Foster carers: saving lives one snuggle at a time

Have you ever wished you could welcome a four-legged friend into your home, but decided against it — perhaps because of the long term commitment? Well, read on to find out how you can still enjoy the company of a dog or cat AND save a life: foster caring!

In this interview, Animals Australia staff member Lucy and animal advocate Kathleen share some of the rewards and challenges of fostering...

What does a foster carer do?

Lucy — As a foster carer, you provide a temporary and loving home for a dog or cat until they can be adopted. Sometimes that's only a week or two, or sometimes it's for several months — but you arrange that with the rescue group. Sadly, nearly 200,000 Australian dogs and cats are put down each year because they are unwanted. All across Australia, rescue groups work really hard to find homes for as many of these needy companion animals as possible, and they rely on volunteer foster carers to help them do so. With many pounds and shelters unable to keep animals for long because of constant new arrivals, foster carers are literally the difference between life and death for these dogs and cats.

Kathleen — A foster carer is responsible for feeding the animal, providing bedding, keeping their living area clean, giving them medication if they're sick, and of course, providing lots of love! The rescue group pays for any veterinary services the animals need, and advertises to find permanent homes for them. All of the animals are vaccinated, microchipped, and desexed before they're rehomed.

Sugar, a former foster dog of Lucy's
Sugar, a foster dog of Lucy's who now has a happy forever home.

How did you become a foster carer?

Lucy — I've always loved animals, and am planning to adopt a dog one day, but I'm not able to make that lifelong commitment just yet. A few years ago when I moved to a house with enough room, I did some research online about foster caring with local rescue organisations, made some phone calls and went from there!

Kathleen — When I was a uni student, I found some kittens and adult cats living outside the student cafeteria. I started feeding the cats, then arranged for them to be desexed, and I trapped the kittens once they were old enough and fostered them until they found homes — once they were desexed too of course. Now I foster through a rescue group*, and altogether I've fostered about 40 kittens and a few adult cats.

What animals have you fostered?

Lucy — I've looked after several dogs, all with different backgrounds and personalities and who have all gone on to lovely adoptive homes.

Kathleen — I've cared for a lot of kittens who had no human contact until they were about 6 weeks of age. These kittens are a lot more timid than others, so they need more handling. They do come around to people, though, and it's very rewarding to see them transform from a frightened kitten to a confident, playful one. At the moment I'm caring for Flossie and Fangio, two lovely kittens who were rescued with their mum and three siblings from a pound in regional Victoria. They are really affectionate, and love cuddling up to each other on my lap. [Animals Australia note: Since this interview was published, Flossie and Fangio have both found wonderful adoptive homes!]

Fangio, a foster kitten of Kathleen's
Flossie, a foster kitten of Kathleen's

What's the best thing about foster caring?

Lucy — Having animals in your home! And it's so rewarding to know that you are helping save a life. Also, it's a shorter-term commitment than adopting, and you can choose how often you do it.

Kathleen — It's a lot of fun! You get to meet a lot of animals, each with their own distinct personality. It's also wonderful to know that you've helped save an animal from being killed in a pound and to see them find a loving new home. One time I was chatting to someone via an online forum, and it turned out she had adopted a kitten from me years before! She said what a great cat Tinkerbell was. That really made my day!

What's the biggest challenge?

Kathleen — Saying goodbye.

Lucy — Yes, saying goodbye when they are adopted, for sure. But when you know that you've helped give them a second chance at life, and that they're going to a loving permanent home, it's all worth it.

Do you keep in contact once they've been adopted?

Lucy — That depends, really; you always know some details about where they have gone, because the rescue group will make sure it's going to be a good match, but you don't always have the opportunity to stay in touch. One of my friends actually fell in love with two little dogs I was fostering though and ended up adopting them, so it's been easy to stay in contact with them!

Who would be suited to foster caring?

Kathleen — Anyone who loves animals, is responsible and who has a bit of time to spend with their foster animal each day. Of course you need to live somewhere that's pet friendly. There are rescue groups all over the country, and they're always looking for new foster carers. You really do get more out of it than you put into it!

How can others get involved in foster caring?

Lucy — It's a great idea to get in contact with your local rescue group. Pet Rescue is a good place to start — you can find contact details and website links there.


*Kathleen has fostered through: »

*Other groups who often facilitate foster caring include: »

*In NSW: »

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