You’ve probably noticed we’ve been talking a lot about pets (and their hair!) lately with the addition of our TR7 washer and DR7 dryer. We’ve also been sharing a lot about our partnership with Best Friends Animal Society, a leading animal welfare organization working to end the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters by 2025.

But Best Friends cannot reach this goal without one critical factor: foster homes.

Fosters play a crucial role in the search for suitable forever homes—shelters across the country rely on foster parents to open their homes and become advocates for the pets they take in. In the animal welfare world, there is no such thing as “too many foster homes.”

So if you’re reading this and considering becoming one yourself—we sat down with Lifesaving Outcomes Specialist for Best Friends, Jessica Harrington, to answer a few of the biggest questions new foster parents have as well as share her experiences.

What does fostering mean? Fostering is when you welcome a shelter or rescue animal into your home and provide it a place to stay while it awaits adoption. You can foster all sorts of animals, and it can be either long-term or short-term. The best part about fostering is that you get all the fun of having a pet in your home without a lifetime commitment.

As a foster, you can help increase an animal’s adoption prospects by helping them adjust to home life, working with them on basic training, and providing insight into their personality and behaviors in a home.

What types of animals require fostering or foster care? Dogs and cats are the most commonly fostered animals, but some shelters and rescues will put other species into foster as well. At Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, we also foster out bunnies, parrots, ferrets, pigs, goats, snakes, turtles, and even sugar gliders!

Any animal can benefit from being in a foster home while they await their adoptive homes. Animals can go into foster for numerous reasons, including recovery from a medical ailment, getting more focused and consistent training, or going in as tiny babies and staying until they are old enough for adoption.

Many animals shut down or act out due to the stress of being in a shelter, showing behaviors they wouldn’t normally show in a home environment, and having that time in a foster home helps provide a clearer view of what the animal’s true behavior will be in an adoptive home.

What do you need to become a foster (toys, food, insurance, etc.)? Every shelter and rescue runs their foster program in their own way, but here at Best Friends, the only thing you need to become a foster is a safe and loving place for the animal to stay! We provide supplies such as toys, food, blankets, potty pads, crates or exercise pens, leashes, bowls, litter, and litter boxes.

We also provide medical care for the animals in foster. Some animals do require a separate room in the home away from other resident animals, at least until they are medically well enough or have enough vaccines on board to start interacting with the other animals in the home. While it isn’t a requirement, we do recommend that the resident animals be up-to-date on vaccinations for the safety of all animals involved. If a foster’s personal pets are not up-to-date on vaccines, we can still find an animal that would be a good match and benefit from that foster home; it may just limit some of the options.

Similarly, we recommend the resident pets be spayed or neutered; however, this is not required. For example, if a foster has an unaltered male dog in their home, we wouldn’t send an unaltered female dog into that home unless the foster could keep them safely separated until the female dog could be spayed.

One item that has been super beneficial for our fosters is the Speed Queen TR7 washer/DR7 dryer set with the pet hair removal option. We have the machines running constantly—washing everything from our surgery towels, blankets and surgical drapes and materials to everyday foster bedding, blankets and toys.

What, in your opinion, is the most important thing to know as a foster? You may get attached, and it may be bittersweet seeing them leave for a new home after their time with you. But remind yourself of all the good you did helping prepare them for that new home. By helping that animal find its forever home, you’re opening up space to help foster and save another (and another, and another, and another, and another)!

What is the biggest misconception about being a pet foster? While there are many misconceptions about fostering, one of the biggest is that you must have special skills or lots of experience to foster an animal. Whether you have never owned a pet before or are a certified animal behaviorist, there is an animal that can benefit from being in foster with you.

In fact, fostering is a great way to test the waters of pet ownership and learn about the care involved. The shelter and rescue staff want you to succeed and have a gratifying experience, so they are there to empower you, support you, and answer questions every step of the way. Most shelters and rescues will also provide training for more specialized care if you are interested in learning (i.e., caring for bottle babies, treating ringworm, weaning babies from mom, administering medical treatments, etc.)

What is the most rewarding part about being a pet foster? Getting to see the animal’s transformation—sometimes, that is literally watching puppies and kittens grow up, grow bigger, and develop distinct personalities. Other times, it means watching a shy animal take baby steps toward being more comfortable around humans—baby steps that feel like amazing, monumental accomplishments. And in some cases, it’s something as simple as seeing an animal that was so anxious and stressed at the shelter finally have that moment where they feel safe enough to relax and sleep soundly for hours.

Is there anything else you think people should know about fostering or being a pet foster? That anyone can be a foster! Think you don’t have enough time or that you work too much to be a foster? Consider fostering an adult cat that just wants a room to hang out in or a senior dog that just wants someplace to nap the day away. Live in a tiny apartment? It’s still bigger and less stressful than the kennel or cage they would be in otherwise. The staff will work with you to match you with an animal that will be comfortable in whatever sort of space you have available.

Already have other pets and/or kids in your home? That’s a great way to socialize your foster pet, making them even more adoptable! Think you wouldn’t be able to go on trips or take vacations because you’re fostering? Everyone deserves a break sometimes, and the shelters and rescues understand that. Just let the staff know when you won’t be available, and they will work around your schedule. The shelter and rescue staff members are great at playing matchmakers and can find the right foster animal to fit your situation, needs, and comfort level.

If you’re interested in becoming a foster for Best Friends Animal Society, you can learn more here.