Written by Jennifer Davies and photography by Joachim Bates Photography
Fosters are the unsung heroes of the animal welfare world.
When mild-mannered journalist Clark Kent (aka Superman) dashes into a handy phone booth and we spot that flash of blue and red, we all know a superhero is on his way. But did you know that real superheroes walk among us? What lies beneath their everyday appearance isn’t a cape or costume; it is a heart big and strong enough to save – and love – many.
To the rescue
Sonnet has been fostering for around ten years, mainly for Uitsig Animal Rescue Centre. “I started by picking up strays. In the process of tracing owners, I made many contacts in animal welfare; one shelter called me later, asking if I could foster not one, but three dogs! Of course, I couldn’t say no…” Since then, she has fostered countless dogs, kittens, and puppies – saving many lives in the process.
Animal shelters and rescue centres do important work, and save lives by providing a place for animals in need (e.g. strays, rescues, etc.) – plus they allow many animals to be viewed simultaneously by potential adopters. Today, many rescue centres provide animal-friendly environments, with, for example, large mixed camps and opportunities for animals to socialise. Animal welfare workers agree, though, that getting an animal (particularly special-needs ones) into good foster care is ideal – not just for that animal but for the next one needing its space in the shelter. Fostering is also best for animals landing up in ‘pound’ shelters, which are not designed to be longer-term holding facilities.
Besides easing the burden on overflowing shelters, fostering does wonders for the animals. Veronica has seen that, “Fostering allows animals to be socialised with other animals, children, and/or a variety of people, housetrained, exercised, and rehabilitated. Special needs animals can get full attention. This all makes them more adoptable.”
She goes on to say that, “Many people, for various reasons, cannot own an animal for the rest of its life – fostering is ideal for them. Others do it as their way of helping animals.” But it’s not just the animals that benefit. As Sonnet says, “Helping these little souls on their journey to fly on to a better future also healed my soul. The best prescription for feeling lost or lonely is to help a lost and lonely soul.”
Job description of a hero
Aside from feeding and loving them, a foster’s job description includes monitoring the animal’s physical and emotional health, spending time with them, providing basic training (such as house-training) and networking them. Potential adopters want to meet the animal, so fosters must be contactable. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to allow them to visit your home; Sonnet’s own rescue dog is wary of strangers, so she and her foster meet potential adopters at their homes or on neutral ground.
When and how you foster is your choice. You can specify your preferences – species, size, sex, age – and what you can supply and will do (e.g. food, home checks for potential adopters, etc.). Most welfares provide food and other necessary items and pay for vet visits, while some fosters prefer to cover everything; establish this up front. You may have to sign a contract to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Fosters are volunteers and rarely paid.
Veronica explains that African Tails, like all reputable welfares, choose carefully, “[Fosters] meet the same criteria as anyone adopting from us – a home check is done, their own pets must be sterilised, if it is a young puppy or kitten someone must be home during the day, etc.” This is done not just for the animal’s well-being, but to ensure that the animal is a good match for your home.
Remember that charity begins at home; your primary responsibility is to your family (people and pets) – everyone has to be on board. If you are house-proud, avoid rambunctious, destructive pups. If your cat fears dogs, it would be unkind to confront her with one. If you have an old or ailing pet, consider putting fostering on hold. Ensure your own animals’ vaccinations are up to date and deworm them regularly.
Flying off into the sunset
Potential fosters worry about being ‘foster failures’ (unable to give the animal up), and, yes, it does happen. Although this isn’t always a bad thing, experienced fosters emphasise that you always remember that letting go is the only way to save others. Knowing that the welfare is strict in their adoptions process, ensuring that your charge is going to the best home, also helps.
For people who do struggle to say goodbye, short-term fostering is better (less time to bond). Welfares often need short-notice, short-term fosters, providing a few days to give them time to arrange a longer-term foster or forever home, or a safe place to recover from surgery (e.g. spaying) or illness. Jenna of Fisantekraal Animal Welfare explains that, “In some cases, (they) only need that extra day or two – and a spare room. I wish there were more people we could call on at short notice, just until we can come up with another plan!”
Saying goodbye can be bittersweet, but never forget: every time you say goodbye, you have saved another life and made space to save another. That is the superpower of a foster.
Could you be a foster?
- Love animals, and are compassionate and patient
- Have enough time/are home often enough
- Have a safe, secure house and/or a spare room
- Can separate fosters from own pets if necessary
- Landlord/body corporate allows animals
- Willing to work with the welfare to get the animal adopted or returned to his or her home
- Understand that you will have to say goodbye but that it is the best for the animal.