Dog Talk: Pet fostering takes a special kind of love, and can save lives

A pet fosterer takes in a furry for a limited period of time, usually weeks, after which they hand the pet over to an adopter or to a shelter. —

Shelters do amazing, important work, but living with dozens or hundreds of other animals is stressful. Pets dumped on the roadside, taken from abusers, or who are too young to be vaccinated all need refuge, but can’t take shelter life.

Enter the fosterers.

Fosterers take in a furry for a limited period of time, usually weeks, and then they hand the pet over to an adopter or to a shelter.

It’s not an easy job, but it is an essential one. Also, there is a real need for more volunteers. However, fosterers tend to be low-key, because talking openly about their work can result in people dumping animals on their doorsteps.

Tanti in Negri Sembilan has been fostering for at least 12 years and perhaps as long as 15 years. She started by volunteering with local rescue services but has been an independent fosterer for the last eight years.

“I started fostering dogs but they need quite a lot of space, ” Tanti points out. “You can typically keep two but you also need understanding neighbours as they bark.”

Over the years, Tanti has fostered about 15 dogs and about 150 cats. “Cats tend to come with lesser issues. But both cats and dogs typically stay for two months before they are placed.”

Dolly began fostering for SPCA Penang three years ago.

“I love dogs and I've had lots of pets all my life, ” Dolly confides. “I’ve had a Great Dane, an Afghan and Maltese and finally Beebee, my Yorkshire terrier.”

Dolly and Beebee were so bonded that when the little dog died of old age, Dolly was heartbroken.

“I was miserable for weeks. I was determined I’d never become that attached again. But I love dogs, so one day I thought, well, fostering will give me the company but I won’t have time to become too attached.”

Fostering an adult pet or one that can feed itself and is in good health takes simple pet care skills. So anyone who has successfully parented a furry, can foster. However, very young animals or those who’ve had a bad time, require special skills.

Dolly takes in SPCA Penang pups who are too young to be vaccinated. “You need to be prepped. Lots of newspapers for training, toys, bowls, chewables and the right food.

“Puppies are cute and adorable so I carry them about and they nap on my lap. It’s a real joy. But I have carpets indoors, so I have the dog space set separately. Then, as they’re puppies, it’s a matter of house-training.”

As you might imagine, that is a particular skill.

“Apart from setting that up, there’s a lot of yapping, a lot of hit and miss while they are learning, and therefore you need lots of patience, ” Dolly shares.

There is always the risk that you get stuck with unadoptable pets. Tanti has 12 cats and six dogs who were foster fails. It’s a lot, but considering she’s been at it for over a decade, it’s a remarkably low number. The secret lies in attitude.

“There are only so many you can keep, for emotional and financial reasons, ” Tanti points out. “Once you have the mindset that it’s a foster, a routine, it becomes easier.

“When the time comes, I remind myself that they’re going to a good home with a great owner. I have six dogs and 12 cats of my own, so I focus on the fact that the foster pet will have a better time going to live in a small household.”

Dolly sends her charges to the shelter, which is a somewhat different experience. “When I send the puppy back, they’ve been in my home and to be sent to a shelter is a wrench, ” she confides. “So I feel sad, and I pray they’re homed soon.”

Both Tanti and Dolly advocate for the need for more fosterers.

“Go ahead. It’s always good to help, ” Tanti encourages. “Remember that shelters are crowded, so fostering is a better deal for pets. In addition, fostered animals make better pets when placed. We don't want to have a fidgety animal, say, if we're rehoming to a household with an old folk or small children."

And if you do, follow Dolly’s advice: “Toys are a must. They need to chew!”

Fosterer's checklist

It's heaven to be able to help furries but it’s not for everyone. If you are interested, consider these points.

Space and funds: Pets need a lot of space, even small kittens who will run around like mad things. And as shelters tend to run on shoestring budgets and prayer, you will likely have to pay for food and perhaps even supplements, anti-flea medication and more.

Time and patience: Animals are messy and make lots of noise. Can you live with fur all over the sofa and small cats jumping on your bookshelves and climbing curtains? If you have house partners, are they on board? How will your neighbours react to the noise?

Confidence and experience: Animals are often very distressed by being moved from one place to another. You will need a lot of gentle love to settle them. You may also need to function as an animal behaviourist in order to help them.

Plan for letting go: You may choose to place your furries like Tanti or to hand them back to a shelter like Dolly, but in the end you have to let go. Can you cope? Run through how you might feel. Figure out your support. If you’re in doubt, don’t be shy to say it’s not for you.

Does all this leave you ready for the next step? If so, you can contact a shelter near you and start working with them or go independently. Vets may need help with abandoned pets too.

Pro tip: Reputable shelters and rescue organisations plan their foster care very carefully. However, unscrupulous groups foist "foster" animals on people as a sideways adoption process. To avoid this, check backgrounds by talking to other fosterers and asking about their experiences.

Adopt Us

Howell and Rosie are three months old, healthy, vaccinated, flea-free and neutered.

They are siblings but they were fostered separately by two Korean families for a month.Howell. Photo: SPCA Penang/Lily LengHowell. Photo: SPCA Penang/Lily Leng

They are currently back at the shelter and looking for a forever home, together or separately.

As it’s MCO, interested adopters must telephone and make an appointment. Call SPCA Penang at 04-281 6559, Jalan Jeti Jelutong, Jelutong, 11600 Jelutong, Penang and visit

Rosie. Photo: SPCA Penang/Lily LengRosie. Photo: SPCA Penang/Lily Leng

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Dog fostering , pet fostering


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