medical care

Fleur was hit by a car but was already very sick prior to this accident

Caring for a sick dog can be a full time job in itself.  Most shelters here are run by volunteers and there just isn’t the time sadly to dedicate to dogs who so desperately need one on one time and care.  A safe, calm, comfortable environment will really help a dog with their recovery process and will alleviate the pressure from shelters.

Animals needing help with behaviour issues

Some dogs need extra training or help

Some but not all dogs in shelters may suffer from behaviour issues, perhaps separation anxiety or fear aggression.  This is hardly surprising if they have been abandoned, mistreated and not had a good start in life.

To help these dogs overcome these difficulties an experienced foster is incredibly valuable.  Being able to dedicate time, one on one to a dog, and help them learn and adjust to new behaviours will really help them feel happier and have a much better chance in finding their forever home.

Puppies too young to be in the shelter

Nap time on foster mum’s lap

Fostering gives puppies the time outside of a shelter they need to learn about living in a home, to learn about all the different noises and sights they will encounter if and when they are adopted.  It also enables them to learn to walk on leads, be socialised and receive much more attention and time than in a shelter.

A Personal Experience of Fostering

Fostering Fleur was one of the hardest, tiring, rewarding and memorable experiences

Fostering is not something I necessarily planned to do, it is something that, out of necessity and alongside volunteering at a local shelter just happened.  The first shelter I volunteered for when I moved to Portugal was over flowing with dogs and puppies and the situation seemed so desperate.  I soon discovered sadly this was just one of many shelters in the country that found themselves trying to care for all the strays, abandoned litters of puppies and dogs but would never ever have the physical space to save them all, there are just too many.

I am fortunate to have enough space, both inside and outside, which also lends itself to accommodate dogs who desperately needed more than the shelter could offer.  My two rescue dogs (which has now increased to four) are also very understanding, welcoming and caring towards other dogs which of course helps.  I don’t think I could have fostered if they hadn’t been so accepting.  They really have seen so many dogs from weeks old, to very sick take over somewhat over the years of fostering.

So, my very first foster was a Spaniel cross who was called Linda at the time, she is now called Indy.  Indy was the first dog from the shelter to be adopted in the UK and I was very concerned about the need to get her used to a home and everything outside the four walls of the shelter prior to her big journey and big life changing event.  I had no idea if she had been in a home before or how she had lived prior to being rescued.  One thing for certain is that I couldn’t take Indy straight from the shelter to the transport who would take her to her new home.

Indy – My first foster dog

For my first foster dog Indy was delightful and so easy!  Yes, she had and in fact still has a lot of energy but from the moment she came home with me and for the two weeks I looked after her, she was house trained, walked so well on a lead, was not fazed at all by travelling in the car or any in any social situation.

Saying goodbye was heartbreaking although for Indy’s sake I didn’t cry or show any sadness in front of her when I put her onto the transport van.  This would not have been fair.  This has become my number one rule when saying goodbye to any dog – never show sadness or cry!  Admittedly I did break down crying after Indy left and it was quite a while before I was in any fit state to drive my car home.  The days following Indy’s departure were really hard. Home felt empty and quiet despite having my 2 dogs.  I think they were sad and missed her too.

Indy’s journey to the UK took two days and although I knew she was in the very best of hands I couldn’t sleep until I knew she was in her new home.  This is when the magical part starts and I think this is what really helped me continue to foster, yes, the happy updates and photos from the adopters.  It is impossible not to smile, it is impossible to stay sad for long, seeing happiness, not only on the dog’s face but on the faces of the family.  It is really emotional.

Pixie and her six puppies – an adorable family

Since Indy I have lost count of the number of puppies and dogs I have fostered.  Some for a matter of days, others for months.  Some who needed a few days outside of the shelter to unwind, have a nice bath, relax ahead of their journeys to the UK and to their new homes.  Others, too sick or traumatised to be in a kennel in shelter and of course litter after litter of puppies, some with their mum, some without.

No fostering experience is the same, no dog is the same.  What I can guarantee is that there is never a dull moment and each fostering experience will teach you something new.

Puppies do require a lot of work, especially with feeding and what seems like the never ending cleaning.  Yes, puppies are not too dissimilar to babies, albeit minus the nappies!  Add to this, trying to toilet train a litter of puppies, teach them to walk on leads, socialising them, playing with them and helping them grow into happy, playful, confident pups as well as vet trips for vaccinations and other routine appointments, your life really does become very very busy!  In fact you may only get round to brushing your hair or cleaning your teeth mid afternoon!

Lucas – my first foster puppy

Fostering physically sick or traumatised dogs is something that personally I don’t feel is for the faint hearted.  Fleur holds a very, very special place in my heart.  She was so badly traumatised from a horrendous past as well as being hit by a car after escaping her previous life, or being abandoned – we will never know.  I still to this day remember Fleur’s scream the first time she felt cornered in a room, it is not something anyone could forget.

I had no idea how long Fleur would stay with me, whether she would ever be ready to live in a home, I didn’t know whether her back leg was so severely damaged it may need to be amputated and I didn’t know that she would test positive for heartworm.

Fleur taught me so much and she absolutely tested my patience when I couldn’t leave the room for more than a second otherwise she would scream.  I discovered how little sleep I actually needed to function or was that the amount of coffee I ended up drinking to get through the day?  It was hard, really really hard.  I didn’t have support from an organisation with Fleur and was very much in at the deep end.  Thankfully with time, a new found patience, love, food, gentle exercise and my amazing dogs, Fleur learnt to trust, learnt to sleep, learnt to play and learnt to rest her head in my lap and discover the joys of affection.

Some dogs get right to the core of your heart, Fleur is one of those.  Today she lives with a family in the North of Portugal, their dogs and lots of space to run and enjoy her life.

The early stages of fostering Fleur

Fostering can be tough, of course it can, we all have hearts and we all love each foster we care for. But, and this is a big but, if every foster kept their foster then what? What then happens when rescues say they are full or puppies and dogs are left in shelters and are terrified of the world outside of those four walls, if and when they are adopted?

Sometimes we may feel they will not get a better home than with us or how on earth could someone love them as much as we do?  We may feel that they love us too much. I remember meeting many, many of the pups I fostered a few months after they had been adopted and not one of them remembered me…. Why? Because they are happy and loved and in their forever home.  At least I hope this is the reason and not because I am such a terrible foster – eeek!

When I look back at some of the photos of just some of the fosters, if I had listened to my heart and kept the first puppy I ever fostered, what would have become of the ones after? Would I have been able to keep fostering? Would they be in homes now or would they still be waiting in a kennel?

Fostering isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone, that doesn’t make you weak…… It’s hard to love and to let go…. I have cried many, many tears.  Equally I have smiled and laughed so much when I see how happy they are in their forever homes.  There are times I felt so exhausted or desperate, especially when fostering traumatised dogs and when I doubted myself and whether I could continue.  How could I help this terrified dog? How could I be the person to help them through their traumas?

But by fostering and then letting go, you are putting the dogs and puppies first and helping others in the process. I often ask myself that if what I know now, I knew back then, would I still have started to foster.  The answer is one hundred percent yes!

Reunited with some of the foster puppies and dogs

And yes, in case you are wondering, I have ended up being a failed foster, not once but twice!