Fostering pets can teach kids compassion
It’s dinnertime at Raymond Achim’s house and he’s preparing a nutritious bowl of curly lettuce, parsley and carrots for his guest — a bunny named Luna. As he approaches Luna’s cage, she scrunches over to make room for the bowl of food and is soon munching away on her greenery.
Luna is staying with Achim as part of a pet fostering program run by the Quebec Rabbit Society (Secours Lapin Québec), an organization where Achim volunteers. He is providing a temporary home until a permanent adoptive family can be found. Achim says fostering offers animals a safe home where they can thrive. “It provides a more balanced life than an animal shelter,” he explains. “The animal in a foster home is under less stress, so it’s likely to reveal the brighter sides of its personality.” And that, he adds, increases the chances it will attract the eye of someone ready to adopt.
Fostering a pet can also be a great project for families, one that teaches children and adults about the value of volunteering, responsibility, compassion and, yes, learning to deal with loss when a pet is adopted. “It becomes a project that the whole family can rally around,” Achim says.
Foster families are asked to provide the kind of care usually associated with owning a pet. So, for example, they’ll need to provide food and water, appropriate exercise (walking a foster dog) as well as attention and love (petting the animal if appropriate, allowing it to be among the family during the day, etc.).
The length of time a pet stays with a family can vary enormously. Some may stay for only a few weeks, others for months. Organizations that offer pet fostering (see sidebar) go to great lengths to make the process as easy as possible on the families. They usually provide essential tools such as a cage, water bottles, bedding, etc. Many will cover veterinarian fees as well.
Families who are considering fostering an animal can contact the rescue organizations to learn what animals are available. Shelters often seek families willing to take pregnant mothers or those nursing a litter. Barbara Lisbona, founder of the Animal Rescue Network, Montreal’s largest no-kill animal shelter, says kittens and pregnant cats are vulnerable and don’t do well in a shelter. They need the peace and space found in a home. (However, those who care for animals are careful to emphasize that shelters provide a much safer environment than simply releasing a pet onto the streets or into the wild, where they are unlikely to survive.)
To foster a pet, families can expect to undergo a thorough interview and maybe even a home visit. Animal rescue organizations are usually looking for families who have a stable home life and at least one responsible adult who can ensure the animal gets the proper care, love and stimulation it deserves. Families should be ready to treat the pet as if it were their own, cleaning up the occasional mess and making sure the home is safe for the animal (that means ensuring a rabbit can’t chew on electrical wires, for example).
Foster families are also expected to assist the organization by bringing the animals to adoption clinics (when possible) or allowing home visits with potential adoptive families (accompanied by organization volunteers). Volunteers regularly follow up on the animal’s condition and help is usually just a phone call away if things don’t go as smoothly as they should.
Families will also need to have a clear sense if they are fostering for a short period or if adoption is a possibility and this should be communicated early on to the children. When it is time for a foster pet to leave the family, give the children time to take some photos and say their goodbyes. Emphasize to children that they are providing an important service that will eventually let the animal find a permanent home.
Pet fostering resources
The following local groups are looking for families to foster animals:
Animal Rescue Network (cats and dogs)
Quebec Rabbit Rescue
Kiko Dog Rescue
Sophie’s Dog Adoption
Gerdy’s Rescue (dogs and cats)
Eleven Eleven Animal Rescue (cats, dogs, exotics)
Project Sphinx (cats)
Families interested in long-term fostering of a dog might consider contacting the Mira Foundation, which provides guide dogs for visually-impaired people as well as children with autism. The Foundation needs families willing to foster puppies for almost a year. For more information, visit www.mira.ca.