Fostering is Hard

I try to keep things really positive around here, but I have recently realized that in doing so, perhaps I am not always as up front as I could be. I wanted to take a moment to be really, really honest with all of you.

Fostering is hard. While that may not be something I want to share on a regular basis, because I wouldn’t want it to turn anyone away from trying to make a difference, I also don’t think it is something that many are unaware of. One of those things that is often unsaid, yet understood. It is hard to bring a dog who is at its lowest into your home and into your family, fall in love and nourish it back to physical and emotional health, only to have to say goodbye and trust a new family to care for him or her as well as you could.

But there is more to it than that. It is hard to give up date nights week after week, because it would make more sense to allot those funds to a bag of dog food, not to mention that the dogs have been kenneled all day while you’ve been working. It is hard to deal with extra fur and even sometimes ticks and fleas. It is hard to take time off of work to drive to the vet, and set aside time in your evenings for training and communicating with the rescue and prospective adopters. It is hard to see your own dogs upset or sad or even angry to be isolated from you in order for you to spend time with your foster dog. It is hard to have friends or family members or acquaintances ask you if they can adopt the dog, when you know it might not be an ideal fit. It is even harder when people criticize you for not keeping your foster dog, when you know it wouldn’t be ideal for anyone involved. It is hard to disappoint others when you have to cancel plans because you need to make sure your foster dog gets his medications on time. It is hard to feel judged by others for the way you choose to spend your time and money, in the hopes of making a difference. It is hard to balance all the guilt and sadness and anger and other emotions… guilt toward all of the dogs, and deciding which ones get your time and attention, sadness for your foster’s situation, anger toward the person who selfishly put this burden in your life, and everything else that goes along with this job.

It is really hard when you discover that your foster dog has separation anxiety. It is even harder when you see evidence of his tantrums. It is hardest when you imagine what could make a dog panic to the extent that he is so destructive when you leave him for just a few hours.


But you know what makes all of that not only easier, but actually worth it? When your foster falls into a deep sleep in your arms, and you realize that this is probably the safest he has ever felt. It’s easy when you watch him play with another dog, bouncing and smiling and play-bowing, his antics showing a pup much younger than his age might suggest. It helps when you see the light bulb flicker on during a training session, and you see a glimpse of the perfect family dog he is becoming. It is easier when you see him greet a child, and he becomes a gentle, wiggly thing, giddy at the chance to kiss the fingers of a person right at his own height. When you proudly watch him share his toys with another dog or politely greet a new person, using the skills you’ve shown him. And of course, you can’t help but smile at the simplicity and clarity of it all when you remember that this dog exists, in no small part, simply because you chose to inconvenience your life in exchange for the continuation of his. Not such a hard bargain, if you ask me.

IMG_2398We love you, Kingston! No matter how much fluffing you scatter around our house. ❤


43 thoughts on “Fostering is Hard

  1. Awww, I love this one. I can’t wait to be able to foster! Currently, two dogs, two cats and two humans in a condo is just a little too cramped for any more right now. Soon though!

    In the mean time, I enjoy reading about your adventures! Thank you for all you do!

  2. Thank you for posting this. I fostered for the first time this summer and don’t think I could have predicted the range of emotions. I have 2 dogs of my own, one that LOVED the new foster boy, one that wanted him to go away. His name was Buddy and he was a baby, not sure exactly how old, but not yet a year. He had sharp puppy teeth and was not afraid to use them. He was also filled with almost un-ending energy, was very vocal and chased my cat at every opportunity. His energy level excited my hound/pit mix Tessa and she became also very active and vocal. I barely slept for the first week he was with us. I didn’t want to leave him crated, and he couldn’t be trust loose with my girls (he did things like go under the couch after a ball, but couldn’t get out and was bound to eat SOMETHING if left unattended). I paid a niece of mine to stay at the house M-F while we were at work. An expense, and a teenager added to the mix.

    The worst/best part of the whole experience is that we all fell hopelessly in love with him. My partner asked multiple times if Buddy could just stay with us. He was learning so much, had become Tessa’s best friend and was really becoming part of our pack. I tried to remain the strong one. I told my partner, my niece (and myself) that we were taking care of someone else’s dog – just didn’t know who that someone else was yet.

    Even with my mantra, I loved him – far more quickly and deeply than I was prepared for. When we found the perfect new mom for him – I cried on my drive to meet her. I cried when I had to say goodbye to him. I tear up about him still, 2 months later.

    I know our home was not the best fit for his needs and energy level, and that he is very happy and loved in his new home. I look forward to fostering again because I believe he’s so successful now because of what we provided him while he was here. But you’re right – it’s definitely not easy.


    • I’m going through this right now with my first foster pup, saved from the day’s euth list and 2 weeks in he’s driving me absolutely crazy. I’d forgotten about the “accidents” and the puppy destruction not to mention the costs associated with a new puppy and having to go home to let him out before finishing my errands. I was unprepared for a 4 month old ball of energy with a broken leg, tapeworms, kennel cough, and fleas. We have a
      17 mo old toddler who wants to love this friendly black lab mix to death and another dog that is having a hard time with the foster (she’s been an only dog her whole life). Trying to keep them separated and healthy is not an easy thing to do. He is meeting a potential adopter this week that lost her beloved pet last year due to illness. I’ll be happy and sad but hopefully proud that I helped him on his journey. As I read this, Bear is sleeping next to me on the sofa with his puppy head in my lap. Of course it’s not easy but definitely worth it.

    • Great response Michelle and as an experienced foster this last one has gotten to me the most. I’m tearing up as I think of him, he went to his forever home 10 days ago, but I know it was the best for all the dogs concerned. I know my Aussie is missing playing with him but my little Chihuahua is acting like his funny self again after retreating into a quieter dog so not to excited the foster. I have been touched like no one before but I’m sure there will be others after…..that’s what happens when we choose to foster and love another so to save a life.

    • Maybe I shouldn’t comment here, because I’m not a foster mom. Put I did feel what you did. We had a stray wonder up on our doorstep, and I, like you, kept saying we are taking care of someone else’s dog. She put us through grief and stress all the while weaseling her way into my heart. I tried everything I could do to find her owner and finally found someone “better suited” to keep her permanently. I cried harder than I had since I sent my daughter off to college across country! I cried for myself and I cried because I knew “new girl” loved ME! And I kept thinking she was wondering where I was, and where her new buddies were. (At this point my 3 dogs had learned to tolerate her). What a huge relief/small disappointment when they called less than 24 hours later to have us come get her since her dog didn’t like her and was much bigger. After that I stopped trying to find her owner and resigned myself to the fact that she had adopted us.
      I wish I had the strength to foster and do what you guys do to help fur babies. I am truely in awe of your patience and strength.
      Thanks for saying what I had felt.

      • You should absolutely feel free to comment here! Thank you for doing what you did. For the record, we are also foster ‘failures’ 😉 As far as our ‘strength,’ all I can say is that at one time I felt the same way, but when a little dog had no place else to go, I found a way to make it work. I have every confidence that the same would be true in your case!

  3. I love this. I think it holds true for not just fostering, but what we give up or how we modify our lives for our own pets. We do these things to make their lives better and more fulfilled.

  4. I was just speaking to someone about something similar. Not in relation to fostering but having to do with dogs, that the hard stuff is almost always the most worthwhile. I’m a big fan of honest blogging, otherwise people start to think they are doing something wrong!

  5. Over the past three years we have fostered more than 65 animals for our local shelter. Some of them for several months, others for only a few days or weeks. We fall in love with each and every one of them. We have cleaned up more messes than I care to count, given up hours of free time so they could be outside, getting fresh air and sunshine, spent uncountable dollars for food, toys, collars etc. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are so lucky!

    Three cheers for you and for Kingston.

  6. Wow! Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m fostering my first dog right now and I have gone through all of those emotions, for the most part. I’m already thinking about how sad I will be when she gets adopted, and I’m constantly thinking that her future adopter(s) will have to prove to me that they can take on a puppy and the responsibility of one. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it to me…is it to everyone though? I’ve got 3 dogs of my own and a cat so we’ve definitely got a bit of a zoo around here anyway. Glad I found your page, thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  7. Shaka had terrible separation anxiety but was otherwise a perfect dog. I ended up having to bring her with me everywhere or else I was going to be evicted before I could get her adopted! Luckily she was content to spend hours at a time in the car and it was a cool time of year. It was a temporary fix and yes, so worth it.

  8. Wow, this is SO TRUE and I’m so impressed that you were able to put it into words! I’ve had so many foster dogs come and go, all leaving footprints on my heart and happy memories…but as you said, it is also hard when you have several of your own dogs and so very little time to divide between them. However, it all seems worth it when you find that perfect home and know that the ONLY reason that dog is alive and loved is because of YOU. In fact, just last night I received a picture message from an adopter of one of my most precious foster dogs, Sadie, all curled up in a chair and tucked in underneath a blanket laying by the fireplace. When I rescued her, she was tied to a washing machine in a building behind someone’s house, and now, because of my time, money, hard work, and most of all love & trust, she is a cherished family member. Being a foster mom is emotionally hard sometimes, and letting go is even harder, but that’s the point! Love them, teach them, give them the skills they need to succeed, and let them go so that the next one can come and you begin the process all.over.again.

  9. That describes some of the hard emotions dead on!! Last summer I fostered the skinniest little Boston and her 8 pups. Such hard work, but so much fun! We have foster failed twice! :).But Ladybug went to rescue fat and happy with 3 of her pups we couldn’t find homes for locally and they were all quickly adopted by great families. I cried all the way to meet her transport. We raised her puppies together and got her healthy and she slid right into our “pack”. Oh lord it’s hard, but to see pictures and get updates of them in their beautiful forever home makes it all worth itand I’ll do it again!

  10. Wonderful post….absolutely true. We foster two-legged babies too and that’s also hard. The last four we fostered, we end up adopting so we have 9 children (4 biological and 5 adopted), 2 rescue horses, 5 rescue kitties and 4 rescue boxers. It’s hard….I agree, but the rewards are so worth it. After getting a new couch….one of our fosters decided it tasted good, so our new couch became a bunch of foam. I commend you for all you are doing…..You will have many crowns in heaven my dear.

  11. Totally agree! My senior foster has severe separation anxiety. So bad that he has ripped up carpet, chewed door frames, and literally destroyed a metal kennel…so badly that he had to go to the vet and have his declaws removed bc they were horribly damaged. It is very sad to wonder why he would panic so severely, especially when he is left with my two confident and happy dogs in the same room. It’s times like that when I wish dogs could talk, so he could just tell me what he is scared of, and so I could reassure him that I AM always coming back home. You are doing a wonderful thing for that beautiful pup! Keep up the hard but good work! : )

  12. Very nicely written! As a foster parent, I can relate to almost everything you wrote, except the separation anxiety destruction, but I know my time is coming…I have been challenged with a resident senior dog with increasingly bad arthritis and CDD (basically canine dementia). I have swung back and forth about whether foster dogs help her stay engaged or just make her more annoyed. I believe it helps her, as long as it is for short periods of time.

  13. Fostering is hard definitely, but it is very rewarding knowing that I am making a very small difference but atleast im trying. To let a dog go to a new home is very hard, but what makes it easier is knowing that no matter how much I love that dog I had the privilege to help that dog grow into the wonderful companion I knew he/she would be. By letting one foster go makes room for another foster to come in and that’s why I do this… to save one dog at a time.

  14. I’m fairly new to fostering, and because of scheduling challenges (I often have to go out of town on short notice), I’ve been restricted to short term, fill in the gaps fosters. Even after only a few days, it is so bittersweet to give them up. I find myself consciously focusing on the things that make them NOT a good match. Which sound negative, but makes it easier to think about my little guys fondly without too much regret.

    (As it turns out, my own dog is decidedly not thrilled to share her space, so that helps. My 20 year old cat, who I thought would be the problem, doesn’t bat an eye.)

  15. I loved this. I am a foster failure in the most awesome of ways. We decided to give the foster route a try, and after a couple of rough days, our dog fell in love, then the kids then the husband. I tried to stay strong – we were just borrowing him until someone else realized they love him as much as we do….but NO – I fell in love. It must have been something about the way he gently pushes on you just so you know he is there or the fact that in one day he learned to shake paws. I can’t imagine life without him. I have also been told I can’t foster again…my heart is too mushy – and I can’t let them go.

  16. You are a foster Angel. It IS hard and we wouldn’t change any of it either, knowing we have helped save a life and give happiness to the dog and a new family!

  17. I read all the comments and want to thank ALL of you for saving the lives of so many animals. I’ve adopted many shelter cats over the years and now have adopted a “rescue dog”. I can’t imagine a life without my pets and their love. My children, and now grand children, also have adopted cats and dogs from organizations like the ones you help foster. THANK YOU. I know it’s not easy but each one makes such a difference. Know you are so appreciated!!!!

  18. thanks for being honest and open. I too joined the rescue/foster system and for 2 years rescued/fostered 28 Doodles. One of my own doodles, loved all the new fosters and felt his job was to teach them how to play. My other one( a resuce that I kept), was gentle and patient and would wait till the foster felt comfortable and then would run and play. My little girl, who was a puppy mill rescue herself, was the queen, and let the fosters know immediately that she was in control and not to mess with her. After about a week, she would allow herself to frolic and play with them. The toughest part for us was understanding each dog’s needs and personalities and then working to find the match for a new family. Sometimes we were happy/relieved the fosters left and then other times we had fallen in love and were sad for us but happy for them. It is a selfless job, heartbreaking, but the wonder of seeing a dog become who they were meant to be is worth it. My little girl died in Feb of this year from an undiagnosed/unrecognized liver disease, we gave her 2 years of love after a horrific life in a puppy mill. It was the most difficult loss as it was totally a shock and she went within 12 hours.
    Not fostering anymore as I have since moved to a new state to a smaller home with no fenced yard and restrictions of only 2 dogs per home. So my 2 doodles are the only dogs I have now. I pray everyday for all the foster families and spread the word about rescue don’t buy puppies!

  19. As I am reading this I have my two foster dogs sound asleep in my lap. I have been fostering for well over ten years and have gone through all the emotions that you talk about and all the hard work it takes to do this. Fostering is a roller coaster of emotions and sacrifices. But it makes us better people for doing it. God bless all of you who do foster – we are making a small difference.

  20. Thank you, Stephanie, for your honest and heartfelt post and thank you on behalf of all the dogs you’ve helped and the people you’ve educated. Thanks also to the commenters who have fostered (and foster-failed). I know I’m not up to the task of fostering, but I am incredibly grateful to all those who do. Foster parents give dogs the chance for the wonderful lives they deserve. We have an amazing rescue dog who would not be here if not for his foster mom; she was at the county shelter to pick up a different dog when she spotted “our” boy and took him. I know he’s safe and happy, but I sometimes get very choked up when I think that he almost didn’t make it.

    • Thank you for your sweet words! I have to be honest and say that judging from what you’ve shared, I think you are strongly underestimating yourself. Don’t place foster families on a pedestal… we fall every bit as hopelessly in love with our fosters as would you, but we make a decision not to put ourselves in a position where we would have to say no to fostering in the future. All I ask is that you stay open to it in the future… there are not enough selfless and loving people out there to accommodate the many deserving animals, as I am sure you well know! With that being said, it sounds like you more than do your part in terms of animal rescue, and that is the most we can ask from anyone, even if fostering is not in your future!

      • I appreciate your thoughts! I’m not underestimating myself, I’m being honest with myself. Two dogs is enough for my husband and me. The rescued boy has so much potential (agility, therapy, obedience, are all possibilities for him) and I want to help him reach that. Our other dog is a senior (12 yo) border collie and I don’t want to burden her with another dog in the mix. As it is, I don’t feel I have enough time to work with “Mr. Potential”. I do take him out in public as often as I can (in fact we were at a dog walk at a local outdoor shopping mall this evening) so people can see how wonderful a rescue dog can be. I also support a number of local animal rescues by sharing some of their pets in need on Facebook and with either monetary donations or donations of my pet art. I’m also committed to adopting my future dogs from rescue situations. I do what I can to support all of you who do so much.

  21. I think all animal lovers have generous hearts, we just have to each find our best way(s) to give and share! It’s definitely a spectrum of time/effort/involvement, but it all helps. Animals are amazing and they bring so much joy (even through the frustration & heartbreak), I can’t imagine life without them.

  22. As the Founder of a rescue, I see the changes and the difference a foster makes in a once homeless animals life. This is the end goal. This is a well written accounting of some foster experiences. I do wish to add the Foster program you decide to sign on with does make a difference. If you find a good program to assist you with the transformation of their behavior, some of this “not so good” stuff can be avoided. We have found the best fosters come to us with not just a love of dogs, but with an open mind ready to listen to guidelines and instructions. Many people we talk with LOVE dogs and want to help, but don’t be mistaken it is work to make a positive change in a dogs troubled life. This takes skill and learning. This article is full of great strides and honest emotion. This is all true. So before you decide to foster, ask yourself many questions about changes it will make for you as a person and the sacrifices needed. Once you have thought it through, look for a good program with support for the fosters. All rescues are different in the approach. So do your homework. Ask yourself if making a difference for a homeless dog is worth the challenges you could face. If you are still interested in fostering, then I would say you are one of the special people suited to foster a fur baby for a deserving family. Thank you for writing this.

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