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Pet Foster Parents: The Unsung Heroes of Animal Rescue

By Colleen Williams
June 11, 2014 • 3 min. read
Parker feature

The first thing people generally ask Tracy Sherman when she tells them she gives dogs a temporary home while they wait to be adopted is, “How can you handle it? Isn’t it hard to let them go?”

The short answer is yes, but when Sherman, who lives and works in Seattle, steps back and looks at the numbers and realizes the very real need for her services, the goodbye becomes much less bitter and a lot more sweet.

“I shed happy tears when they get adopted,” says Sherman, who recently sent 5-year-old Great Dane-Lab mix, Parker, to his forever home with an adoptive family. “It’s the best feeling in the world to know that if I hadn’t fostered, I’m not sure what would have happened to that dog.”

According to The Humane Society, six to eight million dogs and cats enter the 3,500 animal shelters each year in the United States. Overcrowding of these shelters is a serious issue and, as a result, nearly 2.7 million adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized annually. Of those that remain, many of these animals need extra attention, whether they’re recuperating from an operation or have emotional issues that make it hard for them to be around other animals. In order to save these animals, many shelters and pet rescue services in the U.S. depend heavily on pet foster parents. Sherman says that larger dogs (like Parker), puppies, dogs with medical needs, and those with specific emotional needs are more likely to end up in a foster home as they require more space and extra care.

For Sherman, who has been fostering dogs for just over one year, she knew she wanted to get involved as she has always loved dogs and grew up with them in her home. She learned of the opportunity through a friend and signed up to volunteer with Seattle-based Forever Home Dog Rescue.

It’s no small feat to foster an animal as the pet generally lives with its foster parent until it finds a permanent home, which isn’t always easy to find, depending on the pet’s demeanor and its wants and needs. These considerations aren’t just important for the foster parent, but are important to communicate to prospective adoptive parents. For example, will the dog be good with children? Will a cat get along with other cats? Should the dog live in a rural area because every time it hears a noise it barks? The foster parent must become an expert on their pet in order to be sure they place the animal properly.

Like most rescues, Forever Home uses Petfinder (think for animals) to post pet bios online for prospective adopters. As Sherman learned more about Parker, she was able to add to his bio and list personality traits that she noticed in her three months with him. Sherman also brought Parker to adoption days during the time she had him. Held by most shelters and rescues around the country, these days give the pets face time with potential adoptive families.

One of the values of adopting a pet from a foster home is that they’ve been given extra attention, from obedience training to crate training. These animals know what it’s like to live in a house or apartment, city or country. Their foster parents are able to inform adoptive parents about a day in the life of the pet in ways that some shelters may not be able to because shelters don’t replicate a home environment.

Pet foster parents are not only responsible for the for wellbeing of their animal, but also for getting the word out about them. Parker’s forever family found him on Petfinder and thought he would be a great fit. Parker left his initial home because his owners had a baby who was unable to assimilate to the dog. So after Sherman reviewed the application — a couple without kids who worked from home — she decided an in-person visit with Parker’s prospective parents was the next important step in the process. While many adopters can look good on paper, you never really know until they are with the pet if the fit is right, Sherman says.

Sherman is currently fostering her third dog, but says there’s no pressure to foster year-round, as individuals’ schedules vary. These programs rely heavily on donations — all food, toys, medical treatment and other monetary needs are funded through donations — so even if a pet foster parent takes some time off he can certainly give back by donating food or other services to shelters and rescues. It probably won’t be for long, though, as Sherman can attest.

“My plan was to just foster one dog, and now I’m on my third,” she says with a laugh.

To learn more about how Healthy Paws is committed to helping homeless pets in your community, learn more about our non-profit foundation’s Every Quote Gives Hope program.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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