Is it time to put the term ‘foster failure’ to rest forever, and call the adoption of pets by their foster homes what it really is, a ‘foster win’? You bet, say experts at two of the country’s most successful pet foster programs.
The dog foster program at Austin Pets Alive! is the largest in the U.S., and its co-manager Ann Lindholm understands why some organizations don’t want their foster homes to make it permanent: they worry they’ll run out of fosters. That fear isn’t based in reality, she says.
“Most of our foster homes don’t end up adopting the pets they foster,” she pointed out. “And we haven’t found foster adoption to be a major source of losing homes. There are always fosters out there; it’s a matter of recruiting and retaining to the extent you can. Fosters leave for all sorts of reasons. Ongoing recruitment is just part of the job.”
Nevada Humane Society director Denise Stevens agrees. “It’s an old school philosophy that you’ll lose a foster home if you let them adopt,” she said. “More than 50 percent of our fosters have adopted at least one of their pets over many years and hundreds of animals. Nearly all are still fostering for us. Very few people drop out of fostering because they’ve adopted.”
That statistic doesn’t surprise her. “The families who foster for us and choose to adopt are the people most committed to that animal,” she pointed out. “They are also the people most likely to continue to foster for us, because they more than anyone else understand the importance of it.”
NHS goes so far as to waive adoption fees when their foster homes choose to adopt. “These are people who give their time, money and heart to care for these animals for us,” she said. “It’s a lot less pressure on the shelter, and it’s better for the animals. It’s a win for everyone.”
Stevens says she’d like to see her colleagues rethink their views on foster adoption. “These fosters have put the time, money, and love into these animals,” she said. “To deny them the ability to adopt that animal is counter-productive.”
Lindholm has worked with other organizations to create foster programs, and she’s found some cling to draconian policies against foster adoption. Some go so far as to make fosters sign a contract they won’t adopt any of their foster pets. She advises these groups to take a hard look at their foster program and its recruitment process.
“It’s critical to become more skilled in the process of bringing fosters in,” she said. “As long as you feel the foster homes you have are the only foster homes you can have, you’re going to resist anything that might make you lose them. But if you can be convinced that you can bring in a constant stream of fosters, that fear goes away.”
Part of a successful foster program is making your fosters happy, she added. “This person came in to help your program. Now, you’re getting a pet adopted, you’re making a foster happy, and they’re getting a fabulous pet who is already a part of their family.”
What’s more, she said, they may well still be able to foster even after adopting. And because you supported their interest in keeping a pet they have come to love, they’ll have a great feeling about your organization and want to keep helping you.
“We want our fosters to have a good experience, so they’ll continue to foster if they can, and spread the word about us to their friends and family even if they can’t,” Lindholm said. “In fact, word of mouth from our fosters is one of the reasons APA! rarely has to do any recruitment for homes. People come to us. They want to help us.”
Using terms like ‘foster failure,’ even jokingly, to describe the adoption of a pet by his or her foster family may also unwittingly reinforce one of the reasons some pet lovers hesitate to foster in the first place: fear they’ll want to adopt every pet they foster.
“When we set out to recruit fosters, from the very first moment, or as we talk with our own family members and friends, the biggest thing we get is, ‘I couldn’t do it. I’d fall in love and never be able to let them go!'” Lindholm said. “It’s wonderful to see an animal you’ve fostered go to their new family. There’s nothing like it. But they don’t know that yet.”
There’s another problem with using the term ‘foster failure’ to describe foster adoption: Since when did adopting a pet become a failure? “When our foster homes come to us and say they want to adopt, we’re happy for them,” said Lindholm. “It’s a reward for the foster who has given of their time and resources to help us save pets. We celebrate it!”
Stevens feels much the same. “I call it a foster success,” she said. “It’s a win for everybody.”
Find out more about the joys of fostering, and how you can bring the magic home during the month of December as we celebrate the Season of #FalalaFoster!