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How can I foster a shelter pet during the Coronavirus outbreak?

Common responses to the recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak—quarantine, shelter-in-place, and social distancing—have left some animal shelters and rescues short-staffed and overburdened.

The pandemic has also meant more people are at home, unable to see friends and family; and that feeling of isolation can contribute to poor mental and physical health. To alleviate loneliness and boredom, if you are looking for a way to help a shelter pet in need, give overworked shelter staff and volunteers a respite and open your home to a companion animal.

How can I foster a pet during the Coronavirus pandemic?

Here are a few considerations for fostering a pet for the first time:

Contact your local shelter to find out if they have pets in need of foster homes, what species, age, and temperament. (Temperament is a very important consideration—especially if you have children in the house or if you have other companion animals in your home). Inquire whether the pet in need fostering has any special medical conditions.

Set up an appointment to meet the potential foster animal. You may be in a separate room from the shelter staff—and you will want to be! Spend time getting to know the dog or cat you may be fostering. Remember, even if the pet doesn’t come right up to you and jump into your lap doesn’t mean he isn’t friendly, it could be that he is scared from being in a shelter.

Ask the shelter what happens if you cannot keep the dog or cat? You may get the pet home and find she is simply too much and you aren’t able to safely care for her. The shelter will allow you to take the pet back and you needn’t feel guilty because there are simply some pets better-suited to different living situations.

These tips can help make your new foster experience successful:

Introduce the new pet to your current furry family. Keep the pets separated but let them sniff and see one another. Introduce the pets—especially if you’re fostering a dog—in a neutral location. Don’t bring the foster into the house and right up to the couch where your dog spends his time. Your dog will be territorial and will not happily accept this interloper. Have the first meet and greet in the backyard in a space your dog hasn’t claimed a his own.

Slowly introduce your new foster pet to the other humans in the household. Let the foster dog or cat come up to you in his own time. Don’t force him to sit on your lap. Remember, it can take up to three weeks for a shelter dog to acclimate to his new surroundings.

Integrate your foster into your routines and lifestyle. If the foster dog has been in the shelter for any length of time, she may have forgotten about going outside to go to the bathroom. Take it slowly with her and use positive reinforcement every time she goes outdoors. Get your new foster accustomed to mealtimes, walk time, playtime and bedtime.

Feed the pets separately. The new foster dog or cat may have resource-guarding issues and may have feel constantly hungry or felt he had to “fight” for food in the shelter. Foster pets may have developed habits that will cause them to steal from your other pet’s bowl.

Give the new foster pet some quality time alone with you. Let her have one-on-one time, away from the other pets in the household so she can bond with you without having to vie for your attention.

Take your new dog, and the current family dog for walks. We recommend walking the dogs with the help of another family member. If you aren’t certain if the dogs will get along with one another on a walk, you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of two quarreling dogs and their leashes.

You will need more pet supplies. And if welcoming a new cat or kitten to the household, you will want to add a new litter box. You don’t want your current cats to avoid the litter box because the scent of the new cat or kitten is in her box.

If your resident cat(s) is territorial, keep them separated but make sure they can see and smell one another. This may mean you put one in a room where they can reach out their paw to the other cat; or give each a toy or blanket that smells like the other cat.

Give your new foster pet a special place of their own. For a cat, that may mean a bed on a higher shelf, or a cozy space in a box in a closet unfrequented by the other cat. With a dog, it could be as simple as a individual blanket, toy, or bed.


No matter whether you’re welcoming a feline or a canine to your home as a foster pet, time, patience and love will help make it a great fit for everyone.

You may find that after you’ve spent time with the new foster pet, that you will want to keep him forever. That is wonderful! The pet will thank you and the shelter will thank you as well. If something good comes of the coronavirus pandemic it could be that the pets who are finding foster homes may just find their forever homes!

Editor’s Note: It’s important to remember that shelter pets are in need of forever homes year-round. Here are consideration and tips to help guide you in adopting a shelter pet.

Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words MatterMy Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.

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