Maintaining Control of Your Foster-Care Program
This article discusses the importance of setting realistic goals for your foster program and maintaining control of the process.
The spunky kitten with the crooked tail was the friendliest kitty in the receiving room. When she heard staff walk through, she’d poke her paw out and start her motorcycle-purring. She was the type of kitten that visitors would ordinarily line up to adopt, except for one small problem: While she was a stray, a group of teenagers had shaved off most of her fur. The volunteer coordinator called one of the foster-care parents on the list and arranged to have the kitten cared for in a home environment until her fur grew back. A few weeks later the now-fluffy kitten was brought back. The following week she was adopted into a loving, responsible home.
Albert was a quiet, dignified gentleman who occasionally volunteered at the shelter and frequently took sick cats home to foster. Some cats he’d return to the shelter in improved health. Others he would return dead; he’d explain that a sick cat just didn’t make it. As the staff grew more comfortable with Albert moving cats back and forth, he took increasing numbers home to foster. One day the shelter received a phone call from medical emergency services: Albert had suffered a heart attack; the shelter must send someone to his house immediately to assess the conditions of the cats living there. When
staff arrived, they found more than 140 kittens and cats in varying stages of neglect. The shelter realized its loosely run foster program had contributed to this tragic cruelty.
Both of the stories above are true. They illustrate the two extremes of an increasingly popular shelter program known as “fostering.”
What exactly is fostering? Generally speaking, fostering is the placement of special-case animals into temporary homes until they are suitable for adoption. Despite that deceptively-simple description, fostering is an extremely complex and demanding undertaking.
“It’s really not a ‘pro’ or ‘con’ issue,” says Samantha Mullen, director of training resources for The HSUS. “It can be a great thing if you do it with the proper guidelines in place but it can be a nightmare if you are careless about the guidelines. The bottom line is you can’t do it halfway.”