Foster Home Responsibilities
Thank you for your interest in helping the abandoned and unwanted Shelties in Houston/Central and SE Texas. Our foster homes, many of which have been with us from the beginning of our program, experience great joy and deep satisfaction when they see that through their efforts a neglected dog gets a second chance at life and a new opportunity to share his or her unconditional love with people who care. Not only do foster homes have the joy of seeing their foster dog placed into a new forever home, but also there is the additional joy of seeing the happiness of the new family.
What is Foster Care?
Being a foster home means sharing your home with a rescued dog: providing food, shelter, toys, walks (after the dog is well from heartworm treatment or more confident if shy), and lots of attention, until a permanent home for the dog is approved. We count on our foster homes to evaluate temperament and observe behaviors in a variety of situations, and we welcome those updates so we can assess the dog and enhance the description on the web site. Positive reinforcement training is encouraged. Most foster care situations require 2 weeks to a month of residential foster care, and in some cases where the dog is ill or older, several months. In rare cases, you must be able to cope with the possibility that HSS Coordinators and our doctors may find it necessary to put the dog to sleep--always for a reason we discuss at length (e.g., unwarranted aggression with other dogs and people, unprovoked biting of people, and terminal illness)--but never because we couldn't place the dog.
What You Need to Foster a Rescued Sheltie
The most important requirements are time and attention. You must be willing to include the dog in family activities, allow the dog to live as a house dog with much human companionship, and provide some daily one-on-one time with your rescue, including cuddles, play, and walks on leash, with our secure collar and HSS tag on the dog at all times. The dog may not be completely house trained. We recommend using a crate and leash walking the dog in the yard, giving praise when the dog is successful. Most of our Shelties are trained within a week or two. Crates are an invaluable piece of equipment for rescue people. A Vari-Kennel #400 or one of similar size is suitable for most Shelties, and is a great aid in transporting and isolating dogs. It is also a cozy den and a place of refuge for most dogs. We will loan foster homes a crate.
Our dogs must be kept indoors except for exercise and elimination. A fenced yard must be of appropriate height (4-6', as some Shelties are jumpers) and in secure condition. If it has a gate, the gate must be locked when the dog is in the yard to prevent someone from opening the gate and letting the dog loose. At no time are our dogs to be confined in the yard while caretakers are away. We do not accept homes without fences because of the danger of someone forgetting and letting the dog out or accidentally leaving a back door open for the dog to escape through.
Apartment homes can also be excellent foster homes, with proper attention to providing several leash-walks daily for the dog as well as adequate off-leash exercise in a safe area like a fenced dog park. We have also found that most modern apartment complexes are now gated which protects our dogs as well as residents.
We do not accept trailer homes due to the danger to our dogs in high wind/tornado situations.
Introducing Your Foster Dog
HSS Coordinators will discuss with you the best methods for introducing the new dog into your household. During this time, the rescued dog may appear shy or submissive. Shelties, especially, may be particularly wary in a new situation. Your foster may also have been hit, dragged by the collar, or kicked, which you'll know immediately from his behavior around you and your family. Take it slow and easy; let the dog learn to regain trust; give him hugs and kisses as he can tolerate them; he may be surprised at first, but will eventually relish the attention and return it. You will know the dog is relaxing when his eyes soften, tail begins to wag, and he seeks you out.
Kids and Foster Dogs
Never leave a rescued dog and a child unsupervised. Sometimes, even though we make every attempt to uncover all available history on each dog, we may not have the full truth about the dog, and he or she may be afraid of children because of prior abuse. It is preferred that foster homes have experience with pet dogs, and that children in the foster family are over the age of 5 years, though we realize many children even younger have a special rapport with animals. We will work with the family and dog on a case-by-case decision.
Your Pets and the Foster Dog
Though many dogs and cats, especially those used to their owners' rescue work, welcome the rescued Sheltie, keep in mind that there may be a period of adjustment for the first few days up to 2 - 3 weeks depending on the rescued Sheltie's history and personality. During this time the rescued dog may appear shy or submissive. As he becomes more confident, your foster may change his behavior towards resident pets, beginning to play and explore the pecking order. Always feed your pets and your rescued dog separately; consider feeding the rescued Sheltie in a crate if you notice any food aggression between dogs. Be careful when dispensing treats or other high-value items like rawhides or favorite toys. Sometimes what is thought to be food aggression is actually just a territorial imperative that will take care of itself as the pecking order is established and the dogs relax. Keeping this in mind, always supervise the interactions of your rescued dog with other pets. When leaving the rescued dog home alone (even if you have other pets at home), the use of a crate or gate is recommended at least the first few days up to two weeks; for dogs going through Heartworm treatment, the crate is absolutely necessary to keep the dog quiet. Confining your rescued dog protects him, your pets, and your property from possible injury or damage.
HSS recommends that all resident dogs be inoculated for kennel cough along with their regular vaccinations, as many rescues coming in from shelters contract this disease and are being treated for it. We cannot stress this enough: the incidence of kennel cough in dogs coming from Shelters is increasing. However, we always recommend the bordetella inoculation for kennel cough in all resident dogs because the disease now has some 600 strains: it can be picked up by your own dogs on a simple walk in the neighborhood or nearby greenbelts. Though kennel cough is treatable with medication and rest, it has become so virulent that dogs can too easily go quickly into pneumonia. Please have your veterinarian include the bordetella has part of the regular vaccination regimen. Also, some dog owners mistakenly think heartworms are contagious: they are not. See our Heartworm Care Guide and the American Heartworm Society web site for the explanation of heartworm disease and treatment. Finally, HSS requires that all resident dogs in the foster home are neutered or spayed as we support only professional breeding of purebred dogs. Sometimes when our dogs are very ill, we need to wait to spay/neuter them until they are well. Spaying and neutering your dogs is better for them both medically and behaviorally. Talk this over with your own veterinarians, if you have any doubts. We do make an exception for knowledgeable, professional breeders, who want to work with our program to help our Shelties. In these cases, to avoid accidents, of course we would only place a rescued Sheltie that had been spay/neutered already.
What To Do in a Medical Emergency
We will try to place 'easy' dogs in new foster homes and will not place a seriously ill dog in a foster home until the family has gained experience. But if you do feel you have an emergency, and you cannot reach HSS Coordinators, you should take the injured or ill dog to the nearest vet who can stabilize the animal until HSS can authorize further treatment. This is particularly necessary if your foster dog is going through Heartworm treatment: any vomiting with listlessness must be reported immediately, and the dog taken to a vet as quickly as possible. HSS Coordinators are the only persons who make major medical decisions for program dogs. You don't want that responsibility, and we have years of experience in making those decisions with the clinics.
How Expenses Are Handled
The foster home is responsible for food, toys, and in-home bathing and grooming; we are happy to provide tax receipts for expenses and will reimburse for professional grooming if needed. Please keep your receipts. HSS coordinators usually arrange for appointments for veterinary care. With your permission, we send prospective adoptive homes to visit your foster dog in the home, but only after we have personally checked out the families. Finally, we will reimburse you for approved emergency veterinary care and medications (again, save all your receipts).
Most Frequently Asked Questions
- "Don't you get attached to the dog?" -- Yes, and that is what we want for both you and the dog. It's fun to get to know new dogs, and for your foster dog and resident dog(s) to make new friends, too. Often, your resident dog will be revitalized in the presence of the rescued dog, and you will witness amazing developments in both dogs. It's educational to see how different dogs react to training, how they play with and teach one another. It's also educational to see when any territorial problems develop and learn to deal with those, usually allowing the dogs to work things out within reason, calling for crate time when the problem needs to be dealt with. You will fall in love with your foster dog, which is necessary to his or her rehabilitation and also leads us to the next question.
- "How can you give him up?" -- This is probably the number one reason why a lot of caring people do not offer their homes for foster care: they are afraid giving the dog up will hurt too much. However, it's a hard truth, but without enough foster homes, we cannot rescue and save these dogs: they will die in the shelters if we don't have space for them in our program. It helps to think of your foster dog as your neighbor's dog that you are keeping during a vacation. Sure, you like him and will take really good care of him, but when your neighbor gets home, you will give the dog back! Some of us think of ourselves as the rescued dog's 'aunt' or 'uncle,' a loving guardian for the dog on his or her way to a permanent home. This is a dog who ultimately belongs to someone else, who is in our care for only a short time. When you give him or her up, it will be to a Sheltie 'forever home' that this dog has been waiting for--and you will be opening a space for the next rescue who needs you so desperately. There is ALWAYS another rescue dog. But, also, after many years of fostering, your fellow volunteers can assure you there is nothing quite as moving as seeing your beloved foster dog happy, healthy, loved, and cherished by the forever home that really wanted him or her and in some cases really needed your dog. It's contagious, and we hope you will be hooked on fostering, too.
- "What if I'm afraid my foster dog who is ill might die?" -- We ease foster homes into the work very gradually and never give a heartworm patient or other very sick or injured Sheltie to a home until they feel ready to take on that responsibility. To be honest, though, we can tell you that if you foster long enough, you may very well eventually lose a foster even with all our efforts to save him or her. Tragically, most of us who have fostered for a long time have gone through the pain of loss because, after all, most rescues are in the program because they have been neglected, abandoned, and abused: and that includes previous owners not giving them heartworm pills or other medical care. The illness is not the dog's fault, and sometimes the weeks or months he or she is with us are the only medical care, peace, and love the rescued Sheltie has ever known. We have held them in our arms when they crossed over and wept tears for them. It happens. But in every case, if we hadn't intervened, the dogs would have had a far worse experience, dying on a cold steel table at the end of a needle in an overworked shelter putting down dozens of animals every day, or alone, frightened, and sick on the streets. The dogs we do lose in our program knew we loved them and did the best we could for them; and we are humbled by their sweetness and understanding even as they cross over. It is, in fact, a very humbling experience, and we're never sorry we tried to help these dogs. However, it's also important to remember that through loving foster care and the best medical care in Houston, we save over 90% of even the sickest dogs. Most of your fosters are not only going to make it, but are going to thrive, become unbelievably gorgeous, go on to a wonderful new life, and make you very proud.
- "What if I really like the dog and want to keep him?" -- This does happen. Sometimes the "perfect dog" comes along, and everyone in the family just seems to agree that theirs is the "perfect home." Fortunately, qualifying as a Foster Home usually qualifies you as an Adopter as well. HSS is concerned to place our Shelties with their needs and preferences as important as the adopters'. Sometimes the dog tells us which home is right; and we respect that. Should this happen, and we all agree, then the foster home will pay the adoption fee, complete the Final Adoption Agreement, and assume ownership of the dog. Please think about this carefully, though, as often adoption means the family feels it no longer has foster space available, and we desperately need those homes.
Other Things You Need to Know
- If you have a problem or a question, call HSS Coordinators. Though very rare in Shelties, if the dog bites someone (actually breaks the skin), you must call HSS Coordinators immediately, and we will remove our dog from your home. Though some biting is fear biting and can be corrected, no dog will be allowed to remain in the program if he has become aggressive. If the dog escapes the fence, fights with other dogs, won't leave your cat alone, or has other behavior problems, we need to know this and will probably move the dog to another home, giving you a new foster. We may also be able to help with management or training suggestions, and will take these facts into consideration when screening potential adoptive homes for the dog.
- When your foster dog arrives, HSS Coordinators will tell you everything they know about the dog and the dog's history. HSS will provide you with a leash, collar, with an HSS tag with the program number, and the phone numbers on it, which shall remain on the dog at all times. The dog will be vaccinated and neutered; any health problems or behavior issues will be fully discussed. The Coordinators will keep in touch with the foster home through email and by phone; we need occasional updates on the dog's progress for website descriptions, so the foster home would need to be available to exchange information with the Coordinators at least every couple of weeks. We also appreciate updated pictures for the website. Foster homes need to administer prescription medications and HW preventative (provided by HSS), crate a dog going through heartworm treatment, follow all veterinarian directions, alert HSS officials of any medical emergencies or if the dog is being taken out of town or out of state for family visits or recreation. Foster homes also need to observe the dog's behavior and report any concerns, including if the dog seems to be a runner or actually escapes so we can assist in recovery. If the latter happens, the foster family must call us immediately as time is of the essence in capturing our dog.
- If you send a dog home with a prospective adopter who has visited the dog, be sure the collar and tag are secure on the dog, take the adoption check and final agreement (available on the sidebar of our website) from the new family and send them immediately to Linda at the PO box. Email or call us immediately to tell us the dog has gone home so we can note that in our records.
- HSS Coordinators are the only persons who can accept a dog into the program. If you learn of a Sheltie in need of rescue, please notify us as soon as possible with the information, and we will take steps to work with you to bring the Sheltie into the program. Additionally, HSS Coordinators are the only persons who can approve a permanent home for your foster dog. If you have a family member or friend interested in adoption, or you meet a potential adopter, by all means, encourage him or her to apply and provide him or her with the phone number and/or web site, explaining that in addition to completing the adoption application, the prospective home must arrange for a home check by one of our volunteers and an in-home visit with the dog. Please contact HSS and give us that person's phone number. You must not promise or place a dog yourself. HSS must screen the applicant through an impartial volunteer and interview all potential homes. Foster homes give our dogs the love and renewed trust they need to move on to their new homes with confidence. We appreciate the work our fosters do more than can ever be satisfactorily expressed. In return, we appreciate our foster homes' trust in us as well: the coordinators are extremely careful in our adoption procedures, and though we welcome our foster homes' love for and concerned interest in and suggestions about our dogs, taking them very seriously in our adoption decisions, because we are a charitable organization overseen by the IRS and health organizations, the coordinators make the final decisions about the actual adoptions of our programs' dogs.
We deeply appreciate your concern for Shelties and your willingness to become involved with foster care. If you think you would like to do this, please complete the Foster Application. Thank You!
[Adapted with kind permission from Marie Devaney, English Springer Rescue America, Inc.]