A version of this article originally appeared on Foster Dogs NYC.
Not everyone is ready or able to welcome a dog into their life full time, but are still looking for ways to help shelter animals. Volunteering, donating and being an ambassador for rescue pups are just a few things you can do – but so is fostering a dog.
For those that don’t know about fostering, let me provide you a quick rundown. Rescue groups will often pull dogs from kill shelters to give them a second chance. But because they don’t have the luxury of having a facility to keep the animals, they rely on people to house dogs (and cats) temporarily while they wait for their forever home. The animal often stays with someone for as little as a few weeks (or days) up to a few months.
While the commitment isn’t lifelong, people are still hesitant to jump on the foster wagon, concerned they don’t have the time needed to give the dog the attention it deserves. Have no fear. You can make it work having a full-time job. Think about it: a dog would much rather be with someone in a home, rather than a loud, noisy kennel. They will take your full-time schedule over that environment any day of the week.
For those with a 9-to-5 job, check out real-world, practical advice from foster pros.
Fitting fostering into your schedule
“Fostering while also working full time is challenging at first but once you get a schedule and routine going it’s a breeze. I’m a single mom who is also working as a detective for the NYPD and currently have three pets of my own. I try to foster one pet at a time, so I can spread my time between all my pets as well as have time to review applications, meet prospective adopters and conduct home visits. I love rescuing. There are days where it can be overwhelming, but it’s like having a child – for all the challenging days there’s always that one moment that makes it all worth it. That’s how I see my rescues and fosters, no matter how many tiresome days I have, I know at the end of my day he or she lays with me and looks at me with those big sweet eyes, and I know that to them I am their whole world and their affection is their way of saying ‘thank you.’” – Ileen E
“Make sure your foster fits with your lifestyle and your schedule. As much as I want to play with puppies right now, when I’m gone 14 or 15 hours a day, it’s out of the question. I stock up on a lot of chews and puzzle toys to keep them occupied while I’m out.” – Anna T
To walk or not to walk, that is the question.
“I’m very selective about the dogs I foster. I always try my best to schedule a meet and greet just to get a general idea if the dog’s personality will work with my lifestyle. For example, I tend to foster dogs that are older and housebroken since I work long hours. My dog walker is very helpful and typically gives me a good rate if he has to walk a foster along with my pup.” – Kevin H
“If you work a lot and can’t afford a dog walker, consider fostering seniors. Small ones are usually content using pee pads, and they want to sleep most of the day. It might seem obvious but some people don’t understand fostering a puppy isn’t always the best fit if you work long days and no one can check in mid-day. Also remember being alone in your apartment is much nicer than spending their days in a shelter. You can always do the relaxing pet music playlist on YouTube and freeze a kong and an older adult dog will be content all day without you enough that your feelings might get hurt. As cute as the puppies are though, seniors are so rewarding and can be much easier to get used to a long work schedule.” – Megan P
“My walker, Mobile Mutts, walks foster dogs for free if you’re already paying for your own dog, or charges half price if your foster is your only pup. And they’re great about giving detailed updates about foster behavior so that you have another set of eyes watching out for any aggression, fearfulness, health concerns, etc.” – Erin W
(Going off of Erin’s thought above:) “Mobile Mutts is the best! They made all the difference in me being able to foster when I was working in an office five days a week. Also they put up with insane foster logistics like ‘please carry (35 lbs!) Gracie through the living room, we’re still working on her relationship with the cats.’” – Taylor C
“A lot of dog walkers who don’t work for companies and instead do gigs like Rover.com will sneak your foster in for a free check-in or walk once in a while. That’s by chance though.” – Megan P
You don’t need a big budget
“My boyfriend and I are both graduate students (i.e. negative income), which has both positives and negatives in terms of fostering. Positive: one of us is home to walk the dog during lunchtime three out of the five weekdays – yay! Negative: that means two days we need to hire a dog-walker, which, given that whole no income thing, feels a little overwhelming at times. We have found local walkers on Rover.com who have less expensive rates than places like Wag, and some will advertise themselves as not charging more for a second dog. We have also found that some of our non-dog-owning neighbors love our fosters, and want to hang out with them without committing to fostering/adopting. If you know them well, feel safe with them in your home, and your foster has met them and liked them, you can always ‘offer’ the neighbor a chance to check in on the dog during the day.” – Elspeth H
Separation anxiety and keeping an eye on the dog
“When I first got Brinkley, I thought he wasn’t house-trained, on top of having separation anxiety. Either I’m a really good house-trainer, or it was just nerves. We are still dealing with separation anxiety a few weeks later, but when I discovered it, I took immediate action. I got him a thunder shirt (helped him feel more secure, same idea as swaddling a baby), rescue remedy (natural stress relief from the health food store) and borrowed a crate from my neighbor. Thank goodness he was crate trained, the combo plus some background cartoons has worked wonders! We go for a long walk in the morning ,and he sleeps in his crate while I’m at work. If I’m running late, my neighbor or someone I found on Rover.com takes him for a walk. Been pretty easy so far, I ended up adopting!” – Melissa O
“We bought a camera form Amazon that we use to monitor with an app, but there are also inexpensive ones like Dog Monitor ($4.99) where if you have an iPad (or unused smart phone) you can set it up facing the crate and it works well.” – Samantha C
Spend the first couple days together
“When I’m fostering I try to get my foster dog on the weekend so I can acclimate them before having to go off to work all day. I spend time over the weekend getting them comfy in their crate and when I do leave for work I leave a noise machine between the crate and the door to block those scary hallway noises that new fosters are often startled by. I use a dog walker that provides a discount for foster dogs, so they get a midday walk if I’m at the office all day. Oh, and taking a break between fosters can be a great way to keep you (or your partner/roommates/coworkers/boss) from getting frustrated or burned-out.” – Taylor C
Having a routine helps
“I work full-time, foster on my own, take classes after work and have a dog of my own. I started fostering six months ago and have fostered puppies all the way to seniors with medical issues. It’s all about being as prepared as possible, but also knowing that there will be surprises. I’ve found that if you take it seriously and really put your mind to it you can make it work. My biggest tip is to keep very on top of your schedule and time your daily routine.
Of course I have a social life too, so I make sure to schedule those things on nights I don’t have class or on the weekends when I have a lot more flexibility.
From experience, if I get off my schedule by sleeping in, etc. it all goes to hell. Oh, and making sure your own life is in order helps a lot too. I meal prep to maximize cooking time and finances, keep all dog stuff organized and easily accessible (i.e. hang the leash and collar right beside their feeding area, so I don’t spend time untangling or walking back and forth across the room) and stay very on top of my work and social calendars at all times.” – Gabby M
“I happen to work in an industry that allows dogs at work. My foster dog Onyx lived in a shelter for five years, so she was not used to a daily routine of commuting and going to work each day. She easily fell into the routine and would get so happy when walking into the office. I could see having a dog with you at work can help immensely in socializing a dog. So many people stop by and say ‘hi’ to her during the day. Onyx sits comfortably on her bed all day and is patient as I work. I actually feel guilty when we don’t go into the office, because she loves it so much. There have been days that I have not taken her to work. Since she is crate trained, I am able to walk her in the morning before work and then again right after work. ” – Lesa H.
Getting others excited
“I let my boss know whenever I take in a new foster, and I keep her and my co-workers updated about how the pup is doing and how the adoption process is going. I put pictures of my foster pup on my computer wallpaper and around my cube. It can look pretty nerdy, but I’ve found that my co-workers get invested in my foster dog and naturally become understanding about the occasional day I need to work from home, come in late, etc. Plus, co-workers are another pool of possible adopters!” – Erin W
Reaching out for help when you need it
“I’ve actually had a lot of success with posting in the Facebook group [Foster Forum] and asking for dog walkers/sitters. People who are between jobs or working from home or just looking to hang with pups have been more than happy to hang out and have become friends through just dog interaction. This group has been an amazing resource not just for advice but for in-person help too.” – Samantha C
Enjoy the foster experience, and seek advice when you need it! We’re all in this together. Learn more about fostering on our site!