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Gimme shelter

How to foster rescue animals

Two summers ago, on one of my I'm-just-looking jaunts through the PetSmart weekend adoptions, the most beautiful muted calico cat caught my eye. While poking my fingers through the cage to stroke her head, I overheard someone talk about their foster dog. Foster, I mused, staring at the cat.

I, of course, ended up taking the cat back to my house and fostering her for the rest of the summer, until I moved to a community that didn't allow pets. I'd never had a cat before, but I enjoyed getting to know Candace's little quirks and enlisted the help of a cat-savvy co-worker to figure out her cat behavior. (As much as cat behavior can ever be understood by humans.) Candace ended up being adopted the last weekend before I had to move out. I missed Candace, but I was grateful that I got to spend a few months with her, and even more grateful that she was adopted rather than having to go back to the shelter.

Fostering a cat or a dog is an excellent option for people in a position like mine, where a future move is imminent, or if your financial situation is uncertain, or even if you just don't want to take on the responsibility of another being for the next 10 years. Some people just enjoy helping out dogs in need and are happy to allow a couple of extra dogs to roam their backyard before they are adopted.

As far as the logistics of being a foster parent, you fill out paperwork similar to adoption papers, but sign on for taking care of the animal until he or she is adopted, which most rescues will say take several months on average. Sometimes rescues will grant you a foster animal even if you're unsure of the duration you'll be able to keep her, but the animal is more stable if she has a constant home and schedule. Depending on the rescue you work with, you can be asked to cover the bills of the animal, but others will cover everything from food to spaying/neutering. In my experience, if you're willing to give a dog or cat the chance to live somewhere other than a cage, rescues tend to be willing to work with you.

And not only do you get to bond with Fluffy or Fido, you also offer them a chance to relax and be themselves away from the chaos of a boarding facility or shelter. Most of us are not at our best when we're confined to a tiny cage all day. Foster parents are totally familiar with the habits of the dog or cat and will give potential adopters a detailed picture of the personality and tendencies of the animal. Some enterprising foster parents create videos or even blogs for their wards, trying to showcase the character of their animals so their forever homes will know exactly what to expect. Experienced foster homes work with animals that have been abused or neglected, coaxing those animals out of their shells so they can be adopted.

Getting attached to a foster animal is inevitable — in fact, many people who take on dogs or cats as fosters end up adopting them — but the experience is definitely worth your time. Having a couple of your own animals, or bringing in another dog or cat when your foster is adopted, can help ease the transition.

Fostering is also a wonderful way to connect with a pet you are considering adopting; some organizations insist on trial periods, while others do not, but it's always a good idea to see if the new dog is comfortable living with nine cats or by noisy train tracks before signing on the dotted line.

Most rescues in the Atlanta area are more than happy to assist you in becoming a foster parent; simply contact the volunteer coordinator at your favorite or visit the following sites to get started: www.homelesspets.org, www.pawsatlanta.org, www.atlantapetrescue.org. If you have a specific breed in mind, Google the nearest breed rescue; those organizations are typically run by a network of foster parents and are always looking for assistance.