second chance pal
Pick the right animal for you and your family
After you’ve decided you are ready to foster, selection of your temporary houseguest will be one of your most important considerations. Choosing the right animal will help ensure a positive experience for all; choosing the wrong animal will create chaos in your home and can cause serious harm to your family, the foster or your own pets. Bear in mind that a shelter environment can be stressful on many pets, and the behavior observed in the shelter may vary greatly from the behavior an animal displays in your own home.
If you already have children and pets, their safety and welfare must take priority, so shelter animals that have proven to be good with children and other animals will be your best choice. Ask to bring your animals and children to the shelter for a “meet and greet.” The shelter staff will likely be able to assist you in making an appropriate choice.
Spend time up front to determine which pet’s temperament and personality will match those of other members of your household. By doing this, chances are that you will not likely experience the heartbreak of having to return a foster pet to the shelter due to “incompatibility.”
Remember that dogs that exhibit aggression or extreme fear are not candidates for second chance pals. If you find your foster pet exhibiting either of these behaviors, call the shelter immediately.
Your own animals should have a vet check and be fully vaccinated or titred for their own well being.
Taking your second chance pal home
After you have completed all of the necessary fostering paperwork, double check the vaccination, spay/neuter and de-worming records. You should have a signed copy of the Foster Contract as well.
If you are transporting either a foster dog or cat, make sure that the crate is escape-proof - an airline-approved one is best. The last thing you want to deal with is a loose dog or cat in the car as you’re going down the freeway. This crate can also serve for crate-training purposes (see this link from Humane Society). Do not let the animal out of the crate or, in the case of a dog, out of a slip-proof leash until the dog or cat is safely inside your home.
Make sure your home has been prepared with leashes, food, extra bowls, blankets, toys, and an appropriately sized crate before the dog arrives.
Introductions to your pets
First thing to remember is to keep a calm and steady attitude yourself. If you are nervous, your animals will also pick up on your nerves.
If you have other pets in your home, they should be well-adjusted and non-aggressive. If you already have pets that are territorial, it would be best to contact a good trainer or behavior counselor for advice on behavior modification before even thinking about becoming a foster parent. Otherwise, calm and friendly pets will help ease the fostering experience for everyone.
When first bringing home a foster dog, it is best to make introductions in a neutral place (a park may be a good option, or if you live on a particularly quiet street, in the street itself) where each animal is on a secure leash. Take extra care when removing the dog from the crate and attaching the leash. Or, you may want to ask to bring your dog(s) to the shelter and have them meet the new temporary resident there. Dogs should only be pulled away if there is an indication that a fight is about to occur (frozen body posture, raised hackles, snarling, growling, or snapping). Otherwise, keep the leashes loose.
If you are introducing a cat to a dog, you will likely want to make introductions inside. Make sure the cat has ample room to escape to a safe perch.
Familiarize yourself with canine or feline behavior and body language before you make introductions. If either animal becomes frightened, stressed, or aggressive, remove both animals from the situation immediately. Give lavish praise when the animals have settled down and are friendly toward each other.
If a fight should occur, break it up safely. NEVER put yourself between the animals. Instead, distract the animals by dousing them with water, placing (not whacking) a plastic chair on their backs, throwing a large blanket over the fight or making a loud, shocking noise by banging on a large pot. You may also consider purchasing an air horn set aside just for this purpose alone. Once the animals are separated and you can safely handle them, leash or crate them to prevent another fight, and call your shelter, trainer, or veterinarian for assistance.
Now that you are home
Do not leave the animal unattended, or safely crated, for the first one to two weeks. Remember, DO NOT EVER leave the animal unattended with other pets or children. There are too many stories about seemingly wonderful dogs that have seriously injured or killed other family pets . . . or in worst cases, a child.
During the first week, you may choose, depending on your size and the size of the dog, to leash the dog and attach the leash to your waist. That way you can encourage positive behavior (like chewing on appropriate toys, urinating outside, playing appropriately with other pets, etc.) and discourage unwanted behavior.
Sometimes that method isn’t always possible. If a dog isn’t leash-trained or appears afraid of the leash, you can ensure he stays near you by using baby gates to block the doorways of the room you’re in. You will need to stay alert; a frightened dog who is not on a leash may simply jump the gate rather than turn to you for reassurance.
Having the dog on a leash also presents opportunities to begin simple obedience training. Talk to your shelter’s trainer for information on positive reinforcement-based training methods, or, if you have the time and money, enroll your foster pet in a basic group obedience class. Group classes are great for teaching not just obedience but also positive social skills.
When cats first come home, they should be confined to a safe, well-ventilated, comfortable room with fresh food, water, toys, and a clean litter box. Other pets should be introduced to the foster cat only once it feels comfortable, is socializing well with you, and seems to be adapting well overall in the room. Any dog being introduced to a foster cat should be leashed for the cat’s protection, even if the dog gets along well and is non-aggressive with other cats.
Emergencies, Accidents, Illnesses
Vaccinations, spay/neuter and micro chipping are all covered by the shelter as well as a supply of heartworm preventative. Please discuss with shelter management who will pay for emergent medical care. Some fosters are willing to consider their animal as their own and are willing to spend a portion of their own money for a tax-deductible donation. (See article on Tax Deduction for Pet Foster Care.) Be sure to ask the shelter for a letter if you plan to take this deduction and keep records of all your fostering expenses.
If your foster pet becomes ill or injured while in your home, call the shelter immediately. If the illness or injury is common or minor, the shelter has personnel and products available to make a diagnosis and provide basic treatment. If it’s more severe and requires veterinary care, the shelter staff can advise on where to take the pet. Monroe County Animal Shelter has two veterinary clinics that work with the shelter to provide treatment to our animals.
If your animal has an injury or illness that requires emergency care, please refer to the Foster Guidelines. Severe injuries such as broken bones and severe illnesses such as parvovirus can end up costing thousands of dollars to treat, so know your financial limits, and be prepared to discuss treatment methods, options, and costs with the veterinarian. Be sure to ask for an estimate, and let the veterinarian and staff know that you are fostering the animal. If the injury or illness is so severe that euthanasia is recommended, call the shelter to discuss the situation before making the final decision. Remember, even though the animal is residing in your home, the shelter is still responsible for making important decisions regarding the pet’s welfare.
Become a social butterfly
Exposing your foster dog to a variety of positive situations will be the single most important activity you can do as a foster. If you have had success walking the dog on a leash without problem, consider building confidence by taking them for short trips to PetsMart, PetCo or other doggie-friendly stores.
If the dog is showing consistent signs of good behavior, you might enjoy going into Knoxville to Market Square and having lunch al fresco at one of the many restaurants that allow pets on the patio. It is also a good place to meet up with other dogs and their owners. PetSafe has built a nice dog park downtown. Be forewarned, 5 p.m. is when everyone gets off work and the park is packed with lots of dogs. Be sure to carry doggie bags as a good citizen and pick up after your foster. Wear your second chance pals t-shirt and pass out business cards to those who ask about your dog. Promote your dog and remember to take photos!
These “doggie adventures” provide an opportunity to reinforce obedience commands and see how the dog will react in a foreign environment loaded with distractions of all kinds. It also helps you learn which commands or social skills the dog excels at as well as identify those that perhaps need a little more work. The benefits of taking your foster dog through a basic, positive reinforcement-based group obedience class cannot be stressed enough if you have the time to do so.
Cats will benefit most from socializing with you, your family and guests, and non-aggressive pets already in your home.
Promote your second chance pal
Once the animal has been in your home for a week, it is time to report your findings to the shelter. Email the shelter and scp's director; this would also be a good time to submit photos you've taken as well.
If you are artistically inclined, you might choose to make up some fliers to place around the county in businesses or schools, making sure to ask permission, of course. Colorful, cute photos, along with creative graphics, tend to draw the most interest. Remember to include your contact information. Although the shelter is ultimately responsible for making the final decisions regarding the permanent homing of the pet, you can list your phone number on the fliers and encourage interested adopters to come and meet the pet either in your home or at the shelter, when you can be present to supervise and answer questions. As a foster parent in these situations, you can be the first and best line of defense in the screening process.
MCAS and second chance pals role
In addition to providing the initial behavior assessment, a simple health exam, initial vaccinations, spay/neuter services and micro chipping, the shelter also will provide you with these foster care guidelines, a foster application form, a foster care agreement to be signed by both parties, information on adoption procedures, and any other paperwork necessary to assist with the transition of the animal’s care and location. second chance pals is willing to promote adoption of each pet as if that pet was still housed at the shelter.
Before the start of your fostering career, a second chance pals representative will interview you and inspect your home to determine the safety of your environment and assess your ability to properly care for pets. Shelter staff will also check with your vet to make sure your own pets are healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations. This home visit and interview process will provide you with the opportunity to ask questions.
SCP will provide periodic checkups on the pet’s wellbeing, and, given sufficient resources, may agree to follow up on the pet once he or she has been adopted. But your offer to assist with follow-up will be greatly appreciated by busy shelter staff.
Found! A forever home. Congratulations!
Nothing is more satisfying than finding that forever home for an animal you have opened your home to shelter, feed, love and promote for adoption.
Stay in touch
Once your foster pet has been adopted and placed in his lifelong home, you may still be called upon for advice and information. After all, the pet may have spent a great deal of time in your home, and any information you have acquired about the pet’s behavior, health, temperament, and training will help ease the transition.
Ask the adopting family if you can call them from time to time to check on the pet and you can also ask adopters to contact you occasionally to let you know how the pet is doing.
In fostering, there is no greater reward than receiving a phone call from a family years after they have adopted one of your foster pets, telling you how much they love and appreciate their pet . . . that kind of feedback makes it all worthwhile.