Foster “Failures”


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!

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!



  1. Sometimes “foster Fail” has a negative connotation. Have you heard of other terms used besides “fail”? I’ve fostered for 3 years now and got into it knowing I was not going to adopt, but prepare a dog for their furever home. That being said, I applaud anyone that rescues a dog! Let me know if you have any other suggestions for the term.