Real-Life Pound Puppies Are in Need — and Fostering is Free

Addy, the dog, receives cheek scratches and kisses from her owner, Jordan Piper.
Addy, a 4-year-old Mastiff Boxer mix, was adopted one month ago by Jordan Piper, TPH quality assurance lead in web development. Piper fostered Addy for two months prior to adopting her. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Dogs live to impress, to protect, to console and to entertain their human best friends. But unfortunately, more than 3 million of these loving creatures enter U.S. shelters each year.

Typically, these dogs are put up for adoption, which is why it is important to bring one home from a shelter or rescue rather than shop at a store or breeder (after making sure you can afford to give a dog the care it deserves, of course). Some dogs, however, do not immediately go up for adoption but instead enter foster programs.

Foster programs present a unique opportunity to dog lovers for whom adoption may not currently be the best situation. Instead of adopting, you can consider acting as a foster family for a dog or multiple dogs over time. It is a major responsibility and, to be transparent, time-consuming, but fostering will be significantly cheaper than adopting a dog.

To learn more about why foster programs exist, the costs of being a foster parent and some of the challenges of fostering a dog, I turned to Phyllis Stewart, longtime volunteer at Franklin County Dog Shelter (FCDS) in Columbus, Ohio, and Trustee at Friends of the Shelter (FOTS), a nonprofit organization that raises money to pay for the medical care of sick and injured dogs who enter FCDS.

Why Foster Programs Exist

A dog gets treats and scratches from its owner.
Addy was the first dog Piper ever fostered. Two months later, Piper adopted the dog. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Medical foster cases might include dogs who entered the shelter with an injury (such as after being hit by a car or having broken bones) or extremely sick (such as having parvovirus or heartworm infestation).

Throughout the U.S., Stewart explained, shelter dogs are often “offered to rescue organizations annually for fostering due to behavior or medical conditions that exclude them from adoption by the general public. These dogs may be too energetic to be contained humanely in a kennel for an extended period.”

Stewart goes on to say that many dogs available to foster could have aggression issues, leading them to bark, growl or jump. They could have extreme depression from months spent in a kennel, or they could be elderly dogs, “…senior dogs deserve to be in a comfortable home instead of lying on the hard shelter floor.”

For some shelters, foster programs are necessary simply because the shelter does not have enough room to house all the dogs in search of their “furever homes.”

There are many different reasons a dog may need to live with a foster family, but in a large number of these cases, the dog will need additional training, attention and rehabilitation to become “adoption-ready.”

That means foster parents first and foremost must have the time, resources, patience and right attitude to care for a foster dog.

Costs of Being a Dog Foster Parent

A Mastiff Boxer mix waits patiently for a snack.
“I connected with her quicker than any other dog I’ve been around,” Piper said as to why he decided to adopt Addy. “If I didn’t adopt her, she would have gone to the pound, and she’s way too sweet to end up there.” Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

With that said, one key difference between adopting a dog and fostering a dog is the cost. I have spent more than $10,000 on one of my dogs, whom I have been raising for five years. While that is on the high end, the long-term costs of adoption can be pricy.

Fostering a dog, on the other hand, is nearly free. “In theory, all expenses are incurred by the shelter or rescue to whom the dog belongs,” Stewart explained. “They will provide the food, supplies and medical care needed to care for the dog while in foster… The foster parent will always have someone from the shelter or rescue to call for advice or instruction for emergencies.”

Stewart added, “There are a few minor expenses to the foster parent such as toys, chew bones, carpet cleaning and the rare table leg.” But those expenses, in most cases, are tax-deductible, so save your receipts!

Samantha Okazaki of Today also highlights the financial benefits of a foster community, as other foster parents are typically happy to offer dogsitting services and training free of charge.

Challenges of Being a Dog Foster Parent

Though you may save a lot of money by fostering a dog rather than adopting, fostering is not without its challenges. Foster dogs may require more obedience training, medical rehab and overall attention — and they may pose more problems, such as anxiety or aggression. Being a foster parent is not a role to be taken lightly.

“The challenges of fostering are both exhausting and invigorating,” Stewart explained. “Any strange dog entering a new home will take some time to get used to the routine and rules. Our regular schedule is disrupted because you have another dog to train, walk, feed and comfort. Some dogs are very active and want to run and play constantly. Some need help with housetraining. Some are anxious when left alone. Some might chew. Your job is to train [the dog] how to live in your home to be ready for their forever home.

And that’s not all. Stewart added, “Some dogs do not like men, strangers or other dogs. The foster must juggle these personalities and work with the dog to overcome them if possible.”

Dog foster parents are also expected to take the dogs to adoption events and to advocate constantly to their peers, on social media and to strangers, for the dog’s eventual adoption.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to find the dog new parents for the rest of its life, freeing you up to eventually foster a new dog in need. But the biggest and most heartbreaking challenge is saying goodbye.

How does Stewart, a regular foster mom, deal with the goodbyes? “I choose to focus on the joy and excitement of the new family as they go on their journey. I don’t have to have every dog live in my home as long as I know that they are going to one that will love them just as much as I do.”

She added, “Remember that you are a temporary stop in the dog’s life, and another dog is waiting for your help.”

Alternatives to Fostering

If you love dogs and want to help them find happy homes but don’t have the schedule or fortitude to foster, there are still ways to get involved.

According to Phyllis, the greatest challenge that shelters face is finding dedicated volunteers.

The various needs of shelters — walking the dogs, cleaning the cages and more — mean that volunteers who will return day after day are crucial. Consider visiting your local shelter and inquiring about how you can help on a regular basis.

Timothy Moore is a proud doggy daddy to two rescues — Greyson and Clyde. When he is not cleaning out Greyson’s ears or playing tug-of-war with Clyde, Timothy is usually reading, writing, editing or drinking a beer.