The foster – the bridge

The hardest part of fostering a rescued pet is acknowledging that the dog, cat, or other companion who’s now in your care will have a better life with someone else. Letting go for the long-term good of the animal is painful, and sometimes it makes you feel ‘not good enough.’ Remind yourself that letting go is not the same thing as letting down.

Fostering is not only all about saving a life from death row or the streets and giving that dog a temporary home, spay/neuter, responsible vetting, the basics of food/water/shelter, and perhaps most importantly, affection and structure; it’s also about using one’s experience and good judgment to find the best possible situation for that dog long-term. Sometimes location, timing, a bunch of other dogs at home to compete with for human attention, a personal dog who doesn’t get along with the foster, limited free time to devote to training, even another human in the household who resents the foster dog, and other factors like that, are even more important to consider than giving the dog your love and meeting all basic needs.

"His Only Friend," by Briton Rivière (1871; Manchester Art Gallery, UK)

“His Only Friend,” by Briton Rivière (1871; Manchester Art Gallery, UK)

Fostering is by definition a temporary arrangement. While there’s not a thing wrong with being a “foster failure” and adopting a dog you thought would be temporary, a foster is usually a bridge—to be crossed, not settled upon forever. As with the parent of a human child, the rescue foster must let go when the time is right, or the “child” may never reach his or her full potential.

It’s also really important to acknowledge that the “forever” home you send a dog to will never be exactly like yours, and that the new relationship of love and care your foster dog enters will be different from the one he or she had with you. And that’s OK! I can tell you this: The dog will make the transition more easily than you will. We hold onto the past; dogs (although molded by their past) live for today.

“Letting go for the right reason—the dog’s best lifetime interest—is the foster’s greatest gift.

And it’s always, always OK to cry.