Foster Programs for Animal Shelters

Why Foster

  • Public Perception that the shelter is a great place to adopt a loving animal
  • Free Labor – if you have a new litter they need lots of around the clock care, and fosters love puppies and kittens so having them foster a new litter is a win/win
  • Increased Visibility which can result in increased donations
  • Decreases employee burnout. If you’ve got shelter employees who are tending to the shelter animals all day long and then take an animal home to care for them at night, you can do the math on that one.
  • Animals who are fostered will be more adoptable upon their return (socialized, potty trained, obedience trained, etc.)
    • If Foster parents can take a picture and write a bio for the animal they’ve fostered, it helps the animal match up to the best adoptive family.
      • Ex: “Coco loves kids, but does not care for other dogs.” “Loves her daily walk. She will thrive in an active home”

Benefits to the shelter. Increased services without increased cost, and more efficient use of staff time. If fosters can provide a loving, stable atmosphere, the staff can be doing more at the shelter which makes for healthier, happier animals and less risk of diseases.

The City of Plano in year 2005-2006

No foster program, outside of employees

No training, very informal

Employees suffered burnout

Compared to 2006-2007

We appointed a Volunteer Foster Coordinator, who was available to answer after hours questions, handled the interview process for potential foster families, held mandatory orientation for all potential fosters and conducted regular evaluations. If you can find a foster coordinator with a veterinary back ground, all the better. This will allow them to assess if a foster animal needs to see a veterinarian for what a foster may see as an emergency or if they can wait until the following day and see a vet that works closely with the shelter to keep the cost down, etc.

Instituting a foster program of your own:

1st-appoint a Foster Coordinator. This should be someone you trust to make sound decisions. Their responsibilities will be:

  • Main contact for current and potential fosters
  • Answer any questions
  • Authorize treatments
  • Follow ups

2nd-Restrictions for Fosters:

  • Geographically desirable. They need to be close enough to the shelter that if it’s not working out and you have to go pick up the animal, you’re not traveling 3 hours, round trip to reach them.
  • Children. Small children can be a danger to puppies and small dogs
  • Other pets. Do you want to require their pets be sterile?
    • Definitely want to require their pets be up to date on their vaccinations
    • Previous experience. Do you want them to have previous experience caring for a pet?


  • Liability releases – seek an attorney’s advice on this one. You definitely want to include the language “Can’t guarantee the health or temperament of the animal.”
  • Confidentiality Agreements – gives you the authority to stop a person from bad mouthing you in the event the foster “goes bad”. With social media a bad experience can go viral fast and having the confidentiality gives you a powerful tool to put a stop to the slander.

In addition to these things you’ll want to establish Standard Operating Procedures. Make sure shelter and foster responsibilities are clearly defined.

  • Require pets be kept separate from foster pets
  • Ownership Agreements-make sure you state the animal belongs to the shelter and they are housing it for you and when you ask for it back, they have to give it back to you
  • Inspection Agreements-you should be allowed to come at a reasonable hour to check on the animal. Typically just having one in place will help keep out non-ideal candidates.

It’s important to have an orientation and you can often offer specialized training by local trainers who can donate their services (exposure for them). They can offer advice on obedience, pet first aid and potty training. The idea is that the animal is more adoptable when you get it back from the foster.

Recruiting Fosters

  • Social Media is a great way to announce your campaign and obtain free advertising for your new program
  • Community volunteer agencies and media outlets. Your local news will likely welcome a weekly spotlight, featuring an animal available for foster/adoption
  • Shelter signage
  • Senior Centers. These are great places to find fosters for the older animals that have a hard time being chosen. Seniors get a companion and something to take care of and the animal gets lots of love and attention
  • Word of mouth

*Media coverage. The local media tends to cover cruelty cases and seizures so it’s a great time to let the media know that you are not set up for large scale seizures and ask for the public’s help in volunteering for your foster program.

Screening Fosters

  • Get identification-know the address where animals will be kept. Unless they’re a student, the address on their driver’s license should match their current address listed on the application
  • Background check- is an easy way to check for any type of criminal record, etc..
  • Check county appraisal district records to know if they own or rent. The owner of the property needs to know that there is a pet on premises so if you have a renter, you may want to require a letter from the land lord giving permission for the animal.
  • Find out about the potential’s lifestyle. You want to match the pet to the lifestyle as much as possible.
  • Pet history-have they lost pets in the past or had pets die accidentally. If so they may not be a good candidate.
  • Do their personal views conflict with your work as a shelter? Sometimes education regarding why overcrowding and keeping an animal locked up for most of their life is cruel and euthanasia is often the only alternative if a home can’t be found within a reasonable period of time.

References-You’ll want to obtain a reference from their current vet to make sure they take care of their own animals before giving them a new one to foster.

Retaining Fosters

  • Appreciation Days –thank them by recognizing them in a small celebration. A thank you goes such a long way
  • Feedback-give lots of nice feedback on a regular basis so they know their efforts are appreciated
  • Public acknowledgement/Milestone Awards-you can host a luncheon for your volunteers and name a foster of the year award. You can invite the mayor to hand it out and have the local newspaper write an article. (bonus exposure for your shelter and foster program!)
  • Each year TACA (Texas Animal Control Association ) and NACA (National Animal Control Association ) award a Volunteer of the Year award. You can nominate one of your fosters.
  • Another great way to retain fosters is to let them know their efforts are critical in increasing animal adoptions by sending a follow up email with pictures and an update from the animal’s new home. This will often re-energize them to continue to foster

Best Practices

  • Litters-vaccinate at 2 weeks prior to returning to the shelter. Sterilize & booster the day of return. Get them returned at 8-9 weeks. The longer the foster waits to return them, the harder it is to get them adopted. Everyone wants new puppies and kittens so there is a small window for adoption.
  • Coordinate return of fostered animals with times of the year when adoptions are up
    • For example-holidays are prime adopting season, especially Christmas so try to get fosters back in house in time for adoption seasons.
  • Provide collapsible cages for housing while in the care of a foster home. This helps an animal start on crate training and when they are returned to the shelter, they will feel more at ease.
  • Involving the foster in permanent placement of the animal can be positive if they’re good fosters. They are often more thorough because they’ve formed an attachment and want to insure the animal is going to a loving home and will be well cared for, long term.
  • ALWAYS, ALWAYS identify foster animals upon their return to the shelter so you can let the foster family know prior to euthanasia.



Jamey Cantrell began working with animals 1993 and his first job in a shelter was a kennel Technician for the Humane Society of North Texas in 1995. He learned to perform every service the shelter provided, from adoptions to emergency rescues of injured animals to cruelty investigations, and worked his way up to the position of Staff Coordinator by 1997. After a brief stint as an Animal Services Officer for the City of Benbrook, Jamey was lured back to HSNT where he took over the position of Director of Shelter Operations. He held that position for five years, managing the day to day operations of the largest full-service animal shelter in North Texas, until leaving in July of 2003 to become the Animal Services Manager for the City of Lubbock. After making great strides in a relatively short amount of time, Jamey returned to the D/FW area when he accepted the position of Animal Control Supervisor for the City of Bedford in July 2004. He led Bedford to the prestigious Texas Animal Control Association’s Animal Control & Welfare Agency of the Year award for 2005 despite the fact that one third of his staff was laid off due to budget cuts that year. In early 2007, Jamey accepted his current position of Animal Services Manager for the City of Plano where he is working to expand the shelter’s outreach and educational programs and improve upon the city’s placement rate of more than 80% of all animals handled. Jamey has wide-ranging experience and has managed small (1-6 employees), medium (20-25 employees), and large (50+ employees) shelters, private shelters run entirely on donations, private shelters with municipal contracts, and tax-funded municipal shelters and serves on the Board of Directors for TXFACS. |

Tags: Animal Shelter information, Animal Shelter Foster Programs, Jamey Cantrell, City of Plano Animal Services, Animal Shelter Advice, NACA, TACA