I was at a conference and just happen to overhear a very interesting conversation on pet fosters a few rows over: "My cousin fosters cats. He has been doing this for years and takes in all sorts of rescues: homeless, abandoned, special needs, abused. His mom did this too, it sort of runs in the family. I don't know how he does it! Some of those cats are just too precious to let go! And, yet, he manages to find the perfect home for them every time."
I practically climbed over four people in business formal to go meet my new friend and get more information about her cousin. I reached out to this cousin and asked if I could pick his brain on what it really takes to be a pet foster parent. What I learned was quite a doozy. I'll let Seth Greenleaf speak for himself.
A Pet Foster Parent's Story
"I’m a theatre producer and a passionate animal rights advocate. My mother has volunteered at shelters since we were kids and we grew up helping her rescue, rehab, and foster.
I began doing trap and release in my area in South Florida, where we have a large feral population. I work with the younger ones to see if I can help them become adoptable, and the others I get up to date on their shots and try to keep them healthy in their colonies through spaying and neutering.
When you do animal rescuing/fostering, you're not looking for a pet. You're trying to help as many animals as you can, at least get well, and hopefully find forever homes. You're typically limited by the animals you can take in, and certainly limited by how many you can keep, either by means, or circumstances.
In my case, because I travel for work and can be away six months of the year, or more, it's not feasible or fair for me to have anything but very independent outdoor cats as pets. Most fosterers are limited by space. They usually have a few pets and enough space to focus on one, maybe two rescues at a time. If they tried to keep them, there would be no more rescuing, which is a much higher purpose than the joy we receive from any particular rescue.
We form bonds to help socialize and relax them, and to make them easier to adopt. They love us, and we love them, but we know it's about their next step, and not about keeping them. So... all the "You should keep him!" and "This is meant to be!" and "You can't give him away!" and "He loves you so much, you have to keep him!" and every other version of this, no matter how well intentioned, makes us feel badly because while doing a very difficult task, it sounds like we're not doing the one thing we should be (keeping them), when in fact we're doing the hardest thing, which is letting them go.
If you ever do this kind of work, you'll understand exactly what I'm saying. If you never do, it's okay, I'm not the least bit upset and I know the comments come from the very best place, but just know that it's the only thing rescuers and fosterers don't like hearing, so if you want to support them for their work, just be encouraging, and if you REALLY want to support their work, adopt one of their rescues.
If you’re interested in fostering a pet, reach out to a shelter in your area. They are often overrun with animals and find it very difficult to give individual attention to teach things like house-breaking and socializing to adoptable rescues. Nearly all animals can learn to love and connect with humans over time. Some cases are tougher than others, but there’s usually someone who can use the amount of help you can offer. Thank you for pitching in."
- Seth Greenleaf, cat foster dad
So, there you have it. It certainly takes a special type of person to bring in the abandoned and the weak, the abused and the sick, nurse these animals back to health and show them that there are good people in the world. Then find the perfect home for them and... just let them go.
Fostering will change the life of an animal for the better, but it's hard to let go of something you worked so hard to help.
If you find that fostering isn't for you, you can certainly volunteer at shelters, donate to local rescues, adopt a pet from a foster parent or simply offer to help them out in any way you can. Any aid you can offer to a animal in need will never go unrewarded.
Need a couple of gift ideas for a pet foster parent?
Pestavert spray and Pestavert gel: non-toxic protection against mites, lice, fleas, ticks, and many other external parasites. Safe for rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, gerbils, mice, prairie dogs, degus. Also safe for humans, dogs, and cats, goats, horses, and any other mammal bothered by pesky external parasites.
A smart addition to any pet parent's First Aid Kit.