Have you ever wondered what the word ‘fostering’ that you often come across just as you open any animal welfare website means? Well, this article aims to answer some of these questions—What is fostering? Can you foster? How should one foster? and so on.
Fostering is the chance to open your home and your heart to a stray or an abandoned animal, be it a dog on the street, which in all probability would die, if you do not give him a chance to live. The animal would not survive on the streets, especially if he is very old or very young. You may think of dropping him off at any animal shelter; but, animal shelters in India, are terribly crowded places with many animals, many infections and very few people to look after them. A very young or old animal with almost no or diminishing immunity often has death waiting for him, at a shelter. Therefore, if not adoption, fostering is the solution.
Fostering is like adoption
Does the thought of saving a life make you smile? If yes, please read on. Let us relook at the definition above and answer some questions that may be running in your mind. What’s to be done, if you do not have a large home to keep the abandoned animal forever? What’s to be done, if you have limited time on your hands– say a week or ten days or a month of vacation? Can you still foster a stray? The answer is ‘Yes’ you can. Fostering is like adopting an animal, for a limited time, until the animal finds a permanent home. The animal organisation, which helps you foster your pet, will provide details about how long an animal needs fostering and when they will take him back on finding a permanent home. If you have a full time job, most organisations will not let you foster unless and until you have someone at home to look after the pet. Alternatively, as in my case, (I had a full time job in Mumbai and was living alone in a single room) they let me adopt a pair of siblings so that they keep each other company and keep themselves content and happy till I returned home. Fostering is a great way to save many lives instead of adopting just one pet. For most of us, the chances are extreme attachment to your foster pet. If you feel that your dear darling pet is now a part of the family, you can always speak to the organisation about keeping her.
How does one foster?
If you are a newbie, you may worry about this and wonder if you have it in you to foster. Talking to a few people who have undertaken fostering of pets would surely help. Turning to the animal organisation that is helping you foster would also help. Nevertheless, in case this is not available, understanding what it involves should help a lot. Learning about these factors would be a good idea: i) Health and temperament of the pet; ii) Special needs of the pet, in case he needs to be taken care of; iii) Type of food to be given (depending entirely on his age); iv) Potty training; v) De-worming – in case there is a need; vi) Vaccinations & check-ups by the veterinarian; and vii) Costs of food, medicines, and checkups involved and its affordability; and viii) Most importantly, if other family members are in harmony with your decision to foster a pet, they should be willing to support you in every way because this is a rescued or a traumatic life that we are talking about. Most pets take about a week or two to settle down in a new place. This will depend on individual temperament too. If the pet is one who has been emotionally or physically abused, then he will take a longer time to trust and bond.
What is in it for you?
Personally, I fostered, when I was going through an extremely low phase in my life. I just had my routine humdrum to look forward to. Fostering helped me focus on someone who had nothing to do with my life, someone whose needs I had to put above my worries, someone whose life depended on me. Moreover, someone whom I could not give up! However, fostering could be great even for the others if one gathers up the courage to take on the responsibility. Since these animals are mostly those who have been abused and have been rescued from the streets, they need a lot of attention, care and above all ‘love’. So, just sitting down with them on the floor, letting them climb over you, making funny faces, talking to them about anything and truly trying to understand them could make you feel light and stress-free. The shine in their eyes, with all the attention they get, and the immense growing love in their heart for you, is a double whammy. You forget your worries and they learn to trust again.
Fostering is indeed hard work
Fostering a pet or more is hard work. It is like taking care of children. You need to get up early to feed, you need to walk them; you need to keep them illness free and you need to ensure good physical development by providing the right nutrition and exercise. One aspect that cannot be overlooked is providing for their emotional development. Treat them with baby gloves, like you would be with a child. Understand them, respect them, meet their needs, which may be growing and changing. Love them and nurture them, like a mother would do to a child. Be happy and cheerful around them, pets can feel the mood of their pet parents. Never take out your frustrations or bad mood on them. If you are truly looking to feed your soul and looking to find fulfilment, forget the yoga, the meditation routines or the need to go away somewhere. Knock at your local animal welfare place and go ‘foster’! The rewards of saving a life are unparalleled. It takes a special person to foster; you need to tune in to their feelings and emotions. Are you up for it?
A special note
Never shy away from fostering a female pup or kitten. The female of the species is extremely gentle and sweet (though some may be boisterous!), less aggressive than the male species. There is no chance of any accidental birth, if they have been sprayed. If they have not been spayed, chances are that they are very young with not fully developed reproductive organs, so they will not give birth. I fostered two female pups who were not sprayed. I never had any issues with them. In fact, they are the best memories I ever had.
(Natasha Sharan, who currently stays in Belgium, blogs for STRAW (www.strawindia.org) that focuses on sowing seeds of compassion in the hearts of young people by conducting humane and animal welfare education programmes and workshops at schools and colleges. To know more, write at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.strawindia.org)