5 things I didn’t know about fostering

  1.  Every animal is different and requires something different of me. 

I thought that once I had my “cat setup” and “dog setup” figured out, and I ironed out the kinks in our arrangements, I could just use the same format for each foster.  I thought I would never devote as much time and mental energy to subsequent fosters as I did to the first.  As it turns out, I am constantly problem solving to figure out which scenario works best for each individual animal. 

How high of a gate does each dog require (we have fostered some really athletic dogs!). Where will they be the happiest (quiet room to themselves or in the middle of the action?).  What is causing this diarrhea and how can I make it go away?!  What food do they like?  What kinds of interactions do they like?  Can I trust them to interact with the kids?  Where will they choose to deliver babies?  How much exercise do they need?  Where is the best place to put the food/water bowl and the litter box? 

Livie with a foster dog, Gerralynn.
  • 2. The mess is constant.

I have cleaned up SO MUCH POOP!  Foster dogs do not come with a housebroken guarantee.  Actually, a foster dog is much more likely to have some accidents than not.  And when the accidents are diarrhea…  Needless to say, I own a steam cleaner and put it to regular use. 

Even cute, innocent kittens are messy to the extreme.  They love playing in the litter box, wrestling each other and spraying litter EVERYWHERE!  They do not always master the skill of eliminating in the litter box right off the bat and there is often poop in surprising places (really, the bathtub?!).  Much like young children, they leave their toys everywhere!

Puppies are probably the messiest creatures alive!  They each poop frequently and large litters of puppies can make a poop disaster quickly.  I often deep clean the puppy pen only to return an hour later to poop everywhere (and of course they want to run through it to get to me and then show their love by jumping all over me!). 

Sometimes foster animals are sick and quality cleaning is of the essence during their foster period.  Linens must be washed in hot water or discarded, bowls need daily disinfecting, waste must be disposed of immediately. 

The laundry!  The paper towels!  The repainting of rooms (yes, you read that correctly!)!

Prior to fostering, I didn’t know how much of the time I spent in this endeavor would be cleaning.

  • 3.  It’s a whole family affair.

While I was eager to begin fostering myself, and hoped my family would enjoy it and take pride in it as well, I didn’t realize how much it would affect the whole family.  The foster animals become part of the household and family pretty quickly and our routines adjust with them. 

Kittens in the bathroom?  That’s where the kids head after school to visit.  That’s where they want to bring their friends when they come over to play.

Puppies downstairs?  When can we take them outside to play?! 

Dog in the house?  Let’s all go out for a walk. 

What’s that smell?!  Watch out for poop!  Don’t step in it AGAIN! 

We have all had joys and frustrations.  We have all shared in the labor and pride of a job well done.  We have all reached our limits.  And, of course, each person makes a bond with certain animals as they come and go.  Each of us has had our hearts broken by several animals that considered us theirs.  We have all loved and lost. 

The family. Devon (me!), Mae, Dane, Andrew, Nora, and Ryan
photo cred: Melanie Reyes
  • 4.  I fall in love with each and every one.

I didn’t realize before fostering that I could develop a deep bond with soooooo many living creatures!  I thought I could keep emotions more or less out of the equation as I labored for the benefit of animals as a stopover to their true home.  I know each and every time that this is not an animal that is mine; not an animal that I am even considering living with forever.  But I think with each new foster I have, during the course of their stay, daydreamed about what life would be like if they stayed.  What if I just adopted this one?  Or that one?  The one with sad eyes that took forever to win over?  The one that sleeps best in my lap?  The one that wags all over when I walk in a room?  The one that constantly looks up at me on walks?  The one that purrs like a motorboat when I scratch the spot?  The one I nursed back to health through many long days and nights? 

I knew I loved animals.  I didn’t know my heart could be so full and so broken so many times.

  • 5. It is sad and happy to return each animal.

I could not have anticipated the feeling of returning an animal from foster to the shelter to prepare for adoption. 

Each time, my heart is heavy.  I have known from the beginning that our time together was temporary, but the animal has not.  I feel like I am betraying them.  As I hand over the leash or the carrier, I always have second thoughts.  Am I doing the right thing?  Is it wrong to love them and leave them?  Is it worse if they never knew that love or care?  How will they feel in the coming days?  No, I know and I shouldn’t let my own thoughts torture me.  The moment I turn my back on them and walk away is devastating. 

But then there’s some happiness too that I also could not have anticipated.  It feels good to have completed a job and to know that I have done it well.  Here is an animal ready for its forever home whereas before, for one reason or another, it was not.  I was the link between the not ready and the ready and I know that the animal was well cared for and well loved in between.  I feel pride in that.

And then I go home and clean (clean like crazy!) the areas where that animal lived.  Then there is a freshness, a newness, to the space and it is so clear that it is a space waiting for the next animal in need, the next foster. 

Learn more about fostering opportunities at the Humane Society of Huron Valley.

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