Along with reduced-fee adoption events, emergency foster care is becoming the go-to answer for nearly every crisis an animal shelter can have, including natural disasters, outbreaks of contagious illness, population surges and building renovations. Emergency foster care enables shelters to greatly increase their capacity for care for a short period of time, taking strain off staff and opening up valuable kennel space for pets who need it.
Market research tells us that some of those who are reluctant to become traditional foster caregivers may be open to helping during a crisis, and organizations across the country are seeing this firsthand. Even better, shelters and rescues have reported that up to 85% of pets sent to emergency foster never have to return to the building! Caregivers often decide to keep their foster pet longer than the required 1 to 2 weeks or find them a permanent home during the foster period.
Emergency foster care can be a successful tool for an organization in crisis, but it can also help boost the capacity of the organizations who are helping them! If your organization is transferring in pets from a shelter in crisis, supporters may be more than willing to provide foster care in order to help you save more lives.
Thanks to emergency foster initiatives, the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA of Charlottesville, Virginia is able to continue transferring in hundreds of pets from areas in crisis, even while their building’s capacity was temporarily reduced due to renovations. “We were able to assist hurricane-stricken North Carolina and recently Tulsa, Oklahoma,” says foster coordinator Morganne Struble. “By utilizing emergency fostering, we were to expand our capacity, even when a third of our kennels were out of service.”
Knowing how to create and publicize an emergency foster initiative is the key to getting many pets into foster care quickly. Use the following guidelines to ensure that yours is successful.
Alert your local media. Create a press release and disburse it to local media outlets as quickly as possible. “Contacting local media helps cast a wider net,” says Struble. “Always contact your local media.”
Prioritize foster care just like adoption. Explain how fostering will save pets’ lives. Our research suggests most people don’t understand how foster care saves lives. If fostering seems like an afterthought in your messaging, it won’t be as important to your supporters. An example of text that prioritizes it might be, “Our shelter is full, so we need your help to save these cats’ lives. We need adopters or fosters who can care for an adult cat for two weeks or more, opening up space in our shelter for cats in the current hoarding case.”
Keep it simple. Although your organization may allow field trips, overnights and other lengths of stay in foster care, offer just a few options in order to guard against decision paralysis. A week or two is usually long enough to be helpful to your organization but short enough that it’s easy for a first-time foster caregiver to commit to. Make it easy for people to take pets home. When the predetermined time period is over, allow caregivers to continue to care for their foster pets if they choose to do so.
Introduce the pets that need help the most. Your most basic goal is to make an emotional connection between the pets and your community. Showing the faces and telling the stories of the pets in need of need foster care will facilitate this connection. “This may require creating a slide show, Facebook album, or using a tool like Trello,” Struble tells us. “In the shelter, you can specifically mark which pets are in need of emergency foster care. This can help decrease time at pick-up because most fosters will have a few animals in mind they would like to foster. It can also help make fostering more accessible. Instead of a general plea, interested individuals can connect emotionally to an animal in need.”
Be specific. Let your community know the specific number, type and size of the pets who need foster care. For example, “We need foster caregivers for 30 adult dogs who weigh 40 pounds or more.”
Create a multi-day social media campaign. Ideally, create several posts over a period of 3-7 days. Let the community know how many lives have been saved and how many are left to go. When pets are taken to foster homes, celebrate these wins with your community.
Following these guidelines for your emergency foster initiative can help you increase your organization’s capacity for care and save more lives.