For foster-based rescues and fortunate shelters, fosters are essential to increasing your adoption rate. Most fosters do not have extensive experience with dogs and there are very few who are trained to handle reactive dogs. Having a foster team that is able to support the intake of these dogs will save lives. This article will go over how to build a successful specialized foster program.
Don’t recruit expert fosters – create them
1. Establish program goals
- Increase bully breed intake
- Allow for medical intake (heartworm disease, blind, deaf, etc)
- Allow for behavioral intake (dog reactive, extremely shy, human reactive, separation anxiety, etc.)
The type of dog you are planning to help will determine how you build your program.
2. Create a training plan
Now that you have your goals, you can start figuring out how you will train your fosters and how long / intensive that training will be. Here are some options to consider:
- In-house trainer who could run workshops
- Bring in a trainer you trust to run workshops
- Create or use an existing online course
Your plan may change depending on the dog or foster or change over time. This does not need to be set in stone but it’s important to have somewhere to start.
3. Identify qualified homes
Unfortunately, not every home will be a fit for every dog, despite the fosters’ willingness to learn. For example, a dog-reactive foster dog can’t be placed in a studio apartment with 2 resident dogs. So, you need to create guidelines for safe placement. This is different for every dog, but things to consider are:
- Kids / ages of kids
- Other pets (dogs, cats, farmed animals, etc)
- Home type (apartment, single-family, rural, suburban, etc)
- Time commitment to foster (1 month, 1 year, etc)
- Work schedule
This will help you identify foster homes that could benefit your specialized program.
4. Generate excitement
Fostering these dogs is hard. It is a bigger time commitment, emotional commitment, and can mean bigger sacrifices in a foster’s day-to-day life. BUT it’s also more rewarding and more fulfilling to help a dog that others can’t. Once you have fosters that you think could be a fit for the program, emphasize the benefits:
- The satisfaction of “Rescuing a rescue”
- Create a flashy name for the program like “Elite Foster Squad”
- Share success stories with quotes from the foster
There is no such thing as too many cliches so whip out those tear jerkers. Of course it’s important to also clearly communicate the commitment but without the hype, it will be very hard to recruit a team.
5. Create a community
As we’ve established, this work is hard. You will need to have a support system not only for practical training or medical questions, but for emotional support. The easiest way to do this is by creating a Facebook group or group message where members of your team can communicate with each other while you are able to keep a finger on the pulse and identify any problems. Additionally, more seasoned fosters can provide experiences and insight that can’t be learned in a course. See our article on how to create an adopter community for more tips.
6. Have a backup plan
No matter how well you trained a foster, how well you vetted a dog, there will ALWAYS be dogs that need to move foster homes. Because of this, you should NEVER fill every foster home. This is important for any regular foster program but is even more essential for a specialized program. When a foster needs to move their foster dog, having an emergency home available could mean their life. So, have a group of emergency / vacation coverage fosters that can foster for a few weeks at a time with little notice.
Creating a specialized foster program creates a life line for dogs that otherwise have no other options.
Each program will be different and it’s important to find what works best for your organization. If you have questions or want help creating a customized plan, contact us.
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