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Monday, April 25, 2011

Fostering- finding a good rescue

I keep reading horror stories on Facebook about fosters gone wrong. I have read about people wanting to help who are quickly overwhelmed with cats or dogs and some with no financial backing from the rescue groups for medical care. Also dogs and cats left with fosters for much longer times than they were told- a 2 week commitment becomes 2 years. People pulling dogs and cats from shelters to only drop them into boarding facilities and leaving them. It really is upsetting to know about these situations when the vast majority of experiences are good and help save the lives of shelter pets. I thought I would make a list of what a person should ask of a rescue and expect from a rescue prior to getting involved.

I have come up with a top ten for people wanting to get into fostering.. if there is something I have missed- please let me know!

1. Are they even a rescue group? Before ever getting involved with a rescue group- make sure they are an actual rescue. Strangely this can be harder than it sounds. It will definitely pay to do your research on this one. You can start by first checking with local shelters directly. Some actually have fosters built right into their programs so you would work with the shelter. You can ask shelters who they work with and get recommendations for rescues that they feel are doing a good job placing their animals and supporting their fosters.

Other resources that you can look into would be checking with local vets, training groups, as well as using the internet. is a good way to find rescue groups and you can always do an internet search to find local rescue groups as well as using social networking sites.

2. Check references. A good rescue group should be particular with checking the references of a foster- and doing home checks. I would highly suggest a foster check those of the rescue group as well. They should easily be able to provide you with contact information of a vet or vets that they routinely use as well as those who have had experience working with their group. If a rescue group is not asking questions of you such as do you own your own home or your own vet reference then that is a red flag- expect from them what they should expect from you.

3. Are they a 501c3? Basically this is a tax issue and the reason that it is important is that a 5013c status group allows donators to write off donations on their taxes. This is important since as a foster - you may be donating money to them and if they are not a 5013c then your cash donations will not mean a tax write off for you. Another reason that this is important is that by having this status means that others will be more apt to donate. Many people will not donate to those groups without it. More financial backing for the rescue means a more solid backing for the foster when it comes to being reimbursed for medical issues etc. You may also be able to donate mileage on your taxes - this becomes important with fosters who do driving for the rescues and most importantly those who become involved in transports.

4. Who is the rescue? It is important to know who you are dealing with. Is the rescue a single person making decisions- or is this a group of people? Personally, I believe that it is better to work with a group rather than a single individual. The reason is that a group will better hold the decisions made accountable.. with a single person there is no questioning of their actions. Just ask who is in charge - who are the contact people- is there a person in charge of communications with fosters? New and smaller rescue groups obviously have smaller groups and sometimes just a single person running the program. But if it is a single person and you have fosters through them and something happens to that person - then what? So like I said before my belief is that you are better protected if working through a program with more than one person running the show.

5. Does the rescue have a facility? If they do - you MUST visit it. Make sure that the place is clean and orderly. If you come across a place that is dirty and smells then run the other way. If you see animals in their care in poor condition do not work with them and instead call the authorities. All rescues with facilities should have proper food, water, vet care, and shelter for each animal in their care- if not then they are not a rescue- but a hoarder or something worse.

6. What are the rescue's goals and what is important to them? When doing foster care it is important to know what is the goal of the group. Do they want to adopt to only local people? Are they involved in transporting dogs/cats to other states? Are the fosters expected to provide long term or short term care? You need to know what you are getting in to. Rescues should be very particular in who they adopt to and the more particular - that may mean it will take longer to find the perfect home for your foster. Also be leery of rescue groups who just adopt out to anyone with no input from the foster in regards to temperament and personality of the foster they have in their care. If a rescue is not particular of who takes in their pets - then how can you be sure that the animal that you have cared for and invested time and money into is going to be properly cared for?

7. Are the fosters involved in the adoption process? Some groups have the fosters very much involved and others not at all. I have seen people at the local dog park who have fostered who meet up with the owners of fosters that they helped- it is a very nice thing to see. As a foster, you will get attached. Do you want a say in who adopts the animal or do you want to be hands off? Do you want to be updated on how they are doing in the future? It is important that a rescue group listen the foster about who the foster feels should adopt... the foster will know the dog/cat/ horse/ etc. temperament and needs more than anyone. Be wary of a rescue who does not want foster's opinion. As a foster you would not want a dog who you discovered hated children to be placed in a home with children. It is important to have input- but how much depends on the rescue that you choose.

8. Who pays? Generally, a reputable rescue group will pay the medical bills of fosters. Not all do. It is important to know how this is handled before jumping in. Ask how the process works if they do pay- usually you would have to pre approve any vet visits. Make sure this is all in writing. This is actually a HUGE issue and is one that has prompted me to write this. I have unfortunately read more than one story about how a foster took in sick animals and was left with large bills causing them to be late on their own personal payments. As a foster you are - more than likely- expected to be paying for food- toys- bedding- and transportation. Do not work with a group who will not pay medical bills unless you can truly afford it- and in addition- if you are paying medical bills of a group that is a 5013c this may also help when tax time comes if you pay the vets through the group.

Make sure anything regarding medical payments is in writing- email - whatever- you need to make sure that you are protected as a foster parent. Also make sure that you know how they will reimburse you and what the time frame is. Some groups do not take in much money and you may have to wait a long time before you ever see the money- make sure that you can handle it if this is the case. An example of how much of a burden this can be - a while back I took in a poodle from a backyard breeder. I was not working with a rescue group- she was mine-- but it ended up costing over $1,000 in medical bills due to the severe neglect that the poor dog endured. It is amazing how the bills add up. Unless you are rolling in money then I would HIGHLY suggest you work only with groups who reimburse and are very clear on their process.

9. What are the limits? A good rescue (as mentioned before) has a process for evaluating foster parents.... one of those things they should be taking into account are what pets the foster already has and how many can the foster take. A rescue group should not just pull out an indefinite number of animals without having places for them to go. If they are simply pulling dogs/cats to place with a limited number of fosters then there needs to be a limit. Fosters should not be turned into hoarders. Even though a foster is a temporary situation- there needs to be a plan for the animal in their care and a limit as to how many a person can have in their care at any one time.

As a foster a person must know that they cannot save them all. A person must know their limit. When a person takes on too many there are too many problems- especially of a person has also taken on the responsibility of paying medical bills and for food. Remember- a foster is just a temporary home and the foster's home should NOT become the shelter. Just as a foster needs to know when they cannot take on more- a rescue group does as well. A good rescue group will not give a foster too many to care for.

10. Can you emotionally handle it all? This is a very important question. Make sure before you get into fostering that you can take it. You will get attached, but you need to be able to let go. A good rescue will be one that lets you know of any updates on pets that you have helped once they go to their forever homes. Some people try fostering and fail- they can't let go and be sure that when you take in a pet that there is the option for you to adopt if you find the perfect pet through the process.

Going back to number 9- some rescue groups can play with a person's emotion by telling people that if they don't do more then the animals in the shelters will die. Because of this, that is why some people take in more than they handle. Stay away from a rescue that guilts... they are doing more harm than good. It is important to know that by fostering a single dog or cat that you ARE making a difference. By having a single one or a couple then you can provide them much more care than if you had a house full. A good rescue should know this. I have multiple dogs.. I like having multiple dogs and can handle it - but I also know that I cannot take in any more without having it take something from my own dogs... no matter how emotional I get when I see the sad faces of the animals on death row- I know I am doing a better thing by giving the dogs I have the best life instead of loading my house with new dogs.

Fostering can be a fantastic experience that is so rewarding for the foster. Fostering saves lives. Most fostering is a very positive thing- but those few bad stories can put a black eye on foster programs. It is important to do your homework when opening your home to pets in need. Most rescues are very good- but we need to make sure that to get the best experience fostering and provide the best outcome for out foster pets- then we must choose the best rescue groups to work with.