Mallory O’Neil, Communications Manager at Bowling Green/Warren County Humane Society, shared more about the approach their team took in the Maddie’s Fund Foster Express Challenge. They received an award and a $5k grant for having 295 animals participate in the challenge. Of the 125 dogs and 170 cats that participated, 231 pets found their furever homes as a result of short-term fostering!
Prior to the challenge, did your organization have any short-term fostering options?
We had a short term fostering program called “Slumber Parties”. Slumber parties allowed potential adopters to take home an animal for 1-3 nights to see how they would fit into their family and household. We would supply anything needed to make this acclimation more successful (collar, leash, food, crate, litter box, food bowls, etc.)
If it is a perfect fit, they were able to pay the adoption fee and finalize the adoption to add the new pet to their family. If it just wasn’t the right fit, there was no harm. The pet had a vacation away from the shelter environment and the foster parents were able to give us helpful information about them for future adopters. Either way, it was a win-win for the shelter, adopters, and the animals.
How did you promote short-term fostering options?
Our most prominent promotion has been word of mouth. If a potential adopter is hesitant about making the commitment, we would mention our Slumber Party program. We began to see adoptions skyrocketing. It was much easier for families to see how the animal would fit into their homes for a few days before making the commitment.
We also heavily utilized our social media platforms. Our 50K Facebook followers shared our posts, and we stayed on top of our messages to ensure we were answering any questions the community had.
Our organization is also very fortunate to have a great relationship with our local news channels, therefore they were willing to do several segments regarding raising recognition about the opportunity to short term foster.
Did you do anything differently for finding fosters for cats vs. dogs?
Both were very similarly aligned. However, we counseled each differently to ensure the pet could comfortably acclimate to the new home. We recommended that cats be given a longer adjustment period, and would allow an extra allotted time to ensure this. Other than that, we followed the same protocol for both.
Tell us about a pet who was positively impacted by the challenge
"Hendrix" is a senior Lab who has been in our care for quite some time. He is extremely arthritic and has other age associated health issues. During the Foster Express Challenge, a wonderful lady who had recently lost her senior Lab started spending time with Hendrix. She wasn't ready to adopt but we convinced her to take him home "just as a foster" with the hope that she would fall in love with him. A few days later she brought him back but gave us LOTS of valuable information about his behavior in a home environment. She insisted that she still wasn't ready to adopt so we told her how much we appreciated her fostering him short term. Hendrix stayed here for another 2 weeks with no adoption interest. Then, when we were starting to lose hope for him, Hendrix's foster mom came BACK and said she couldn't NOT take him back home! We were beyond thrilled for him and truly believe his happy ending was because of the Foster Express Challenge!
What did you learn from competing in the Foster Express Challenge?
We learned that fostering is a very helpful tool in allowing pets to experience positive time out of the shelter. It has allowed us to learn more about these pets in a home environment, and thus be able to share this information with potential adopters to find them the perfect homes. As a team, we enjoyed the challenge that was given to us by Maddie’s Fund.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting or running a short-term fostering program?
Take the leap, it is worth it. We have run into little to no issues with the program, and by putting faith in our adopters, we have witnessed the success of short-term fostering. Any of the fears that we had going into the program (returns, losing contact with adopters, etc.) were quickly diminished. We would have not had so many wonderful adoptions if we had not been willing to take the chance!