Did you recently expand your foster program? Check out these tips!

During the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the country have come together to make space in their homes to provide foster care for more than 45,000 animals. Has your organization recently expanded your fostering capacity? Or are you planning to follow in the steps of so many other shelters across the country? Consider the following information presented by Pamela Reid, PhD CAAB, and Marny Nofi, CPDT-KA, of the ASPCA Behavioral Sciences team during the ASPCA’s recent webinar, Frustrated Foster Families? Provide Animal Behavior Help to Caregivers During COVID-19.

Benefits of fostering animals:

  • Obtains information on an animal’s behavior – past behavior is the best predictor of how they will adjust to an adoptive home
  • Gives them a break from shelter – helps reduce stress and improves their quality of life
  • Gains additional avenues for adoption – increase the visibility of the animal and your shelter

Additional benefits of fostering noted during the pandemic include:

  • Expands pool of fosters due to higher number of people working from home. Many of these folks are actually willing to take on animals that require more care (including medical and behavioral issues). This set up is a great opportunity to work with dogs that have separation anxiety.
  • Increases staff health and safety by reducing the need for staff in shelter
  • Frees up shelter staff to tackle projects previously put on the back-burner

Tips for successful placement:

  • If a new foster has a good experience now, retain them as a foster when they return to work!
  • Be transparent about everything you know (and don’t know) about the animals you wish to send to foster care. By providing potential fosters with as much information as possible, the potential foster can determine which animal they think is the best fit. This information should include their perceived needs. Do they need to be the only animal in the home? Do they require a certain level of experience?
  • Set expectations. How frequently do you expect them to follow up? How difficult are the treatments the animal needs (both medical and behavioral)?
    • Set an expectation for the timeline, even if it’s “I don’t know but we will reassess the situation and have a better idea in 4 weeks.”
  • Help your foster families prepare their home for a new foster.
    • Don’t just tell them, show them. Create a video demonstrating how a foster should prepare for their new foster pet. Don’t have time to create your own? Check out these videos on how to set up a foster home
    • Make sure you give them the resources they need ahead of time so they can have the house/room prepared before they pick up their new cat/dog
  • Acknowledge that you may have animals in your shelter that are not suitable candidates for foster care for safety reasons – and that it is ok to make that decision. Consider placing “grey zone” animals with a member of your behavior team (if you have one), an experienced staff member, or a behavior professional in the community. Before a grey zone animal goes to a foster home, make sure you have a frank discussion including disclosure of all of the problems, how to work on the issues, and all of the possible pathways/outcomes for that animal. It is especially important to provide timely feedback when they reach out.

Tips for providing follow-up and collecting pertinent information:

  • Be consistent in your follow-up. Follow-up contact makes fosters feel supported and appreciated.
  • Make sure that seasoned fosters continue to receive all of the attention they need.
  • Be prepared for an increased need for time spent on follow-up with expansion of your foster program.
    • If your foster coordinator is having trouble keeping up with the volume, consider re-purposing daily care staff or volunteers for foster follow-up.
      • Provide them with handouts/resources for common questions, so that they can be provided to caregivers who need them.
    • Don’t have the staff/volunteer base to re-purpose? Consider an automated application like Maddie’s Pet Assistant .
      • Maddie’s Pet Assistant (MPA) is a free application that gives shelters an automated way to communicate with fosters.
      • MPA links with shelter software and automatically sends a survey to fosters at predetermined intervals.
      • When a foster fills out the survey and checks certain responses, the application follows up with an email of resources!
      • The app flags which fosters require follow-up and makes a list of those that should be prioritized.
  • Consider utilizing video chats for follow-up calls for animals with medical and behavioral needs.
    • Being able to see the foster’s home and communicate in real time can help you connect and communicate better.
    • You can demonstrate what you are asking the foster to do (like training), and ask them to try it while you watch so you can provide feedback.

Preventing future behavior problems:

  • Puppy socialization presents a unique challenge in a time when social distancing is necessary.
    • It is important to expose puppies to all sorts of people and friendly dogs prior to 16 weeks of age. This is more difficult during the pandemic, but there are still plenty of opportunities!
    • This is also a good time to teach puppies that they do not have to say hi to everyone by rewarding them with treats (or toys) for not interacting with people while on a walk.
    • Consider having socially distant play-dates with friends and their social and fully vaccinated adult dogs. Bring your puppy to your friend’s house and place them in a secured fenced area (or vestibule). Wait for your friend to retrieve the puppy, then come back and repeat the same process to pick him/her up after the play-date is over.
    • Consider participating in online puppy training classes. It helps keep your puppy’s learning on track and also supports local businesses that typically rely on in-person interaction for revenue.

Preventing future separation anxiety (in adult dogs and puppies):

  • Work to maintain the predictability of their schedules; all major “events” should be consistent. If possible, they should be timed to mimic what their schedule will be when the family is no longer home all day.
  • Incorporate short periods of alone time throughout the day both while you are home and while you are out of the house for times like shopping.
    • Give them a tasty treat or a food toy that helps them associate your absence with good things.
    • Help them learn that alone time is fun!

Additional resources provided during this webinar:

  • ASPCA COVID Information Hub – provides COVID specific information such as how to socialize a puppy during a pandemic, making virtual adoptions successful, etc.

For full details on behavior problems and solutions, watch the full webinar.


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