How to Talk about Fostering
We get asked all the time “how do you do it? How do you give them up? Isn’t it sad?” In this blog post I want to talk about why goodbye is the goal of fostering- and give some tips on how to talk to others about it. If you’re looking for more about how to get started fostering, check out the blog post we wrote a while back called Becoming a Foster.
Goodbye is the Goal
The whole point of fostering is to be a temporary home for an animal. If you do your job successfully, this dog (or cat, rabbit, whatever animal you foster) will go to a new home shortly. Hopefully, that home will be a great match for the dog because of the work you did in learning about his or her personality and working on basic training. Your job as a foster parent is to provide love, care, shelter, training, and evaluation to figure out the type of forever home a dog will thrive in. A lot of the time, that might not be the same as your home, but knowing that information is unbelievably valuable.
But of course, a lot of people don’t understand this. When they learn about fostering, they ask questions like “how could you do that, isn’t it mean?” or “I could never, I would just keep them all. Don’t you want to keep them all?” or “isn’t that a lot of work to put into a dog you won’t have forever?” I wanted to talk about some of these questions so that if you’re one of those people, OR if you’re someone who has to answer these questions, I can help clear some stuff up.
“Don’t you get attached/ want to keep them/ love them/ have a hard time saying goodbye?” or it’s companion that I like even less “I could never do that, I would want to keep them all. I love dogs too much”
Any foster parent will tell you this is the number one question we get asked. And the answer is “yes.” Of course we get attached. Of course we love them. And of course we want to keep some of them. But it’s not about us. (Spoiler alert, this is basically the answer to every question on this list). We don’t foster for ourselves. We do it for the dogs. We do it because there is literally nowhere else for that dog to go. Because breaking our own hearts means that a dog gets to live. Because I would rather be sad for a few days than know that I let a dog die in a shelter because I was too scared of getting attached.
If that sounds harsh, that’s because it is. I don’t say that to everyone, but to people who really get in my face, I often do. I stare back at them blankly and say “it’s better than knowing they died in the shelter.” (This is not a great way to make friends by the way.) But it’s the honest truth. Shelter euthanasia rates are way, way down compared to just a few years ago, and a lot of that is due to the increase in private rescues and fostering initiatives. So when someone tells me “I could never do that, I love them too much. I’d be so sad” I feel an amused sort of frustration, because these people are basically implying that I don’t love dogs as much as they do because I can foster and give them up. Sometimes I even say that “Well, I guess I just don’t love them as much as you do!” Or, I like to give a deadpan “so?” because at the end of the day, that’s how I feel. “So what?” Yeah, you’ll be sad. That’s not really the point. If you’d rather not be sad than help an animal, we probably weren’t going to be friends anyway.
It’s not easy to say goodbye to the dogs. No matter how many times we’ve done it (we’re at 76 as of this post), we still get sad sometimes. To remind ourselves that a foster dog leaving us is supposed to be a celebration, PD (PigDad, aka Eric my fiance) and I started a tradition many, many fosters ago. After that dog leaves we take a tequila shot in his or her honor. It’s sort of silly, but it reminds us that this is an accomplishment. We did our small part in saving a life. And that’s worth a hearty “cheers”.
“Isn’t that a lot of work [to put into an animal you wont get to keep?]”
Again…yes. Volunteering isn’t about personal gain though. You don’t build a house with Habitat for Humanity to have a great place to live. You don’t volunteer at a soup kitchen to have a great meal. You don’t coach a youth soccer team to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Volunteering isn’t about what it can do for you. It’s about putting in work, time, dedication, and heart knowing that you will receive nothing back except the incredible feeling of knowing you did your part to make the world a better place. That you touched another life and made it better. That you woke up this morning and worked your ass off (or just cuddled a dog) and you made a positive impact. I think that’s pretty worth it, personally.
“It looks like he’s already home / She’ll be so sad to leave you / No one could give that dog a better home/ KEEP HER”
This is so. frustrating. As a foster parent on social media, I work really, really hard to show my foster dogs in a positive light. I work with them on integrating into our home so that they have a great experience. My dogs are awesome teachers, and they love welcoming new dogs into our home and showing them the basics of living in a home, cuddling with people and with each other, playing with new toys, and being part of a pack. My fiance is an amazing person who might be half dog and has an incredible ability to bond with every animal that comes into our home. And yeah, it’s heart warming AF to see them all smushed on the floor cuddling on a dog bed. But guess what? That doesn’t mean this dog should stay forever. Because that’s not the point of fostering. The point of fostering is to give that dog a great experience, learn about him or her, and help a family out there with a missing dog shaped hole in their hearts fill it up with the right fit.
This is really important for those of us social media. Every comment on a post that says “she looks so at home, keep her!” could be deterring an adopter from inquiring. Every time you message us that you think we should keep a dog (which is frankly none of your businses, no offense), you take time away from us answering an inquiry from an adopter. I never ever mind answering questions, but it takes a toll to hear someone say how happy a dog seems with you when you are already anticipating just how brutal it will be to say goodbye.
When we had Maru (a very shy Puerto Rican street dog who went from being terrified of us and our dogs to being almost a normal part of the pack) I was getting multiple messages telling me I should keep her, that it would traumatize her to move again, that she had adjusted so well to her life with us. When we had Gert as a foster, before we knew she was terminal, we got these messages every. single. day. She had adopters waiting for her. We were doing meet and greets, and we were constantly waiting for health results to determine what her path forward would be. And every single message I got about how at home she was and how much she would miss the girls and Eric made me cry. I cried every night thinking about her leaving our home. And I was still willing to do it, because keeping her meant we couldn’t continue to foster. And in the end when we learned that she was terminal and we decided she’d stay with us, I cried because I felt guilty taking her away from these amazing adopters, and because it meant we had to stop fostering. It’s hard enough to deal with all the emotions that fostering brings up. People’s opinions can bring you to your knees.
Instead of saying any of those things on social media, here are some things I suggest you comment or say to a foster family. “Wow he’s going to make some family the best pal!” or “I can’t wait to see the lucky family that gets to cuddle her” or “You guys are doing a great job fostering him!” or “Thank you for giving another family the chance to love this amazing dog.” It is always, always appreciated.
“I would do it if I had the time/ space/ didn’t already have a dog”
Some of these are valid and some are not. I just try to figure out what the real hold up is- it’s usually not any of the things they say. I say “well we both work full time, live in an apartment (albeit with a yard now but we fostered when we didn’t too), and have 2 dogs.” Sometimes it’s easier when you already have a dog, because you’re already on a dog schedule, have a walker, etc. If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, that’s a valid reason. If you’re out of the house 14 hours a day, that’s a valid reason. If you’re looking for an excuse to give because you’re embarrassed that you don’t want to do the work or you’re afraid of getting your feelings hurt, I don’t really feel bad, and you’re not helping anyone by saying “I would if I just…” because then my response is usually “well, you could volunteer or donate!” And if the person doesn’t do those things, they don’t really actually care. They just don’t want you to think you’re better than them. But you are.
“People who rescue/foster dogs always think they’re better than other people”
We are, thank you for noticing.
“So fostering is like a trial to having the dog?”
This is interesting because a lot of people think this is a bad question. I actually think it’s a really good one, and I actually suggest fostering to anyone I know who is considering getting a dog. While I don’t think you should look at it like you’re trying out having that specific dog, I do think fostering is a great way to try having a dog in general. You’ll learn if you have the right schedule and enough patience to train a dog, and you’ll learn all about what kind of dog is right for you. And in the meantime you’ll get to save a life, without the commitment of adopting. I think that’s a pretty great thing to do, and I think all adopters should have to foster a dog first!
Being a foster means being an advocate
All in all, I think fostering is the best. I also think it’s really misunderstood, and in addition to all the physical and emotional difficulties of fostering we also have the added burden of being advocates. But I know if you are already kickass and strong enough to be a foster parent, you’re strong enough to be an advocate. Welcome to the fam, we’re glad to have you.
Other questions you get that I didn’t address here, or other topics you want to see covered? Did I get something totally wrong? Let me know here.