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If you want to have some canine energy in your life, but can’t or don’t want to permanently adopt a dog, you might consider fostering a dog. The energy and unconditional love a dog can provide tends to help many people feel a greater sense of happiness and calm. Plus, for many of us, dogs are just plain fun. When you foster a dog, you don't have to commit to keeping the dog forever, and you're doing an act of kindness.

Robin Watkins-Farrington, of Rock Hill, S.C., has been fostering dogs for over a year. “The dog gets to get out of the shelter and the best part is then they don’t get euthanized,” said Watkins-Farrington. She recommends looking up your local animal shelters to see if they have fostering programs. Watkins-Farrington has been working with the York County Animal Shelter in York, S.C. “I love fostering dogs. I know I’m saving animals. I can’t save them all, but I can save one or two at a time,” she said.

If you're looking for a community project for your company, helping a local shelter to place dogs could be just the morale booster that your workplace needs. An inspiring story: The Chicago plumbing service Bishop Plumbing has taken on finding foster homes for dogs as a "company mission." Bishop Plumbing informs its clients about opportunities to foster dogs, and some of the company's employees have provided foster homes for the dogs.

How to get started fostering a dog

Watkins-Farrington said that in most cases, you will be required to volunteer at the shelter for a period of time and fill out an application. Volunteering allows the staff to get to know you and your skill level in caring for dogs. You will also be required to attend one or more training sessions to prepare you to foster a dog. Watkins-Farrington said she needed to volunteer at least four hours a month at the shelter for a few months to be put on the foster list. You can expect to be checked out for any animal abuse charges as well. Don’t be insulted; it’s for the protection of the animals.

If you want to foster puppies, as opposed to older dogs, you will need more in-depth training. “It can be more challenging to work with puppies. For example, you can’t let their feet touch the [uncovered] floor, for fear of the parvovirus. You have to be fastidious,” she said. Parvovirus can be deadly to puppies by creating a severe disruption in their digestive tract and lymphatic system.

How the dog fostering system works

Once you are on the fostering list, you may be offered to take in one or two dogs and care for them in your home. Watkins-Farrington said you will be able to care for the dog for a couple of days to a few weeks, depending on the next step, which is transportation to a home, rescue group, or a no-kill nonprofit shelter.

The foster program makes the transportation arrangements. You can also volunteer to transport the dog yourself. Generally, it costs $77 for the transport (which the receiving party pays), but the fee is waived for nonprofit organizations. Dogs are transported all over the country; however, more dogs are transported from the South to the North most often, as there are fewer dogs available in the North. “The dogs are transferred from and to everywhere. However, there is a greater demand up North because they seem to have gotten the message better to spay and neuter their dogs,” said Watkins-Farrington.

How to prepare your home for a foster dog

First, Watkins-Farrington suggests having “an open dialogue with your family and making sure everyone is on-board.”

To prepare the physical space, Watkins-Farrington recommends creating a space in your home that is quiet and separate. There's no need to hire a carpenter to build a custom dog house; you can probably use what you have at home. “The dogs need a quiet place they can be to acclimatize to your home,” she said. “You can have a crate, a nice blanket, dog food, and water ready for them,” said Watkins-Farrington. She also suggests introducing the dog slowly to family members and/or other dogs and animals you may have.

Food that is formulated for sensitive stomachs is recommended because foster dogs often have intestinal problems.

“We also use lots of baby gates until we’re really sure of how housebroken they are,” said Watkins-Farrington.

If the dog is noted to have any behavioral problems, Watkins-Farrington said she has consulted with a trainer for additional help.

Failure to foster

Whatever your reasons for wanting to foster a dog, it is crucial to remember that it is going to leave. “Don’t get too attached. Some people end up keeping all the dogs. That’s called ‘failure to foster,’” said Watkins-Farrington. Failure to foster especially needs to be addressed if you have children. “Most people who foster dogs have older children because they are better able to understand the dog is going to leave,” she said.

Cris Carl originally wrote this for It is reprinted with permission.

Fostering dogs: Short-term canine companionship
If you want to have some canine energy in your life, but can't or don't want to permanently adopt a dog, you might consider fostering a dog.