Fostering a pet serves a lot of purposes. First, for us flighty city creatures, it provides a low-commitment avenue to pet ownership. Second, to foster is to play a vital role in the shelter system. Many of the city's smaller animal rescue organizations and humane societies couldn't exist without a network of caring foster homes to nurture pets while their shelter facilities are full. And for some, saving animals from shelter euthanasia wouldn't be possible without temporary homes.
"We're a grassroots organization that doesn't have a brick and mortar location besides our three adoption sites," says Lana Bajsel of Give Me Shelter cat rescue, a group that typically cares for 54 cats at a time. "The fosters serve as our safety net. Their role is crucial."
Cats and dogs aren't the only cuddly creatures that can join your family for a short period of time. Wonder Cat (wondercatrescue.petfinder.com), Pets in Need (www.petsinneed.org), Furry Friends Rescue (www.furryfriendsrescue.org), and Rocket Dog Rescue do concentrate on dogs and cats, but you can also foster a rabbit through Save A Bunny (www.saveabunny.org) or birds through Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue (www.mickaboo.org).
Foster systems provide a way for many shelters to save furry friends that are long-shot adoptees or would fare poorly in cages. The SPCA's "fospice" program can match you with a chronically ill (but not contagious) pet that needs your love. As in most foster programs, the SPCA will pay for any medical care fospice animals need (although as a foster parent, you're usually responsible for food and other daily needs).
Organizational requirements vary from group to group, but Bajsel says that most of the time all it takes to be a foster parent is a safe home (for example, no windows without screens that open onto busy streets), your landlord's permission, and preferably, a little animal savvy. "But we've placed cats with fosters who have never had one before. In those cases, we can provide a little more hand holding" she says.
With such demonstrable need, most organizations will accept any help you can give — even if it means a little something before you leave on your summer vacation. It's really contingent on you, the foster parent. "The time commitment can be as little as two weeks," Bajsel says. (Caitlin Donohue)
Say your flea trap apartment or Scrooge-like landlord prohibits adopting or fostering — you can always volunteer at one of the many Bay Area organizations dedicated to animal welfare. Once you catch the scent of the needy pooches, cats, rats, and people dedicated to saving them, it'll be tough not to volunteer.
Cat lovers will feel right at home at Give Me Shelter cat rescue, which can use your help with anything from petting a purr-er to cleaning cages to lending a hand at adoption events. If you're more of a man's best friend kind of gal or boy, lend a hand at one of the city's incredible dog shelters. Muttville can hook you up with a variety of ways to get involved, including matching elderly dogs with lonely older folks as part of its heart-melting "seniors for seniors" program.
Rocket Dog Rescue is another all-breed dog rescue organization with a mission to save animals "at the speed of light." Learn more at one of its volunteer orientations on second Sundays of the month.
Bad Rap (www.badrap.org) stands for Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, a group that's serious about reeducating the public about pits, as well as getting perfectly adoptable pits placed with loving owners. Volunteers with the group will discover the secret world of big, barrel-headed sweethearts — and their ardent admirers. Bad Rap needs volunteers who can show up on Saturdays to train pits on leash skills at Berkeley Animal Care Service.