For me, the most difficult part about fostering is the uncertainty. I am such a Type A, planner personality, so all the unknown variables involved in fostering can be preoccupying.
Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t knowPema Chödrön
A few of the common unknowns:
- What each animal will be like. I often do not know much about an animal before I accept it for foster. I rarely know the history. Where did he/she come from? What were his/her experiences? What are his/her preferences? What set up and routine would be best? In the case of dogs, do they get along with other dogs and children and how sure of that can I be?
- When to call the vet. Many of the animals we care for have some medical need, from diarrhea to eye infections to failure to grow to the sneezes. It can be difficult to know when an animal needs intervention or when they are just having a symptom due to stress of a new environment. Also, most animals need a vet check and/or vaccinations during their stay with us. We typically do not schedule these visits until pretty close to the necessary dates and the dates/times offered are limited. Anticipating these visits but not knowing when they will occur is an unknown that messes with my obsessive sense of order! During deliveries, if anything deviates from the textbook norm (as it often does!), it can be hard to know when the animals will need intervention versus observation. I do not want to waste the resources of the shelter or stress an animal with travel unnecessarily, especially as I gain knowledge and expertise, but I prefer to err on the side of caution with our more fragile fosters.
- When a pregnant animal will deliver. I like to be nearby when a mama cat or dog delivers its babies. There can be complications that can be averted by a careful assistant and many animals appreciate the company. But knowing when an animal will deliver is tricky. Not all mamas follow the classic nesting/not eating patterns. And there is rarely accurate dating from the pregnancy confirming radiograph. I have spent many hours researching animal deliveries and the signs of impending labor and I am still left in anticipation each time we have a pregnant cat or dog in the house.
- When the animal will be ready for adoption. While there’s often an anticipated return date for an animal when I pick them up for foster, the exact date varies depending on the animal’s heath or growth. Sometimes the animal will be adopt out of foster, so they go when a potential adopter picks them. I like to fully prepare for an animal’s departure, and prepare the children, so it can be tricky not knowing when that will be.
- When the animal will be adopted. After a foster cat or dog has stolen our hearts, each day they wait at the shelter to be united with their forever family feels like, well, forever to us. The puppies and kittens tend to go quickly, and then we wonder who has them and what their lives are like. The mamas are sometimes there a while, and we wonder when they will be picked and by whom. We obsessively track the daily Facebook postings for news of their adoptions and often visit them while they are there, but the waiting and not knowing strains our hearts.
These are just a few of the many unknowns surrounding a foster experience. While they are probably a contributor to the excitement of fostering, they can also add to the challenge. I think each foster family has a different perspective on the most rewarding and the most difficult parts about fostering, but for my own Type A personality, the unpredictability is the most difficult!