By Kelly Duer and Rory Adams
Animal welfare is rapidly changing and more lives are being saved than ever before. While many of us are seeing this bright future of our industry being put into action, we still have many changes to enact before we reach our goal of a No Kill nation. One of the many positive changes includes the way we house animals in our care, as shelters are becoming gradually more foster-centric. Eventually, foster care will be recognized as more than a luxury program and will become a foundation of our work.
Is a foster-centric world even possible? Consider these five signs:
Foster care is better for pets and people.
Over the last hundred years, advances in science have made it obvious that institutionalization, in all its forms, just doesn’t work for humans. There’s been a massive movement away from institutions like orphanages and hospitals. Industries are moving toward home-based and patient-centered models of care that considers each person as an individual with unique needs and wants.
Will it be any surprise when we realize institutionalization also doesn’t work for animals? Will moving pets who aren’t directly benefiting from being in the shelter into foster care, become the obvious and best alternative, for them and for us? Moving toward a system that relies more heavily on foster care is not only possible, but safe, more humane, and less costly.
Field trip fostering – animal welfare’s most recent blockbuster hit.
This spring a seismic shift quietly took place, the likes of which we’ve only experienced in our dreams: massive crowds, similar to those at the premieres of the summer’s biggest blockbusters, gathered outside of animal shelters. As part of a nationwide study on foster care, shelters and rescues unveiled field trip programs and invited the public to participate. Across the country and within days of one another, shelters from New York City to Detroit to Chesapeake, Virginia were emptied of dogs for the day.
The takeaway? People want to foster pets. When we give people the option to determine the length of time they can house animals in foster, they come in droves to help our shelters. The biggest challenge of these programs is not recruitment but the logistics of involving a large number of community members at the same time.
Open adoptions lead to open fostering.
The open adoption movement, based on assuming people have the best intentions with animals, is bringing about a parallel change in foster care. Traditionally, foster caregivers have been given few options for fostering other than infant puppies and kittens or pets with medical needs. At many organizations, potential foster caregivers were often “screened out” rather than “screened in.”
Today, fostering is inclusive for just about any pet in the shelter, and the length of time a caregiver can foster a pet can range anywhere from a few hours to several months or more. It’s never been so easy and so flexible to become a foster caregiver as it is today.
Foster programs are supersized.
How many people in one community can we convert into foster caregivers? Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, AZ set out to answer this question with help from a grant from Maddie’s Fund. Being a high-intake shelter in the fifth-poorest city in the nation that cares for homeless pets from a geographic area the size of the state of New Hampshire, one might consider PACC to be among the shelters least likely to succeed at this task. However, PACC is not only succeeding, but making history, with over 5,000 pets placed in foster care in 2018 alone (not even counting the pets placed in the community by local rescues!). This month, they have 700 pets in the shelter and 900 in foster care!
PACC may have the highest per capita foster rate in the nation, and if it can be done in Tucson, it can be done anywhere. How many foster caregivers can one community sustain? The answer is a lot higher than we thought, and we’re just getting started.
Foster caregivers unite!
The foster caregivers themselves are beginning to find their voices, and in doing so they’re leading the charge for more resources and better caregiver support. The organizations they’re creating, such as Foster Dogs, Inc. and Cat Hustler, are not only thriving but helping to recruit new fosters, teaching caregivers to market foster pets for adoption, and building the movement’s momentum.
It’s becoming clear that we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what foster care can do for homeless pets, and for our movement as a whole. Here’s to a foster-centric future!