Right now, Memphis Animal Services has over 500 pets in its care. And yet there are only 261 animals at the shelter. Thinking that math doesn’t add up? Foster homes are the X factor in this equation, and one of the main reasons your city shelter is able to save more animals than ever before.
Foster parents are a driving force for Memphis Animal Services, now saving about 90 percent of the pets in its care (vs. about 23 percent 10 years ago). Fosters save lives, and it’s something just about anybody can do. Regardless of your type of housing, family size, other pets, income level, or how busy you are, MAS can likely find you a foster setup that works.
- Retiree or remote employee? Maybe you can foster orphaned newborn kittens who need to be fed every 2-3 hours.
- Can’t have any pets in your housing, or you’re super busy? A foster field trip is just a few hours, and you don’t have to take the pet home.
- Travel a lot? You could foster a dog for an upcoming transport where the dog has to be back at the shelter on a specific date to catch his ride.
- Can’t afford to care for a pet? We provide any supplies you need!
Miriam Tsao started fostering when she was new to Memphis for a medical fellowship and didn’t have time for a full-time dog.
“I jumped at the opportunity to short-term foster for transports when I was able,” she said. “I love seeing dogs who are timid and poorly socialized finally get comfortable and come out of their shell.”
Photos: MAS Transport Fosters
Miriam has been a frequent “transport foster,” meaning she fosters dogs who are on their way to other shelters in parts of the country where pet overpopulation is not the issue it is here. This type of fostering appeals to many people for a few reasons:
- There’s a definite end date.
- Transport dogs usually only need a foster home for 1-3 weeks.
- With rare exceptions, you actually cannot adopt your transport foster dog! They’re already committed to another shelter who may have started actively promoting them. This boundary can be helpful for people who have trouble letting them go but truly are not in a position to adopt.
Another way to foster dogs is MAS’s general dog foster program.
The idea is to foster the dog until they get adopted—which ideally will happen quickly because you’re taking lots of cute photos and writing funny bios that MAS will share on their social media—and telling everyone you know to adopt them. The general dog foster program is hugely beneficial for pretty much all dogs, but especially for dogs who don’t do well in a shelter.
“Any time you can give an animal the opportunity to escape the anxiety of a shelter and experience a loving home is priceless,” said Amber Roland, MAS dog foster. “I enjoy opening my home and providing plenty of treats, playtime in my backyard, and cuddles with my pack of three dogs and a cat.”
If neither of these feel like the right fit for you, Memphis Animal Services also does Foster Field Trips most weekends to take a dog out for a few hours, and treat them to a fun afternoon. If a few hours isn’t enough, MAS also offers occasional weekend or weeklong “sleepovers” for dogs.
For some, Foster Field Trips or sleepovers are their only way to foster, and that’s great! But for others, it can be a stepping stone to other types of fostering.
“We did a few foster field trips and got to know so many amazing dogs that needed help. Since then we’ve fostered dogs and cats and kittens,” said MAS dog and cat foster Petra Adams.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know you made a difference in an animal’s life and hopefully saved a life by doing so.”
Speaking of cats, there are plenty of felines in need of fostering too!
Ever heard of “kitten season”? During this time of year (spring and summer), orphaned newborn kittens come pouring into the shelter by the dozens. There were over 550 kittens this year alone. These kittens are not old enough to eat on their own, and they are without their mother, so they have to be bottle-fed every 2-3 hours.
And that’s where you come in!
MAS needs “bottle baby” fosters to be on call for when the inevitable litters of neonatal kittens come in. You don’t have to know anything about bottle-feeding or neonatal kitten care, by the way. MAS can teach you all that.
But if you want to test the waters with something a little less intense, maybe general kitten fostering is for you. These are kittens that are eating on their own, but they just aren’t big enough to get spayed or neutered yet. Little immune systems don’t belong in a shelter, so MAS tries to keep these toddlers in foster homes whenever possible.
“It’s the absolute best way to have the joys of kitten energy and their crazy antics without committing long term,” said kitten foster and former MAS employee CC Van Horn.
Kittens aren’t the only beneficiaries of foster homes, though. There are often adult cats who are so overwhelmed and stressed in the kennel environment, they shut down. Foster homes can help them decompress and show their true personality so they can find the right family.
MAS hears from a lot of people who are curious about fostering but are scared of getting attached. But, “Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.” That’s a quote from Doctor Who, but it’s a reminder that every time a foster parent’s heart gets broken, it was worth it, because a life was saved.
As MAS kitten foster Geoshine George puts it, “It’s easy to get attached, but goodbye is the goal.”
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