Pet Fostering 101: A Complete Guide for Beginners

Tabitha Shook

Fostering an animal is the act of temporarily providing a home, care, and love for a pet that is awaiting adoption, often through a rescue organization or shelter. This selfless service plays a pivotal role in preparing the animal for its forever home, while also freeing up resources and space for other animals in need. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you get started.


Learn about the different types of animals available for fostering and decide as a household which types of animals are most suitable for your lifestyle. Do you have children? Other pets? How often are you home? Do you have a low or high energy home? There’s a wide range of animals in need of foster homes and odds are you can find a segment of the rescue population that would be suitable for your home. This may be cats or dogs, specific breeds that are known to be more or less challenging, puppies / kittens or adult animals, etc. If you’re doing research but are still unsure of what will be the best fit for your home, we recommend you complete a general application with a rescue then they can match you with animals in their care that they feel would be best suited for you based on your application. You can also stop by their adoption events and chat to them in person.


Once you’re ready to foster a pet, you’ll need to complete a foster application. Most rescues run foster programs and have applications on their websites for you to complete. You can also complete an application with Caim which we’ll pass on to rescues in your area. Most foster applications include questions about your home environment, lifestyle, and experience with animals. They may feel lengthy, but these details are important for ensuring that fostering is the right move for you and that rescues can match you with an animal that’s the right for you / your family. In some states, it’s also mandated that rescues keep certain information about their volunteers on file.

Interviews and home visits

Once a rescue receives your application, they’ll reach out to arrange a call to discuss the details you’ve submitted. After this call, if they feel you’re a suitable foster for any of the animals they have in their care, they’ll complete a home visit. Some organizations do this virtually while others require in person visits. This is essential for ensuring the details you shared as part of your application are accurate and so they can offer advice on ways to make your home environment safe for their animals.

It's important during this stage that you and the rescue are aligned on expectations relating to fostering timeframes. Rescues prefer to have fosters who are committed to caring for an animal until they find their forever home. Depending on the animal, this may be days, months or, in rare instances, years. Most rescues only taken in as many animals as they have fosters for, so if a foster changes their mind about fostering or makes last minute travel plans, it provides a significant burden on the rescue to try and find another foster who doesn’t already have an animal they’re caring for.

If you’re only able to commit to fostering for a specific timeframe, please speak to the rescue about what options they have for short term or vacation fosters. Vacation fosters look after an animal for specific dates that their normal foster is on holiday. Another option, depending on where you live, is short term fostering. In high kill states where shelters are overcrowded and using euthanasia to make space for new arrivals, many rescues focus on moving animals out of state. They have relationships with rescues in different parts of the country and send their red lists out to them with the hope that they’ll be able to save some of their animals. If an out of state rescue agrees to take one, the animal is often pulled moments before being put down and needs to stay with a short-term foster until the next transport departs. Animals are required to get certain vaccinations and have a Certificate of Vet Inspection (CVI) that says they’re healthy enough to travel before crossing state lines. Short term fosters give animals a landing place for these days or weeks that they’re preparing for transport, then send them off to a new rescue and foster.

Foster contract and orientation

All rescues will request that you sign their foster contract. This lays out the details of their expectations for you as a foster, and what you can expect from them. Some organizations require that you watch training videos or complete some form of orientation before fostering. Others let you jump right into fostering and help to support you as things move along. Whatever their expectations, this should be discussed during the interview process so everyone is aligned.


If there was a certain animal that you requested to foster, then you should find out during the interview process if the organization feels you’re a good match for that animal. If so, then matching won’t be necessary. If you’ve completed a general application or the rescue finds that a particular animal you requested isn’t best suited to your home, then they may make recommendations on animals that would be more appropriate. You will always have the option to say yes or no, but if you reject their recommendations then the outcome may be that you and that rescue won’t end up partnering together.


Make sure your home is ready for your new foster animal. This may include creating a quiet space for them to decompress, putting down food and water, and setting up a bed. Any reputable rescue will provide everything you need to foster - food, pee pads, beds, leashes, crates, etc. Of course, you need to have reasonable expectations with your requests. If you wish to feed your foster top of the line food instead of what the rescue normally purchases, the rescue isn’t likely to pay for this as it would increase their expenses which would limit them to rescuing fewer animals. They should be providing you with the basics that are required for your animal though. They’ll also cover any medical costs. Depending on where your animal is coming from, they may or may not be spayed or neutered. If they aren’t, this is typically one of the first things a rescue will arrange to have done. You should align with them to understand when they’re expecting you to take your animal in for the appointment.

Day-to-day care

The first few days in your home are all about letting your foster animal decompress and adjust at their own pace. Some are eager to interact with you at the start, while others prefer to be totally left alone for a while. If you want to learn more about the stages you experience with any new animal in the home, check out our blog post on The 3-3-3Rule. Once your animal has had a few days to settle, one of the best things you can do for them is get them used to a routine. Start feeding them and, if your animal is a dog, taking them out for walks around the same time each day. Every animal is unique and you’ll need to adapt your activities based on where your foster animal is at and where you want to help them get.

Some common goals you should work towards in order to make your animal shine their best for adopters include:

Some tips for crate training...

Rarely do you end up with a foster animal who’s amazing at everything right from the start. They’ll likely progress at different paces for different goals. Just keep working on them though – as their trust in you grows, their ability to step out of their comfort zone improves. Continuing to work on these areas will help boost their confidence in time and give them a better chance of getting adopted.


Stay in communication with the shelter or rescue you’re fostering for and let them know if you need additional support or have concerns about the animal's health or behavior. Align with them on important dates, such as vet appointments or adoption events.

Some organizations have a facebook group for all their fosters to communicate. They’ll typically post about upcoming adoption events in these groups, so keep an eye on what’s coming up and take your foster animal so they get visibility with adopters. If you have an upcoming trip where you need someone to look after your foster, these groups are often a good place to post along with messaging the rescue directly.

Most organizations will request that you complete a bio for your animal after they’ve been in your home a couple weeks. At that point, you’ll know the animal better than anyone and are best positioned to explain their personality, any quirks and what kind of home / adopter they would thrive in. They’ll do a review and make any adjustments they feel are necessary, then post it on their website, adoption sites and social media channels. You should also share any cute photos or videos you have of your foster with the bio. These are great way to attract adopters and let them see a glimpse of your foster animal’s personality.

Transfer or adoption

There are generally two outcomes that fosters aim for – transferring their animal to a new foster or finding them a forever home. If you’re in a high kill state then there’s a good chance that your animal will be moving on to a rescue in another state where they’re more likely to be adopted. If your animal is being transferred then it’s most common that they’re moving into another foster home, but there are instances when organizations who have physical facilities will keep them on site.

The other possibility is that your animal finds their forever family. This can be bittersweet – you’ve grown to love your animal and are going to miss them dearly, but you’re also thrilled that they finally found their people.

Whether you’re fostering for vacations, short term transfers or until your animal finds their forever family, know that you’ve had an enormous impact on them. They may not be alive today if you didn’t step up and play your part in their journey. And although goodbyes are difficult, their absence creates space for you to save another’s life.

Other blog posts you may be interested in...

How to Foster Puppy Mill Dogs: Your Guide to a Rewarding Process
How to be a Foster Dog Parent: Your Essential Guide