Fostering a Pet Carries Many Emotions
Fostering a pet for a few days, weeks or even months can be a rewarding experience since there’s no doubt about it – more dogs and cats are alive thanks to the volunteers that take them into their homes temporarily. Helping homeless pets with behavioral issues, socialization or recovering from an illness not only makes them more adoptable, it also opens up spots in the shelter for other animals. But no matter how great it feels to help save the lives of these animals, it’s also easy to get attached to the pets you take in. So we asked Sujatha Ramakrishna, M.D., a Chicago-based psychiatrist, former foster mom and author of the forthcoming book Raising Kids Who Love Animals, for advice on how to keep the emotions of fostering a pet in check.
When fostering a pet, the biggest emotional issues to watch out for is getting too attached to your temporary pets. Remember that you and the animal have a working relationship, says Dr. Ramakrishna. Instead of treating the dog or cat like a member of your family, think of him more like a colleague. Or you could think of yourself as a teacher rather than a parent. “Teachers are loving and caring, and they develop strong relationships with their students, but they understand that they do not have the final say in a student's life,” says Dr. Ramakrishna.
But attachment issues don’t stop at your emotions. Sometimes pets may become too attached to you as well. While cuddling and TLC are important parts of fostering a pet, all out spoiling the dog or cat can cause trouble. Animals that get too attached to their foster parents may have a harder time adjusting to their new home once they are adopted. Focusing on treating the foster pet like a student or a colleague, rather than a member of the family can help you keep your emotions, and the animal’s emotions, in check.
Ultimately, you must remember the real goal is to help the animal you’re fostering find a forever home and for him to be happy there. “My foster dog slept in his crate at night, while my own dog slept in bed with me,” says Dr. Ramakrishna. “After he was adopted, he started sleeping in bed with his new guardians at night and he must have thought that they were the best family ever!
Your foster assignment may last a few days or a few months, but no matter the length of the pet’s temporary stay, when it’s time to say, “goodbye,” you’ve got to be ready. This is the moment that your volunteer efforts have been working toward after all. You’ve helped to prepare this pet to find the perfect forever home and now it’s time for you to do what’s best for the pet. Depending on the situation, you may even be responsible for meeting with prospective adoptive families. If you start thinking that none of them are good enough for the pet you’re fostering, it could be a sign that you’ve grown too attached, says Dr. Ramakrishna.
Throughout your foster assignment, try to stay focused on the goal of getting the pet ready for it’s new forever home, so you’re always thinking of the day you’ll part ways in a positive and happy way. “Drawn-out, tearful goodbyes are stressful and confusing for animals,” says Dr. Ramakrishna.
It’s natural to want to keep tabs on your foster pet’s new life. So if you’re having trouble parting ways, ask the new guardians if they’re willing to exchange emails and stay in touch after the adoption, suggests Dr. Ramakrishna. “This can help reassure a foster parent that the pet is happy in her new home,” she says. You may even be able to offer helpful advice to adoptive families if any problems do arise since you know what it’s like to live with the pet.
Another way to let go of a foster pet is to focus on the next pet you’ll save. As a volunteer foster, once one assignment is over, you can soon take in another pet to prepare for finding a perfect forever home.