Whole Dog Journal's Blog October 6, 2014

Foster "Failures"

Posted at 04:38PM - Comments: (10)

Do you know this expression, "foster failure"? It's meant as a humorous term, meaning someone who was fostering a dog - one who was being prepared for adoption by a shelter or rescue group - but who fell in love with the dog and decided to adopt the dog herself.

And no, I'm not yet a foster failure, though many of my friends think it's about to happen, because I've been fostering a litter of the most adorable puppies for almost a month. I tell them all, "Blech! I hate puppies! Who in their right mind would want a puppy?" - another joke.

I'm a member of several online groups that rescue various types of dogs, and I see the "foster failure" term bandied about quite frequently. Many people sheepishly announce themselves as foster failures, and other people congratulate them for finding a great dog. And of course, they should be congratulated; it's terrific when a dog finds a forever home - it's the goal of every good shelter and rescue group, to find good homes for dogs. But people like myself who foster regularly probably also experience a twinge: crap, another good foster family lost to the group!

Puppies, puppies everywhere, but no, none are here to stay.

Ask any shelter or rescue: It's really hard to find people who have homes with solid, dog-proofed homes and yards, and who possess enough experience with dogs to improve just about any dog's behavior, confidence, and emotional connection to humans. It doesn't do the rescue group much good to foster dogs in homes with people who don't know how to properly help a dog learn to sleep in a crate, or who panic if their foster ward starts resource-guarding high-value items, chases their cat, or growls at their guests. Good foster guardians need to have enough experience to be able to deal with these behaviors calmly and guide the dog to better behavior in a positive manner. It helps if they already have well socialized, well-behaved, friendly dogs, as well as reasonably secure fences and homes and yards that can take some exuberant (or anxious) dog play.

It's the same thing I tell people I meet when I volunteer at my local shelter: Yes, it's hard to see all these dogs here, but no, I don't want to take them all home; I want to SEND them all home! The most dogs I can legally have living in my home (as per my town's codes) is three; but honestly, that's also the number I can properly afford, when you take everything (routine and emergency costs) into account. I have two dogs already; if I had just one more, I probably wouldn't be able to afford to ever foster. But if I limit myself to owning two dogs, I can foster and (I hope) place five or six well-behaved dogs per year in homes with family members, friends, and friends of friends. And this year, perhaps even more (given the fact that I hope to be able to place all six of my foster puppies in homes with friends or friends of friends. (Friends, you've been warned!)

So while I can't say I won't ever fall in love with a dog I foster and become a "failure" myself, I hope it won't be soon!


Comments (10)

I am a foster failure- or as my friends call it, a foster fusion. I never even planned to foster, I had applied to adopt from a rescue group, but one night I got a call asking if I could temporarily foster an old boy whose current foster mom was very ill. Sure, no problem- a couple weeks until you find another foster? Why not? Well, we drove a couple hours away to pick him up, and I knew before we got home that he was never getting uprooted again. The old boy was in several foster homes in the year since his owner passed away. He is the sweetest, most loving dog I have owned in my 65 years. We said we would become permanent fosters for him, since we knew there would be little interest in a dog his age. Well, once we found that we could manage his rather costly care ourselves, we decided to adopt and free the funds the rescue was spending on his care for other dogs in need. So now I have 3 boys, and I am looking for a girl. We figure we can manage 4 permanent plus a foster from time to time, based on the size of our home and me being home full time.
I have subsequently fostered again, and though my "eyes leak" when they go, I will do it again, and again..

Posted by: Kees Mom | October 8, 2014 2:52 PM    Report this comment

I had attempted to "foster care" Rocky, before his new owner never came over to pick him up.! Hes ours now,along with a 4 year old,slightly spoiled," I am the Queen" specific breed dog.! However, I fell in love with him and his gentle ways, even though he has pulled me through the bushes,chased my cats, and threatened to eat the people taking walks on our street! Sooooo I am learning to be a better owner( with all of your input) and put up with the Queens attitude that needs to be changed.! I will be 73 years young this month and will continue to monitor Rockys progress. Give him up? No Way.....hes my boy....

Posted by: ritapateeta@yahoo.com | October 8, 2014 12:09 PM    Report this comment

Oh yes, I am a "failed foster" x2. BUT, even though I ended up with 4 dogs, that did not stop me from continuing to foster. At one time I was a District and Regional Coordinator for a (specific) breed rescue group and I held my breath every time a foster home adopted the dog they were caring for. Not always, but usually that meant they would no longer be available to foster.

People always say how they would want to "keep them all" and ask how difficult it is to let a foster dog go to the forever home. Well, my first "failure" I couldn't part with and never made it to a public posting; she was 6 months old and very sweet even though she failed the temperament test at a local shelter. She is now 8. My second "failure" was a mature 8-9 year old boy who bounced around a bit and nobody seemed to want. He was a handsome boy and very well mannered, but he had issues with his liver that seemed to be a turn off. So I adopted him and he lived to see 15; he crossed The Bridge last March.

I foster a pup

Posted by: rlkosek | October 7, 2014 9:52 PM    Report this comment

Just some words of advice to anyone out there who is thinking of fostering any animals....please, please, please I cannot stress enough, try to pull a dog or cat off of death row at a high kill shelter before even considering no kill shelters. Only because, at the no kill shelters, you know they will still be safe and eventually find a home but at the high kill shelter, these animals are given a "death sentence" date and when that time arrives, if they are not adopted...they are "TERMINATED"!!

Thank you.

Deborah, New Jersey

Posted by: Deborah74 | October 7, 2014 9:21 PM    Report this comment

I am so grateful to you remarkable people! Our newly adopted, wonderfully socialized, little puppy came to us from a great foster home. We adopted an older dog from a death in our neighborhood a few years ago, and when he goes (which I hope will be a long time away) due to this terrific experience with our puppy, I may give fostering a try.

Posted by: jd-s | October 7, 2014 2:03 PM    Report this comment

I also know what you mean. My husband and I adopted from a breed-specific group over 10 years ago. After adopting, we decided to give fostering a try. We agreed before ever getting our first, large-breed foster dog that for the size of our home, our lifestyle and finances that 2 dogs would be our maximum. If a foster dog ever came into our lives that we wanted to adopt, that we would be done fostering. However, we acknowledged that we could help more dogs by fostering than adopting. Have we failed at fostering? Yes, but it was entirely intentional as we sadly had our adopted dog put down due to illness and were looking for another permanent companion in our home.

When asked by people how we can bear to part with our fosters, we tell them that our mantra has been and will continue to be "We're just dog-sitting." Being involved in making sure our fosters go to good homes with loving families helps also.

Posted by: jlodata | October 7, 2014 9:50 AM    Report this comment

As a former shelter director (and a foster failure myself) everything you wrote resonates for me. In our experience recruiting foster families, we did indeed find that less experienced people are drawn to trying it; they have the best of motives and intentions, but often (maybe even usually) they burn out over time. There are so many challenges, so many things to learn "the hard way," so many bruises to the heart. One thing we found that helps is to set up a mentoring program for foster care-givers. Experienced breeders are happy to get the occasional 3 a.m. phone call from a fosterer needing expert coaching, happy to advise about developmental rates, feeding, socialization and all the other issues they are familiar with -- but they may not be able to take in a foster litter, themselves. Dog trainers, likewise, are huge helps to folks who foster untrained, undersocialized adolescent dogs. We found giving the mentors the fosterers' contact info, and vice versa, led to better, more comfortable relationships than just giving foster families a long list of people they can call if they need to. But there must be lots of ways to organize this. People still burn out, or their family circumstances change, or they adopt their fosters -- but there are still lots of benefits, including longer participation in fostering.

Posted by: LaurieR | October 7, 2014 9:48 AM    Report this comment

First of all I don't see how any circumstance where an otherwise homeless dog finds a permanent home can be called a "failure"! But I do see your point--it means that space that might have been taken up for another foster is now filled.
We can only do what we can do and if our heart goes out to a particular dog then we have to follow it. I have two rescue dogs myself and really wish I could take in some fosters but right now I just don't have room. Do I feel guilty--absolutely! But I won't compromise the care of my current dogs just to assuage that guilt--one of my dogs has health problems and taking on another dog (even temporarily) at this point might interfere with my ability to cater to his needs (it can get expensive as you noted).
As for the puppies--oh my goodness how could you NOT fall in love with them! I mean puppies are DESIGNED to tweak your heart strings! Good luck with resisting the temptation to keep them all but if one happens to "stick" then ...well, don't consider it a failure, please.

Posted by: PJKutscher | October 7, 2014 9:09 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, if the photo accompanying this article is your litter of foster pups, then I know what has happened. You have caught the Min Pin puppy magic! They cast a spell and never let you go . . .

Posted by: Min Pin Mama | October 7, 2014 9:05 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, I know exactly what you mean and how you feel! I started fostering for a breed rescue about 7 years ago when two of my three dogs had passed away within the past year and I was down to one dog. I was quite experienced with dogs in general, having shown several in conformation and obedience in prior years, so after talking to several people who fostered purebred dogs, it seemed like it would be a good way to always have another dog around but not have the expense of it and not be responsible for finding a home for it, as the rescue group I went with would handle these things. The first time I heard the term "foster failure" I thought that was a strange concept, but I guess I became one myself, when I ended up adopting the first dog I fostered. However, I never had any trouble seeing my subsequent foster dogs go off to their new "forever homes", which is what many potential foster parents worry about. Having two permanent dogs of my own suited me just fine, so I continued fostering for several more years. I no longer foster now because I ended up adopting my last dog when, during the year I had him, no one expressed any interest in him, probably because I never could house train him and he was very reactive to other dogs when on leash. Although he wasn't a dog I would have chosen to adopt, I was already used to him and had figured out how to manage his "issues", so I decided to keep him. But three dogs was my limit, so this ended my fostering days. I don't doubt that this happens a lot in the experience of fostering, but I agree with you that good foster homes are not easy to find, let alone keep for a long time. I found fostering to be very rewarding when I saw the transformation these dogs experienced while in my care, but I also found that it also ties you down a great deal, so it takes a very committed person to stick it out for the long term.

Posted by: Diana in Md | October 6, 2014 9:01 PM    Report this comment

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