Throughout the pandemic, Brits have turned to furry friends to help them cope, with one newspaper estimating that the UK dog population has risen by at least 10 per cent under lockdown.
While many people have opened their hearts to puppies or adopted dogs, there are plenty of pets who need to be fostered while looking for their forever homes.
Although it may seem sad to bond with a pet and not have them stay with you for life, fostering can be a great process to go through, with the RSPCA noting: “It's rewarding to know that you played a key part in helping a rescued animal recover from a life of suffering and start a new life”.
However, there are plenty of things you need to be aware of before fostering a dog because although the process is temporary, it can be hard work and a lot of responsibility.
Here is everything you need to know before fostering a new four-legged friend.
Why are foster carers needed?
Animals can benefit from a home environment rather than a shelter while they find their forever home to be adopted into, especially if they are uncomfortable in a shelter environment.
RSPCA spokesperson Amy Ockelford said: “Fostering can help an animal recover from neglect, abuse, illness or injury, and is often the first step in them finding a new, loving forever home.
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“It is a vital part of rehabilitating animals and helps them prepare for a new home, offers them one-to-one care, improves their chance of finding their forever family, and frees up space in our centres so we can rescue more animals in need.”
How do I become a dog foster carer?
Many shelters and charities will have a detailed description of the kind of person they are looking for – some need experience in specific breeds, for example – but the process usually involves filling out an application form followed by a home visit to see if the environment is suitable for a foster pet.
Mrs Ockelford said: “Find out more about fostering online, or contact your local branch or centre to speak to them about becoming a fosterer in your local area.
“Fostering recruitment will fluctuate between sites depending on how many fosters they have and need, so if you can’t foster for one centre you may be able to foster for another.”
Will there be a dog available to foster?
Fostering may be slightly less predictable than adopting, which can be quite quick and straightforward to process. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home reports that it is currently not looking for people to foster dogs, while Dogs Trust said it has been “overwhelmed by offers to foster dogs for us”.
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Mrs Ockelford said: “During lockdown we saw a huge surge in the number of people looking to foster rescue animals, and visits to the fostering pages of our website spiked by 244%.
“There isn't a specific waiting list to become a fosterer, but due to the large volume of applications we've received there may be a delay at some of our centres as they try to put arrangements in place.
“Once you have been approved to foster it can still be several months before we have a suitable foster match available... it's all about putting the animal in the right foster home.”
What will my duties be?
You will have to take care of the dog while they are in your home, including feeding, exercising and grooming. There may also be guidance for training the dog, and if it has special needs or requirements, you will be made aware of them.
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Battersea said: “All our foster carers need to be compassionate, empathetic and adaptable for the needs of the individual animals that come through their care, as they are all unique.
“You must be willing to provide all the basics of care, such as feeding, cleaning, exercising, grooming, training, playing and socialising, and be willing to follow our guidance and regulations on training and safety.”
The shelter will make sure that you are well-matched with the dog, and aware of any behavioural or medical issues ahead of fostering them.
Will it cost anything?
In almost all cases, dog fostering won’t cost you anything, with the shelter usually providing everything essential, such as food and even their collar and lead.
Mrs Ockelford confirmed: “While the dog is in their care we cover all of their costs, from food to vet bills, and also provide accessories such as beds, toys etc.”
Of course, if you'd like to go overboard providing fun toys or accessories for your temporary pet, that will cost extra!
How long will I need to foster for?
It is not always clear how long you will need to care for your foster dog because the shelter needs to ensure it finds the best forever home for them which can take time to get right. Some dogs may also be involved in a court case, which may see you keeping them for longer.
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It is best to foster a dog when you have a long stretch of stability - no building work, hospital stays, house moves or other major disruptions in case the adoption doesn’t happen quickly.
Battersea said: “We would like people to commit to us on a long-term basis as the dogs that need fostering require a nice stable environment...
“Each individual foster care will vary; they can range from two to three weeks up to three months and sometimes even longer if the dog is struggling to find a home.”
Can I have children or other pets?
Foster dogs may be nervous or uncomfortable when they arrive at your home; rules vary between shelters and the individual dogs. Some may require a lot of care and attention, and could be anxious if there is too much commotion in the house, so having young children or other pets may mean you are turned down as a suitable fosterer.
However, it may also be beneficial for some dogs to be surrounded by other animals, with one or two dogs encouraging a pack mentality and helping the newcomer to feel more relaxed.
Battersea said: “Most of our foster animals are not comfortable with other pets... or young children. This is by no means a reflection on your children, but due to the nature of our foster animals.”
Do I need previous experience with pets?
Depending on the shelter and type of dog you are fostering, you may need to have experience with previous pets.
“As the dogs and cats that pass through our foster scheme often have quite complex needs, it is beneficial if foster carers have had experience with dog or cat ownership,” Battersea said.
“However it is not essential – willingness to follow our advice and guidance is the most important thing.”
What about Covid-19?
Aside from delays, many places will only have slight changes to their fostering procedure due to current Covid-19 precautions, such as wearing a mask when you pick up your dog.
The RSPCA stressed that they cannot foster animals to homes where a member of the household has tested positive or is showing symptoms of Covid-19.