Emergency foster initiatives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in more shelter pets placed in foster care than ever before. Shelters in cities like Detroit, Kansas City and Norfolk have cleared their kennels with help from foster caregivers in their communities. Now that the pets are in temporary homes, we need to take the next step: moving them from foster to adoptive homes without returning to the shelter.
“In Jacksonville, we had an amazing response from our community when we asked for foster support,” says Denise Deisler, Chief Executive Officer of the Jacksonville Humane Society. “Our next step was to provide them with the tools they need to find homes for their new fosters!”
The good thing? This isn’t difficult to do. Here are some simple strategies that shelters around the country are using successfully:
Ask foster caregivers to commit to keeping the pet until it is adopted. Make it clear that they may need to care for the pet for a month or more. While this won’t guarantee there won’t be foster returns, being transparent about what your needs are and why can be helpful.
Set the expectation that marketing is part of a foster’s job. When a large number of pets are in foster care, you need foster caregivers’ help more than ever to get information, photos and videos to use to market their pets. Make it clear right off the bat that you need their help with this. Marketing pets heavily online can help move pets in foster care into adoptive homes before they need to return. Organizations are doing this in many different ways, such as including it in the information on their foster webpage and discussing it in online foster trainings.
Create a protocol for safe adoptions from foster care. You can use American Pets Alive!’s COVID-19-specific Adoption from Foster Protocol. Additionally, see this guide for foster caregivers in how to complete the adoption process.
If you or your fosters aren’t comfortable doing meet and greets in person, they can introduce the pet to potential adopters online with the intention of doing the in-person introduction or adoption at a later date.
Train your fosters to help you market their pets. Many shelters and rescues are using free, online tools such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and FaceTime to provide training for volunteers in marketing pets online. Don’t have time? Send them our free resource, The Foster Caregiver Marketing Guide! They can also find marketing ideas at www.heartsspeak.org.
Provide support for fosters and guidance on communication with potential adopters. What should a foster disclose about a pet in the first email with a potential adopter? How should they introduce their foster dog to a potential adopter’s dog? What should a foster do if two people are interested in the same pet at once? Foster caregivers may need guidance on these questions and more.
“To start, we held a Facebook Live Q&A session with our foster coordinators to answer questions about fostering for our organization that was very well received,” says Tori Fugate, Chief Communications Officer at KC Pet Project. “We also created a new resources page on our website for our fosters to refer to that has helpful tips and tricks. Members of our team are going to host a Zoom meeting with all of our fosters to answer any questions that they’re having or issues they’re experiencing. We have reallocated staff to support our foster program since we have closed a number of our offsite adoption locations.”
Give fosters fun ways to contribute marketing material. Reminding them that you need content and information doesn’t have to be a drag. “I’ve been asking fosters to upload pictures or videos to a shared Google folder,” says Erica Beard, Foster Coordinator for Nashville Humane Association. “The first ask was general – upload a short video of your foster. The second ask was to upload a video of your foster licking peanut butter from a spoon. I find the more specific task you give them, the more excited they are about providing content.”
“We adapted our current foster tools to meet this unique time when people are being asked to stay at home and six feet apart from strangers,” says Deisler. “We updated our materials to incorporate social distancing – so instead of, ‘Post flyers in local stores,’ we suggested, ‘Snail mail five flyers to friends and family and ask them to post in their neighborhood.’ We created a bingo game that families can play at home and a weekly task sheet. Those with children can even include this as a homeschool activity! We also sent them ideas for doing meet and greets with potential families via Facetime, along with an online adoption form that fosters can send to new families. We truly value the support of foster volunteers during this difficult time and we could not save lives without them.”
Need help with your emergency foster initiative? Take our COVID-19 Emergency Foster course on Maddie’s University!