How to foster a pet
If a friend, family member or neighbor is unable to care for their pet, offer to help. Let them know you are interested in giving their pet a safe and loving temporary home.
Sign an agreement. When you agree to foster someone’s pet, put the fostering arrangement in writing. A foster care agreement spells out the arrangement between the pet's owner and the pet's caretaker, including who will cover the cost of food and vet visits. Download a sample temporary pet guardian contract from the Animal Welfare Association.
Prepare your home. Ask the cat or dog’s family for tips on creating a safe and welcoming environment for your foster pet. To "pet-proof" your home, move anything that could be dangerous to the pet out of reach, including people food, medications, cleaning products, house plants and electrical wires. If you have other pets, learn about how to safely introduce a new cat or a new dog to your family.
Stock up on supplies. Ask about the pet’s favorite foods, toys and bedding. You will likely need pet food and treats, food and water bowls, a cozy bed, grooming supplies, and toys, among other things. The pet’s family may provide these, or you may be able to find supplies for free on Nextdoor, Craigslist or through a Buy Nothing group.
Care for your foster pet with love and patience. Depending on the pet’s personality, they may feel confused or anxious to be in a different place, at least at first. Learn how to help a shy cat or nervous dog feel comfortable in your home.
Take photos and videos of your foster pet. If you are fostering for the pet’s family, send them photos and updates of how their cat or dog is doing. You can take great pet photos with your smartphone.
If you don’t know anyone who needs help caring for their pet, connect with a local rescue organization. Many shelter and foster-based organizations post fostering opportunities on their websites. Check under “Foster” or “Volunteer.” If you can’t find the information online, call or email and tell them you’re interested in fostering.
Why do cats and dogs need fostering?
Fostering not only helps people who are overwhelmed or in crisis, but also reduces the burden on your local pet shelters. Pets benefit from being in a real home. Some cats and dogs need extra care and support. This includes kittens and puppies who are too young to be adopted, pets with disabilities, pets who are healing from an illness or injury and senior pets.
How long should I expect to foster?
Every situation is different. Before you sign a pet guardian contract, talk with the pet’s family or foster organization about their expectations. Let them know how much time you have available, so you can make sure your home is a good fit for the pet.
What if I want to adopt the foster pet?
If you are fostering for an individual, this is something you will want to discuss ahead of time and include in the fostering agreement. If you are interested in potentially adopting a pet you are fostering through an organization, let them know upfront. They may have a “foster to adopt” program.
Danielle with her foster cat, Rosie
Fostering pets can be challenging, but it’s rewarding to help kittens grow and see shy, anxious cats blossom and find homes. If you’re interested in fostering, I recommend connecting with others who foster with the same organization, because it helps to have support.
I got into fostering while doing trap-neuter-return work with community cats (also called feral cats or unowned cats). Someone trapped five black kittens who were young enough to be socialized and adopted. They needed a foster home first, and I volunteered.
I’ve fostered a lot of kittens—at one point, I had 13—and I've fostered a few adult cats, too. Rosie was a tiny kitten when a construction worker found her nearly frozen to death. I took her in and cared for her until she was healthy. The construction worker stayed in touch and adopted her.
Through fostering, I’ve learned a lot about myself, in addition to cat behavior and social development.. Fostering may be challenging at times, but it’s so rewarding to help kittens grow and see shy, anxious cats blossom and find homes. If you’re interested in fostering a pet, I recommend connecting with others who foster with the same organization. It helps to have support, especially when a pet finds a home and it’s time to say goodbye.