By Alexandra Peek
Growing up, I had no siblings to keep me company. To compensate, I had a miniature zoo. I had five Chihuahuas, three cockatoos, a turtle, a hamster, a rabbit, and a large fish tank. I loved being around animals, and caring for them was an important part of my upbringing. When I moved away for college, I was suddenly constrained by my dorm's "no pets" rule. After moving to off-campus student apartments, I finally had the liberty to own a pet or two. My first instinct was to go for a dog; after all, I had grown up with lots of them! I had a time management problem, though. I was working and attending school full-time, and I worried that I wouldn't be able to devote enough attention to a new puppy. I was concerned that such a small apartment would leave my dog feeling too cooped up. I was also contemplating moving abroad afterward and didn't want to commit to an animal only to be conflicted about what to do with it later. I sadly accepted that I wouldn't be able to love and nurture a pet for a while. I shared my problem with some coworkers, and one day someone suggested: why not foster?
That was all it took! I have been fostering for my local non-kill shelter Austin Pets Alive for four years now. If there is such a program near you, I highly recommend becoming a foster. Here are a few reasons why:
- No guilt.
Part of being a pet parent is having enough time to devote to your companion. Besides being at home and keeping them company, animals love to play. If you are always on the go and have limited time, fostering works around your schedule. You can be a temporary foster who babysits other foster's pets when they are out of town. You can also be a temporary foster by housing puppies and/or kittens that only need short-term living arrangements until they are taken to adoption centers. There are many different animals with different needs, some may need a dedicated, always on hand foster, but others just need a quiet space to rehabilitate until they get adopted. Whatever the case is, you have less pressure to devote a lot of time to an animal but are still making a powerful difference in their life.
- You become an animal expert.
Although I never had anything against cats, I grew up with dogs. I was used to dogs and their behavior. Since I was worried about being able to take a doggie out and about, I decided to foster cats instead because of their low maintenance. It was the BEST decision I ever made. After fostering for four years, I have hosted eight cats. Each had their own individual personalities and flaws. I had to deal with cats that were afraid to be picked up, cats that only drank out of glass bowls, and even some cats that had to be in the shower with me each morning. I got the opportunity to learn hands-on about cat behavior, and I now know almost everything about why cats act the way they do. The knowledge I have gained from treating these animals has not only allowed me to be a better foster parent, but I am also a good resource now for my friends who have cats. The same can be said for dog foster parents, they deal with a wide range of dog behavior that they would not have been exposed to while caring for only one pet. You are now the cat/dog whisperer.
- You make a difference.
I am not going to lie—one of the hardest parts about being a foster parent is letting your children go. I have fostered eight different cats and cried each time one of them got adopted. It is the most bittersweet feeling ever to see your foster animal grow under your nurture and then make another family whole. I would love to have my own pet, but I am proud of the fact that I have made a difference in these animals' lives. Fostering another animal means you have saved it from death or wandering on the streets. Most animals that end up in shelters are not trusting of humans so they need to be socialized. Under foster care, that animal learns to trust people again, and they decide when they are ready to be adopted to love another human. Other animals fall into shelters hurt and abused, you are able to rehabilitate them to their healthier selves so they can get back to enjoying life. No matter what kind of foster animal you get, know that you are making all the difference.
If your love for animals is as big as mine, think seriously about looking into nearby fostering programs at shelters or rescue facilities. Although it is the best option for people who cannot devote years to caring for a single animal, many fosters already have pets themselves and still like to help one or two along the way! There is a foster animal out there for every type of foster parent.