Open Fostering: Removing Barriers to Fostering During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Kristen Hassen-Auerbach

Kristen Hassen-Auerbach | March 16th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event and shelters and rescues must act urgently to place as many pets in foster homes as possible. Outdated and ineffective restrictions including background checks, home visits and long wait times should be let go of during this time. Shelters and rescues still and always will need to use their best judgment, but now is the time to embrace proven, lifesaving practices, embracing the entire community as our best chance to save more lives. Here is everything you need to quickly implement an emergency foster protocol:

  1. Share a news release and social media post asking the public to help foster a pet. Set a goal of finding a minimum of enough foster homes to house half of your current population.
  2. Explain to staff, volunteers and the public why fostering is urgently needed in all rescues and shelters at this time. We are all in this together, and the more pets we collectively get out of the shelter and into homes now, the more we can help in the coming weeks and months. Invite your regular volunteers and staff to foster a pet or take home supplies to foster a pet in the near future.
  3. Ask people to sign up to foster if and when your organization hits a space crisis. Here is a sample form you can copy for your org. Shelters using this are quickly signing up 300 or more caregivers who pledge to help when needed!
  4. Follow this emergency foster protocol. Process foster placements the same way you do adoptions. Visitors should be able to come in, meet a pet, and foster it on the same day. Here is a sample foster application and foster agreement you can use as a template for yours.
  5. Consider doing remote adoption or foster placement if you’re worried about people coming inside. Here is the protocol to do adoption and foster counseling via telephone or online communication.
  6. Don’t turn people away! If you have a great turn-out of people wanting to foster, consider re-allocating other staff and volunteers to help. At our shelter, almost anyone can process a foster placement so we have a whole team of people who can help.
  7. Allow fosters to find permanent homes for their foster pet. You can implement a foster-to-adopt program easily and it will save your shelter valuable space and resources.

This is a critical time for your organization to pilot an emergency foster program, loosening the old restrictions that prevent animals from leaving alive. Please read the entire American Pets Alive! COVID-19 Preparedness Guide for a complete set of protocols to maintain lifesaving while protecting the health of staff and volunteers and follow American Pets Alive! on social media for up-to-the-minute updates and information.


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