Fostering for Thought
June 10, 2010
Ever have a soft spot for that starry-eyed cat or dog behind the
caged door at an animal shelter? But maybe you are not sure if you
can take on the responsibilities that come with being a pet owner
for whatever reason just yet? Fostering could be a good option that
allows you to feed your personal wants while also keeping the best
interest of the animal in mind.
"Many animals are fostered. Most are dogs, cats, puppies, and
kittens. Sometimes reptiles and pocket pets are fostered
until a permanent home can be found," Dr. M.A. Crist, clinical
assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences explains.
In the Brazos Valley area especially, there are many young
adults and college students who are in a transition stage in their
life due to school or other reasons. Because of this, some of us
are more hesitant when it comes to making big decisions such as
adopting a pet.
"Some young adults volunteer to foster an animal before
adoption, especially if they provide volunteer work to a shelter or
rescue organization. Many young adults or college students
who graciously provide their volunteer services do go on and adopt
the animal they are providing fostering services for. I
believe this could allow the foster parent time to "bond" with the
pet before making a lifetime commitment" explains Crist.
Of course there are also people who foster animals without the
intention of adopting.
"If the relationship does not work out for a permanent home then
the pet was housed for some time period and had human contact until
new owners could be found. Pet fostering does allow some
young people to enjoy the company of a pet but yet not have a
lifetime commitment if they help find a permanent home for the
foster pet" said Crist.
The process leading up to fostering a pet usually consist of
filling out an application and maybe attending a short orientation
session. Most shelters provide the food, crate, and everything else
to meet the specific needs of your animal. Some pets that need to
be fostered also have special needs due to them being young, old,
"Older pets come with an established character, whereas, usually
young pets are developing their character. Older pets may
have been abused in a previous environment and need extra time and
care to get acquainted with the foster parent and foster
household. It is helpful to know the history of the foster
pet if possible to provide the best care possible" explains
When introducing a new pet into your home there are some things
to always consider. Some animals are timid or anxious before they
become fully adjusted which can concern some new parents if they
are unsure of this being a permanent personality trauma or
"If the foster pet has not responded to the new foster home or
parent within a timely period and is displaying unusual behavior or
unacceptable behavior, then the foster pet needs to have a complete
physical examination by their veterinarian. The foster pet
may need to be referred to a board certified animal behaviorist for
further treatment. Occasionally, the pet may need medications
for their behavior which can be prescribed by the animal
behaviorist" said Crist.
"The foster parent needs to decide if the foster pet is going to
coincide with the existing household pet or will they be kept
separate until the foster pet gets a permanent home. Some
things to consider is if the foster pet is young or old and will it
get along with the household pet. Also, does the household
pet have a dominant or passive character and will it get along with
the foster pet? Introductions need to be made slowly, over a period
of days to weeks. The trick with kitty harmony is to introduce the
felines slowly," said Crist.
Take your new foster cat to your veterinarian for a complete
physical examination for a healthy pet check. Have a prepared
room with food, water bowls, a bed, and a litter box which will be
your new cat's home until the two cats' get used to each
other. Do not put the food so close to the door in the
beginning that the cats are too upset at each other's presence to
eat. Gradually move the food dishes to feed your resident
kitty and your new cat on each side of the door to this room and
this will encourage them to get used to each other's smells and eat
calmly. Once this is accomplished, prop the door open enough
just to allow the cats to see each other and repeat the whole
It is good to switch out the sleeping bed or blankets between to
have them get comfortable with each other's scent. When the
new cat is using the litter box and eating regularly, it is also
good to let your new cat have some free time in the house while the
resident cat is confined to the new cat's room. This switch
allows each to cat to experience each other's scents and the new
kitty to become familiar with its new house without being
frightened. It is better to introduce your pets to each
other gradually so that neither pet becomes frightened or
"Do not force the cats to be together and do not allow
interactions that fearful or aggressive because if this is allowed
it can become habit and it is difficult to change.
Eventually, you can encourage them to play with a cat "fishing
pole" or cat toys on a string. Remember a litter box for each
cat plus one," Crist adds, "Introducing a cat to a dog can be quite
tricky as well. Some dogs have such high prey drive that they
should never be left alone with a cat. Usually dogs want to
chase and play with cats and they become defensive, afraid and
sometimes injured or worse."
Using the separate room technique as described above helps the
introduction. Once the new cat and dog have explored each
other's scents and are comfortable eating on each side of the door,
a controlled face to face meeting is allowed. The dog is
placed on a leash, on a "down stay" on one side of the room and a
person on the opposite side of the room will sit quietly next to
the cat and offer food or catnip to keep the cat around them
without physically restraining the cat. Repeat this with lots
of short visits rather than long visits until the dog and cat are
tolerating each other's presence without fear or undesirable
The next step is to allow the cat to investigate the dog with
the dog on a leash on a "down stay" and praising good
behavior. It is best to keep the dog on a leash and with you
whenever the cat is free in the house during the introduction
phase. Allow the cat an escape route and hiding place and
always keep the dog and cat separated when you are not present
until you are quite certain that your cat will be safe.
"Be mindful that kittens are much smaller and can be easily
injured or killed by a young energetic dog," said Crist, "or high
prey drive dog as well as our senior cats. Sometimes it
is best to allow the kitten to become fully grown."
At the end of the day, we want always do what is best for the
animal. Fostering an animal can help people decide if they have the
time, energy, or accommodations needed for a pet.
"The only negative would be if the young adult or college
student over commits themselves," explains Crist. "Sometimes
the foster parent gets emotionally attached to the foster pet and
it can be hard knowing they have to give up the pet at the end. For
most, the foster parent is eager to find a great family who can
make a lifelong commitment to the pet."
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