Posted March 13, 2019 at 11:53 AM Under "Foster Programs"
New Foster Program

Hello! I am starting a completely new foster program at my city shelter. It has never been done here before so I am starting from scratch. What do you all prefer to use for your applications, tracking foster information, communicating with your fosters, etc. Do you use a specific software program, or just something like google, and excel spreadsheets? Any additional advice, help, resources, manuals, forms, etc are ALL welcome! Please help!

  • JaneN    March 15, 2019 at 11:35 AM
    Best Answer

    Hi! I know this may not help, as you are looking for more organizational help, but I can tell you from a long-term foster's position, a few suggestions:

    - Have another 'foster' or 'staff member' available for emergency calls or texts or questions at all times. They will happen, especially with new fosters.

    - It will help if your organization determines or designates a few vets to use in your area & passes that info onto the fosters with clear instructions on the determining factors you set for taking the animals to the vet (this is where the phone calls are important).

    - Supply food/litter/meds/blankets/puppy pads/crates or cages as needed. An easy way to help with that (it can be VERY costly for an organization to do this) is to challenge elementary schools & local scout & youth groups to do 'drives' or collections for you. Vets & local pet supply stores will also help with this & keep an updated 'foster needs list' online & keep the pictures of the babies rolling on that - people LOVE to see the babies - bottle feeding, sleeping, tongues hanging out, snuggling, little tails, etc... it helps to get the donations rolling in & keep rolling in.

    - Make weekly contact with new fosters, whether they come in to see you, get supplies or just send a text or call to make sure everything is okay... This is especially important with NEW fosters.

    - Be prepared for 'emergencies' - peoples lives change, so if you have a foster who has to suddenly leave town for a weekend, be prepared for a volunteer or staff member to 'step in' & care for the babies for a short period of time. You may even want to recruit a 'substitute foster' just for that purpose.

    - Prepare, as best you can, the new fosters for the fact that they will have a loss at some point. It can be very hard for fosters to handle this & each has differing needs. I worked with a foster last summer who lost a kitten & rather than go through the 'funeral' with her small children who had just lost a pet the week before, she told them she had to bring the baby to us since he wasn't feeling well. It worked out well for her & we were able to accommodate since we had others kittens that same age & simply gave her one of ours (since she had only one left). You have to determine what works best for your organization, though. In some areas where viruses/bacterial infections run high, this may not be the best choice since those babies all came from 3 different litters in 2 different households.... All things you have to consider & determine what is right for your organization.

    - When dealing with a brand new foster, 'losing' the first litter can be hard, be prepared to deal with this. The best way I have found is to have a new set of animals ready for them when they bring their litter in or all are adopted... This helps with the grief of 'losing' the babies.

    - Determine whether you want the animals to be adopted from the fosters home (never having to come back to the shelter) or from the shelter. You may want to offer either option based on your foster's needs. I have volunteered with 4 different organizations & all have had different requirements & processes. The most recent (& current) group that we are working with has been very supportive of our desire to adopt from our home. That has worked well for us, as we have been able to work with the prospective new owners to help them find the right 'fit' for their family & that way there is no rejection or returns. The new owners are welcome to come here, to sit on our floors, play with the animals or feed them & see what works for them... It also means that the animals don't get exposed to as many noises & or viruses if they don't go into the shelter before their adoption. It does require that the new owners come here, then go to the shelter to fill out paperwork & pay & then come back here - but we have NEVER had any complaints about that. Our shelter has very little space for visitation with cats, too (but soon will have more room - YEAH). It is sometimes difficult for new owners to see what their personality would be like in their home, a foster KNOWS what those animals are like - who is more active, who is more relaxed or sedate, who needs extra attention, who wants to be held all the time, who is more curious, etc...

    - No matter what you determine as far as process, have your fosters send you 3-5 characteristic words or sentences that describe each animal as they get closer to adoptive age & their personalities become more apparent - but make sure they don't include 'fuzzy, sweet, cute, soft, etc'. You want these to be individual to that animal which will help you (or the person who is responsible) write a great bio for each animal. Most of our kittens have 'been bottle fed & thus are more like little dogs - know no enemies, meet you at the door, lap cats, likes to watch everything you are doing & love to be held'. But we sometimes have the 'spunky shoulder rider who would make a great animal for harness & leash training, would be a great pet for someone who travels or drives a truck'... All those things are important when marketing to the right person.

    No matter what you choose to do, I'm sure you will do well... The more communication & support you have with your new fosters, the better. Oh, one more thing - if your fosters have other animals, I suggest that they supply the rabies certificate for their animals & maybe other records, too? Whatever you need to make sure your babies won't give their animals or their animals won't give the babies, as best you can. When you foster you always take a little risk that the new babies will come with some virus or bacterial 'something' & give to your cats (or dogs) who share the same locale. For us, the risk has always been worth it & we know & understand that it is there. We don't (for the most part) segregate our cats from the little babies (cages & crates can only keep out so much eye goop & upper respiratory junk that some babies have developed or come here with), but in the 13 years that we have fostered it has not caused any life threatening issues for us or anything we weren't prepared to deal with (fleas)... We have a great 'foster Daddy' who is our 13 year old black cat who came with our very first foster litter. He LOVES babies & is great with them. We got lucky!

    • trranimalshelter    March 15, 2019 at 12:11 PM

      This is WONDERFUL information! Thank you so so much for sharing! I am so excited to get this going, and we are already lucky to have a fantastic shelter. This is going to take us to the next level. We are also fortunate to already have great community support! I think this is going to be such a great opportunity for us to do more good! I will keep all of this in mind, and use it to help make a great program! I know we will have our ups and downs, but it will all lead to a stronger program. Again, thank you so much!

  • Regan Goins    March 26, 2019 at 04:22 PM

    Hello! The Maddie's Fund Lifesaving Academy has a free, one week apprenticeship dedicated to this: The Dog Foster Apprenticeship. I am one of the instructors. We can also come out to you shelter to help you get started. But, in the meantime, we have a google drive with all of our protocols and resources available to you here:

  • wendy_frink   Maddie's Fund Staff  March 14, 2019 at 08:02 AM

    Don't be afraid to start small. Maybe start out with a few volunteers/staff members and then go from there and find out what works on a small scale.

    • trranimalshelter    March 15, 2019 at 12:14 PM

      Yes! Definitely, I have heard this a few times now and it is GREAT advise! I plan on rolling out the program with just volunteers/staff/close staff friends and family to work out some kinks first! Once we have a system in place that seems to work, we will expand bit by bit. Thank you!

  • MPA Administrator   Maddie's Fund Staff  March 13, 2019 at 06:24 PM

    and these resources on the Maddie's Fund Website:

    - foster care flash classes, health assessments, charts, behavioral resources, etc... :)

  • MPA Administrator   Maddie's Fund Staff  March 13, 2019 at 06:20 PM

    Check out Maddie's Pet Assistant for health and behavioral support re: following up with folks while pets are in their foster care:

    • Andrew    March 14, 2019 at 12:57 PM

      The Maddie's Pet Assistant has been an incredible asset to our org. Highly recommend using for foster program.