Best Practices: Foster Homes

Today’s blog post is written by Karen Battreal of Nebraska Border Collie Rescue and Shereen Raucci of Mile High Weimaraner Rescue. It is the first of several posts about foster homes. The topics covered today focus on foster home management. We look forward to your comments and ideas.

Karen’s Take:

Our fosters find us.  We have a brochure that we hand out at events detailing what is involved  in fostering.  We don’t actually recruit fosters.

All of our fosters are required to watch the DVD Language of Dogs.  We hold 6 meetings a year and at each meeting we have an “education session.”

We supply food, all vet expenses, toys, crates collars, leashes, basically everything the foster needs for the dog.  There is very little expense for our fosters.  We require year round hw prevention (we supply Interceptor) and spring through fall Frontline, which we also supply.

The foster supplies housetraining, some obedience and must be available to meet with a prospective adopter.  Our fosters must also pick up their foster dog at my home and bring it back for the adoption.  We ask the fosters to attend meet and greets and other events with their foster dog.   We also ask that they keep the dog’s bio updated for our website.  Our fosters have a big say in adopting their foster dog since they know the dog best.

Shereen’s Take:

Dog rescue is an absolute passion of mine. But fostering is the most rewarding part of rescue for me. I’ve been doing it for years, different breeds, a few different rescue groups, and thrive on every moment of it. I’ve fostered well over 100 dogs now, and as many times as I’ve said “this is my last one”, I cannot seem to give it up.  Before I get into the points of the article, let me tell you how I got started fostering.

Several years ago, I adopted “Pierce”, a strong-willed, obese, cranky, sassy, happy, ball-obsessed, butt-headed  11 month old Golden Retriever from a couple that was getting divorced. Pierce lived in a basement, was 136 lbs & had no manners at all. Once home with me, he shredded many shirts, tore down shower curtains, harassed my cats, stole apple pies, and well, if you care to read more he’s featured in Kyla’s Happy Tails book series about Goldens. His story is the Barreling Humper and I LOVE him for all he has brought to my life, yes, even the torn clothing, shredded carpet and more…for all the laughs, the lessons learned and most of all for the unconditional love he gives me & because he is who eventually lead me to my passion in dog rescue.

Eventually, we got the monster-dog under control, joined him for training, he grew up a “little” and we decided to find him furry sibling. I applied to a rescue online and was told that I could only adopt a dog 8 years or older because I had property but no fence. That was fine as I had already fallen in love with a sad picture of a senior Golden-X, who I named Meg.

Pierce spent the first 3 weeks growling & snarling every time poor Meg walked near him. She didn’t care though. She could be just as sassy as him & held her head high and kept right on walking! I swear she did it on purpose to annoy him even more. Eventually, the two pups became inseparable. They balanced each other perfectly and were rarely seen apart .

Soon after adopting Meg, I was asked if I would foster. I had the common reaction of “no way could I give up a dog”! I think my poor husband was petrified we’d end up adopting every dog we fostered, but I gave it a try anyway. I still had no fence so they sent me a “well-mannered” 6 year old Golden named Jack. Oh, Jack was handsome & ENERGETIC, and not so well-mannered at first!!!!!!!  Him & Pierce did not get along at first and we spent the first few days trying to keep them apart, breaking up fights, fixing broken chairs that they had crashed into and trying desperately to tire out Jack. Phew!

Then one day Mama Meg(as she quickly became known as in rescue) had enough of their you-know-what, stepped in, barked at them & set the rules and apparently that was enough because all was well after that. Jack learned manners, accepted that Pierce was the alfa here, was adopted & we went on to foster many more dogs.

I share this story because whenever I approach someone about fostering they have the same hesitations as I did. Many worry about the dogs getting along, will they know what to do, wondering if they’ll have the time, what expenses will  they have to cover, how long will they have the dog, and how will they let the dog go? In order to recruit & retain fosters, these are a few of the common questions that must be addressed.

Let’s first look at finding fosters. We know a rescue cannot possibly be successful without foster homes but how can you find new foster homes? Who, in their right mind, wants to take in a new dog, knowing very little or nothing at all about them, and spend days, weeks or months turning them into an adoptable dog? We all know that no one surrenders “Lassie”! But luckily there are more of “us” out there in the world…we just have to find them.

–      Most new fosters will be recruited by existing volunteers:

o  Neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends.

o  Talking with others at the dog park

§ When a foster takes a dog to the park, it helps if the foster wears an Adopt Me vest to promote conversation

§ I always keep a handful of business cards with me

–      Previous adopters

o  Invite them to help at events, and by talking with other fosters, it’s likely they will give it a try too

–      New applicants

o  Consider a Foster to Adopt Program. It’s a good way for the applicant to know if they’re ready for a new dog, what age, temperament, etc

o  Even if they adopt their foster, keep in touch with them & encourage fostering again

–      Post flyers in your community:

o  Vet offices

o  Doggy Daycare

o  Groomers

o  Dog Training Facilities

o  Community Boards at Dog Parks, or at pet-friendly walking paths

o  Pet Supply stores

o  Target businesses that attract people that would be fitting for your breed

§ Example: Weim’s are active & bred as hunting dogs, so we target running stores, hiking clubs, hunting and fishing businesses

–      Post online

o  Petfinder. com and other related websites

o  Your Rescue website

o  Online newspapers & other pet-friendly publications

o  Blog online with other dog-enthusiasts

–      Adoption Events

o  Have flyers available, outlining your foster program

o  Make applying easy! Have a laptop available to enter their contact info on the spot or have them complete a paper foster application right there!

o  Ask experienced fosters to be there to talk with others

o  Have dogs wear Adopt Me or Foster Me vests

–      Utilize Social Networks such as Facebook or Twitter

When interviewing potential fosters, be positive about the rewards but honest about the challenges. When finding them a first foster dog, make it a great experience so they want to do it again and again!


Once you’ve got fosters, they will need know the rescue’s expectations. They’ll need guidance, training and ongoing support.

–      First thing you’ll want to do is have them complete a Foster Home Application

This creates good conversation during the phone or in-person interview


– Secondly, if approved they should sign a Foster Home Agreement.

o  The guidelines in this will vary from group to group, however, normally includes waiver of liability in case of injury or damage to the home/belongings; states the dog is still the property of the rescue until adoption; and basics such as the foster will provide food, shelter, training, transportation to and from vet appointments, events, etc.

o  It is recommended that an attorney develop or at least review this contract. This will save possible legal issues if they arise. (and yes, as much as we want to believe that volunteers would not refuse to adopt our or return a dog, or sue the rescue, it does happen so be prepared)

–      Be sure the Foster Applicant has reviewed the Foster Home Guidelines & fully understands the expectations

o  This might be a printed Foster Manual, Online Documents, etc

§ This should include at a very minimum, an overview of the foster program

§ Include Contact numbers for Coordinators   (Ie: vet coordinators, foster home coordinators, etc)

  • Who to contact for what questions
  • 2-3 Emergency Contacts
  • what is an emergency?

§ Above is the link to MHWR Foster Care Guidelines. In addition to this, we talk one on one with each new Foster Applicant to be sure the charge is understood

§ NOTE: each rescue should personalize their guidelines according to their own expectations & specific to their breed

Ongoing training is important, no matter what level of experience a foster parent has.  We tend to  concentrate on the physical part of saving dogs, getting them in safely, preparing them for adoption, successful adoptions, and onto the next and organized training often gets pushed aside due to lack of time or manpower.

–      Think about this though. Even the most experienced fosters run into something new, whether it’s a behavior, training, or medical issue. By organizing training sessions, it gives each foster, time for themselves and to share & listen to others challenges also.

o  Form a team of say 2-3 people to tackle this

§ Offer training quarterly, bi-annual, annually, whatever works for your group

§ Pick the date! Don’t keep putting it off!

§ Choose a location

§ Notify the group

§ Ask experienced fosters to choose a topic to discuss (ie: separation anxiety, fear-biting, digging, etc)

§ Invite a professional trainer. Many will donate their time to rescues.

  • MHWR works with a trainer who donates time to our rescue. He helps us over the phone with lesser challenges, meets with our fosters if more challenging. He even holds occasional classroom training for us, most recently on crate-training and leash-walking tips

o  Consider supplemental training to learn canine massage, cooking healthy meals for dogs with allergies, etc

o  In between classroom training, you can easily send out training Tid-bits via email or posting on your website

o  MHWR recently set up a Facebook Page for volunteers. That has given us a place to talk about some of our experiences, both good and bad. It makes us laugh, cry and we learn so much from each other.

o  And remember that experience itself is a wonderful way to train!

Let’s now take a look at Standard foster parent obligations…from foster home expenses to socializing foster dogs, interacting with applicants and attending events….you will donate your time & your heart, and more!

One common question I’m asked is “do I need to pay for everything if I foster”?

No! Most rescues cover all necessary vetting, such as rabies, parvo/distemper and other routine vaccinations.  I’ve found that spay/neuter policies vary greatly between rescues. Some rescues pay for spay/neuter, while others expect the adopter to pay. Emergency care should be covered by the rescue as well, however, most rescues have discount arrangements made with select vets so fosters will want to be sure to call their emergency and/or vet coordinator contacts before seeking vet care.

Commonly, fosters will be expected to provide quality food & transportation to and from vet visits, and events. Some rescues ask that certain brands be used, especially for breeds prone to certain allergies. Often the group can negotiate a bulk discount with a manufacturer or even a local feed supply store.

MHWR receives donated collars, leashes, bowls and even dog beds. No, they don’t have our logo on them, which would be nice, but by saving that money it allows us to use that money toward vetting and other costs. If a foster chooses to buy their foster dog a new collar and leash, they certainly can, and many do, but we are able to provide them at no cost in most cases.

MHWR also microchips each incoming dog. We have negotiated with several vets to do this at no cost, and several volunteers have been trained as well so there should never be a cost for this to our foster homes.

Crates – it’s a good idea for fosters to have one on hand. We have several in the rescue that are shared but we also encourage fosters to purchase one of their own. They can often be found in classified ads or on Craigslist at reasonable cost.

Miscellaneous expenses like dog beds, toys, cleaning supplies, housetraining aids, etc will likely be at the expense of the foster home. But check with your rescue to be sure.

Yes, there will likely be out-of-pocket expenses for foster homes, but the most costly is vetting and that should be covered by the rescue group. The reward of fostering greatly outweighs any monetary expense I have ever incurred!


SOCIALIZING YOUR FOSTER DOG: Let’s face it, you are fostering because you want to help that dog get ready for adoption & socializing with other dogs & people is an important part of that preparation.

– Most foster homes have resident dogs, cats, or other pets. This provides initial socialization without being overwhelmed in a public area

* Foster parents should observe their foster dogs reaction and interaction with the other pets & people at the foster home

* When the foster feels the dog is ready, they can move onto other areas to socialize

– When ready, take your dog to pet supply and feed stores, or other pet-friendly businesses.  Home Depot, Jax, and Lowe’s also let people bring their dogs in. These are great places to start introducing dogs to new people, scents and sounds.

* Eventually, take your foster to a dog park or other public place with multiple dogs. You will want to keep them on leash until they know their name and will recall when told.

* Some doggy daycares will let fosters bring their dogs to learn to socialize also. Be sure all vetting is up to date!!

– If your foster isn’t yet ready for off-leash parks and multiple dogs, take them on leashed-walks through busier parts of town. Reward them!

– How does your foster react when neighbors ring the doorbell? Or enter the house or yard?  How will your foster react if in an apartment complex? Will they bark as neighbors come and go? These are all very important things to note and consider.

Experienced fosters know when and how to introduce their foster dogs to new situations, better preparing them for adoption.


We’ve concentrated on the dog until now, but what about interacting with applicants? Obviously we’re all dog people but relating to applicants and potential adopters is a whole different world! Many of us have heard the most horrible stories & seen the worst conditions, which leaves us mistrusting of others & wary of their dedication. But … that’s where our Adoption Coordinators come into play!

It’s a good idea for a rescue to have a designated “Adoption Coordinator” or whatever other title, but it must be someone that knows how to relate to applicants, to calmly ask the right & prompting questions, and yes, bite their tongue in some cases. This person must also be able to relate to the foster homes, who will likely be the final say in who adopts their foster dog. It’s key to find a balance here – the Adoption Coordinator can steer a foster home toward a potential applicant, but the foster home knows their dog best so should be trusted to help find the right home. Again, this theory varies among rescue groups, however, the majority I know of invite and rely on foster homes to be a part of finding the right forever home.

Last but not least, what about attending adoption events with your foster? Yes, it takes time from your weekends, but adoption events are great ways to let your foster strut his stuff! Let him/her show off how far they’ve come! And besides, that it’s a great way to mingle with other volunteers and raise awareness about dog rescue!


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10 Responses to Best Practices: Foster Homes

  1. Shereen says:

    Karen, I am curious about a few things….
    – how many active foster homes do you have? and approx how many dogs do you rehome in a year?
    – how many fosters find you each year? and on average how long do you retain a foster home?
    *MHWR has some really awesome fosters but we do struggle at times & never have nearly enough, so we’re forced to board temporarily. It’s a quirky breed & not for a first-time dog owner so we look for experience with similar breeds. I fostered Goldens for several years & they too, of course, can have behavior issues but nothing like Weims! I guess we have to be more selective because of the challenges with Weim’s, which is one reason we have recruit rather than let them find us.
    – And lastly, how does your rescue find funds to supply food, leashes, collars, etc? Are there grants available? private donators? anything you can share would be great!

  2. kelbel says:

    some rescues really leave it up to the adopter to spay/neuter? that sounds like a litter waiting to happen. when i foster, i only have 2 requirements: that a male is neutered, and that they are not barkers (i live in an apartment building). i can’t believe a rescue would allow a possible litter to be born after all the trouble of finding/saving the dog, fostering them, turning them around, etc.

  3. kelbel says:

    shereen, i was wondering the same thing about the food! the first rescue i worked with in rhode island also supplied food for the first couple of weeks.

  4. It seems to me that the large-breed rescues, where the pups really eat a lot, are more likely to need to provide at least some food support for foster homes. The small-breed rescue I foster for provides us with coupons and food whenever they can, but it’s not really a bit deal. I mean, after all, my Boston only eats one cup of food a day! The thing I most appreciate is the rescue providing me with toys because the fosters chew them up so quickly, and they can be expensive.

  5. at our last meet and greet 3 people approached us and asked to foster. one of them will be accepted because he has adopted from us. the other two will need to submit an application to foster. we check references and do home visits for potential fosters. right now we have 14 active fosters. we have 4 taking a break. However, we never have enough fosters.
    How long do our fosters stay with us? on average i would say about 3 0r 4 years. We have several who have been with us for 7 or 8 years
    We adopt an average of 50 + dogs a year.
    we also have a difficult breed. interestingly most people who want to foster have experience with border collies. we also have educational sessions at each meeting so that fosters can learn more about the breed. we also encourage fosters to attend herding trials and clinics and agility trials. many of our fosters have their dogs herding tested. so most if not all of them are pretty knowledgeable about the breed.
    We have a great relationship with some retail stores in our area and they donate dog food, treats, just about everything we need to feed the dogs.
    We also have a good relationship with the local humane society and they give us crates, collars and leashes. To be honest, we rarely have to buy anything for the dogs. We have groomers who donate their services so that the foster dogs get groomed and a boarding kennel that not only donates services but the owner fosters for us.
    We run the rescue like a business. we have a hefty bank account and we have fundraisers often. we also have people who are generous with their donations. Because we have built a relationship with our vet, we get lowered costs and frequently get free service and meds.
    I can’t express strongly enough that rescues need to be very friendly with those who can help them.

  6. Karen, you are right on about being friendly and appreciative of supporters, area businesses and building relationships with area humane societies, etc. That’s really amazing that you save that many dogs with a handful of fosters, great job!! I admit I don’t really know much about Border Collies, I’ve met a few but never had the chance to work with them. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Very true Kyla! My big dogs eat a good 4 cups a day…multiply that times 5-7 dogs at my house at any given time and I guess that adds up! We’re always learning and hoping to find new and better ways to help our foster homes!

  8. Several states have laws requiring the rescue group to collect a spay/neuter deposit and sign an agreement to have that dog spayed/neutered within say 6 months(unless there is a medical reason, such as heartworm treatment, etc). We all do what we can, but keep in mind each rescue is run a bit differently. I’m researching this more since I’m writing a chapter on spay/neuter – it’s taking me longer than I thought because I am learning so much and each time I learn somethign new, I dig into that too!

  9. Thanks so much Karen! I was imaging how you could afford to buy all that to provide for fosters – great ideas to share!

  10. We don’t do early spay/neuters because so many of our dogs end up being used for herding/agility and we feel that they need to grow up before we s/n
    Therefore, we require anyone adopting a puppy to bring us a prepaid s/n from their vet. We then refund up to $100 upon being provide with proof when the pup is s/n

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