How does the saying go? A good friend is hard to find, harder to keep? The same could be said about animal rescue fosters. Finding a good foster home for your animal rescue can feel like finding the last remnants of the rope toy you thought your foster pet devoured – absolute relief.

So when you finally do connect with someone patient, understanding, and willing to train an animal that’s socially stunted, you want them with you for the long haul! But how do you keep their home open without overwhelming them in the constant rotation of pets? How do you make sure they have everything they need without being overbearing or feel like you’re micromanaging? Research conducted by Dr. Laura Reese, Director and Professor at MSU and President of Professional Animal Welfare Services, could provide some answers.

Animal fosters need to feel supported and heard.

When you ask current pet fosters about what words come to mind when they think about fostering, you’ll likely hear things like rewarding, fulfilling, even essential. The same gung-ho fosters though will also answer things like bittersweet, challenging, and (at times) heart-wrenching.

Research has found that people actually bond to their foster pets oftentimes more than people do to their own pets. While the research doesn’t say why that is, from our own experience, I reason that it has something to do with the situation we saved them from. Animal rescuers see some of the worst humanity can do so maybe we feel like we need to be extra loving or extra attentive to make up for it.

The problem is, that level of attachment does mean there will be grief, and not just on adoption day. Think about the average day. The day you woke up late, you were in a rush to get everyone fed and pottied, but you can’t break the rotation because this foster still isn’t comfortable with other pups. Of course that’s the day someone decides to be extra naughty and counter-surfs for the first time in months, spilling your coffee all over your phone.

This is where the real test of support comes in. Does your foster have a place to call or text to just vent about their day so far? To cry about the exhaustion, get it off their chest, and know that everyone has these days, can understand and empathize, and reassure them: The work they’re doing is so much bigger than this one day.

Recognizing the type of support your foster needs.

People get into animal fostering for a myriad of reasons, but they’re motivated by one of two things – people or animals. Those who are people motivated are the ones that are super excited to bond a new family together, they’ll do what they can to make sure your family finds the right pet for them. Those who are animal motivated are the ones that won’t stop until every pet has a home, they’ll do everything in their power to make sure they find the right family to adopt their pet. Notice the subtle change in the sentences there? Which one resonates more with you?

Those who are people motivated tend to experience more happiness, more satisfaction through the fostering process, however they tend to be less resilient to the grief that comes with it too. There’s not enough research to say if that’s the grief of separation or grief of the days that go wrong, but it’s safe to assume, they may need a little extra guidance during stressful situations. Better to offer more help than less!

Those who are animal motivated tend to experience more grief, however they tend to be more resilient to that grief. These are the fosters that may need to be told when to take a break and recharge. It’s great that they’re ready to take on the world, but it’s best to be mindful of the toll it can take on their mental and emotional well being before they burn out. Instead of losing them for a couple weeks or a month, you may lose them for years or even for good. To learn more about ways you can encourage mindfulness in animal rescue, click to read our last blog here: Mindfulness in Animal Rescue: Combating Compassion Fatigue with Effective Tools

Simple and easy ways to support your animal fosters

  1. Encourage self-care:
    I know, I know, don’t roll your eyes 🙄, but there’s a reason so many people talk about meditation and reflection. It works. Data has shown that squeezing in as little as 10 minutes of meditation every day can help rewire our brains to a calmer, more peaceful version of ourselves. If 10 minutes sounds like too much to commit to, start with 5. Even that much is enough to reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety.Self-care doesn’t just mean meditation, things like going to the gym, taking a bath instead of a shower, even ritualizing your skin care routine count as self-care. Those moments in the day that are just about you and no one or nothing else.
  2. Build a true community amongst your fosters:You’re aware of the community of rescuers around you because they all report to you, of course! But others inside of the community might not realize there are others like them. Don’t forget to build the community among them too! Have some sort of group messaging system like a private group on Facebook or a foster channel on Slack or Discord. Somewhere they can vent their day to day, get and give advice on the day to day, and even ask for a doggy play date to help get their foster pets socialized!

    It really can’t be stressed enough that being able to talk with their community and know that they’re not going through anything alone can make all the difference.

  3. Show your gratitude beyond just a thank you:You know how valuable your foster families are to your animal rescue, but do they? Without them, you couldn’t save the animals you do! Don’t they deserve to feel that appreciation from time to time outside the standard thank you? Now don’t worry, this doesn’t have to be a big bash or expensive blow out, it could really be as simple as a potluck gathering in a centrally located park, or maybe sending some rescue swag when they reach certain milestones! If those aren’t viable options for your rescue, even a shoutout to their hard work on your social media page can go a long way to really making your foster feel seen and valued.

Animal fostering is a labor of love that not everyone is cut out for; but those that answer the call deserve every support and heartfelt gratitude we can give them. They are the backbone that supports this community.