Finding and retaining good foster homes is a very difficult process. Many people won't consider becomng a foster because they believe that saying goodbye will be too difficult once their foster dog finds a lifelong home. We completely understand. Adoption day is tough but it's also a very rewarding experience.
The dogs that are the easiest to say goodbye to are the ones that come into rescue already socialized and happy. They love people and can't wait to meet someone new. We know when they leave us they won't have any problem adapting to their new lives.
The toughest ones to say goodbye to are those that are fearful and withdrawn upon arrival to the rescue. It could take many months to earn their trust and convince them that they're never going to be hurt again. Some will cower in the farthest corner and will only look at us if don't try to make eye contact with them. Then that first time comes. They cautiously approach us not knowing what to expect. It's a huge breakthrough! Week by week they begin to seek out attention and wag their tails when they see us.
After they're reliably comfortable with us we begin to take them to meet and greet events. They have no idea what's going on at first and typically won't take their eyes off of us. We've become their security blanket. When their adoptive family comes along, it's a happy but heartwrenching time. We're emotionally invested. The dog is emotionally invested. And we have to put the dog through another lifechanging event. We've done our job and the dog will never want for anything again. But there is an element of guilt. We know that for the next week or so the dog will likely regress and become somewhat shy in its new home. We hope we've picked the right family. The one that will go slow and earn the dogs' trust.
Then we get 'the call'. We recognize the adopters' phone number and our hearts stop. In a split second we run through all the possibilities for the call before the phone even rings the second time. The dog is too shy, not happy, not adapting, terrified, etc. We tentatively answer the call and the first thing we hear is 'Everything is going great. We're all so happy!' After holding our breath since the adoption, we can finally breath again!
Sometimes we need a couple of weeks, or even months, before we're ready to take in another foster. That's ok. It's a time for reflection on a job well done. Every dog teaches us something and we use those experiences to help the next one that needs us.
Other people won't foster because they've have a bad experience with fostering in the past. This too we understand. There are a lot of bad rescues that will take advantage of their foster homes. Some don't bother screening the foster home and will put the wrong dog into the wrong home which sets up everyone for failure. Some expect the foster to pay the bills, vet the dog and do all of the work while the rescue does nothing but collect the adoption fees. In essence, they force the foster to become the rescue. This is NOT how it's supposed to work and certainly isn't how we do things!
We screen our fosters the same way we screen adopters. We have potential fosters fill out an application, undergo a home visit and we spend time interviewing them to understand what type of dog would be a good fit for the family.
We typically keep the dog at our primary foster home for a couple of weeks and use this time for evaluation and initial vetting. Once ready for a foster home, we have the foster sign a foster agreement. This agreement puts in writing what we expect from the foster home - that the foster will treat the dog as if it were theirs and will bring it to our weekend meet and greet events. The agreement also certifies that all expenses for the foster are covered by the rescue. Animal Advocates of Michigan takes full responsibility for vetting including transporting to and from our vet. Our dogs go their foster homes with everything they need from crates, exercise pens, blankets and toys to food and medications. The rescue is responsible for finding and approving adoptive homes but we value our foster's input. As a foster, you can be as involved or distanced from the adoption process as you wish.
The most difficult part for us is determining if the foster is serious about keeping the dog until the adoptive home is found. We need our potential fosters to be honest with us. If you only want to foster for two weeks at a time. Fine. We need to know this. If you say you're committed to the long haul, please don't let us down. It puts a great strain on us and our dogs when we have to scramble to find a new foster.
We can't guarantee that a home will come along in three weeks. It might, but it also may take many months to find an adopter. This is especially true when we take in so-called bully breeds.
If you're considering becoming a foster, please consider fostering for us. For more information about becoming a foster, email us at Contact@AnimalAdvocatesMI.org or come to our meet and greet events.