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Frequently Asked Questions About Fostering

Q: Do I get to pick my foster dog?

A: Sort of. If you are open for a foster, and more than one dog is in need at that time, you may indicate which you prefer, or you may choose to wait for another dog. Most of the time, however, we’re trying to save a particular dog so it’s more of a yes/no question than a multiple choice.

Q: Will I get to meet the dog before deciding to foster it?

A: Generally not. If the dog is in a shelter near you, you may certainly go there to evaluate the dog. But it’s more likely that the dog in need is too far away for that to be practical. Or perhaps the dog’s situation is so urgent that we must decide (by phone or email) to commit to the dog before a visit could be arranged.

Q: Once I agree, how will I get the dog?

A: If the dog is within an hour’s drive of you, you’ll probably be asked to go pick it up. If the dog is further away, your state coordinator will arrange transportation and will probably ask you to assist with the last leg of the trip.

Q: What are my responsibilities as a foster parent?

A: There are 9 key responsibilities, which are described in detail in the Foster Parent Handbook you will be given when you are approved as a foster home. In a nutshell, these responsibilities are:

1. Decide when/if to foster a new dog.
2. Name the dog.
3. Submit a foster agreement for each new dog as soon as you get it.
4. Get vet care for the dog as soon as possible after getting the dog (within a week).
5. Set up and maintain a records folder for the dog.
6. Submit the dog’s profile (bio and photos) for listing on our websites.
7. Handle day-to-day care of the dog, including ensuring the dog’s safety at all times.
8. Assist the Applications Department in the adoption process by quickly answering incoming questions about the dog.
9. Participate in “Ratbone Chat” (Yahoo group for our foster parent network).

Q. Is it OK if I keep my foster dog(s) in a secure outdoor kennel?

A: Not unless that is only for limited daytime hours. An outdoor-only set-up may be approved for emergency, temporary situations, but will not be approved as a foster home. Part of our role in fostering is helping to train the dogs to be good household pets and develop good indoor manners. We need to socialize them to living with humans (and other pets). And we need to be able to describe to prospective adopters how the dog does with regard to housetraining, indoor destructiveness, snatching food, etc.

Q: Is it OK if I don’t have a fenced yard?

A: If you are prepared to give the dog the outdoor exercise and potty time it needs, on leash at all times, then not having a fenced yard is not a disqualifier.

Q: What if I live in an apartment?

A: Apartment living isn’t a disqualification either. But you must be prepared for the possibility that a foster dog could be a big barker, and take into consideration whether that would be problematic for your neighbors.

Q: What if I get a dog with behavioral problems?

A: You will! Well, it’s not guaranteed, of course, but it’s better to go into fostering with the expectation that a new dog will have “issues” requiring attention and training. If you’ve never done obedience training before, you’ll want to start reading books NOW. If that worries you, then fostering probably is not for you. (But we have other volunteer opportunities for you!)

Fortunately, most behavioral problems will be relatively minor—transitional issues of getting used to a new environment and unlearning old bad habits—but you nevertheless need to be prepared so that you can react appropriately and help resolve the behavior as quickly as possible. You could, however, encounter a foster dog with issues of a more serious nature—such as food aggression, excessive barking, or a total unfamiliarity with housetraining. The Ratbone Chat Yahoo group is on hand 24/7 to offer advice, support, suggestions, and assistance. Ultimately, though, it is the foster family’s responsibility to work with the dog. If a situation is untenable, we do try to move the dog to a different, more suitable foster home, but that is not easily or quickly accomplished since foster homes rarely “sit around” with vacancies, and other foster parents are understandably reluctant to take on this known problem. It really comes down to your committing to the dog itself, and our structure—a network of volunteers just like you—doesn’t offer a way for any individual foster parent to simply “dump” a problem situation on another foster parent. Serious problems are fortunately rare. We won’t accept a dog that is a known biter into our program, and we try to ask the right questions to evaluate a dog’s temperament before we agree to “pull” it. But it’s nevertheless better to be prepared and to understand the commitment.

Q: What if I start fostering and don’t like it, or my situation changes?

A: For the reasons cited above, it’s important that you not agree to foster a dog unless you are able to make a commitment to it. A State Coordinator can try to help facilitate a transfer of a dog to another foster home. But this is not easily accomplished, and not fair to the others in the organization, who have personal issues of their own to deal with. If you can stick it out until your current foster is adopted, and then decide to not foster again, we can find other ways for you to help and remain a “Bonehead” in good standing. (That’s a compliment!)

Q: What if my foster dog doesn’t get along with my cats?

A: In most cases, we don’t know in advance if an incoming dog gets along with cats. If you have cats, you’ll want to either prepare yourself to manage species harmony, find a way to reliably separate them, or only take a dog that has lived with cats before. Of course, the first two choices are preferred because Ratbone can save more dogs that way, but we certainly understand your commitment to your cats.

Q: What if I go on vacation or go on a business trip?

A: Some foster parents work out reciprocal arrangements with other dog-loving friends or relatives. Some take their fosters on vacation with them. Some hire a house-sitter or board the dog(s). Any arrangements are at the foster parent’s own expense. If you don’t have someone who can care for your dog(s) while you are away, and you anticipate frequent future trips, then fostering may not be for you since it would always be your responsibility to arrange the care for your fosters.

Q: What if the dog needs extensive medical care?

A: Medical care is paid for by Ratbone Rescues. We never deny a dog the proper medical care that it needs, even for major surgeries, if a good outcome is probable. However, because our organization relies on donations to operate, the timing of the care and the location (because costs vary widely from place to place and vet to vet) are important considerations, so all out-of-the-ordinary medical care must be pre-approved.

Q: What expenses do the foster families pay for?

A: Expect the following expenses for each foster dog: food, training treats, collar and leash, flea preventative, toys and chewies, folder. Each foster home should also have on hand: crate and/or X-pen, harness (for car riding), bowls, bedding, shampoo, nail trimmer, enzyme-based cleaner (like Simple Solution), and the all-important pooper scooper.

Q: Can I be reimbursed if a dog destroys something of mine?

A: Unfortunately, no. Our budget doesn’t cover loss of property. We suggest you set the dog up for success and try to eliminate the chances for the dog to be destructive.

Q: So what is Ratbone’s part in all this?

A: Ratbone Rescues identifies and prioritizes the dogs needing rescue and arranges for them to be brought in to the program. We provide an ID tag, a microchip, and 6 months’ worth of heartworm preventative for each foster dog and reimburse the cost of medical care. Our volunteers handle the adoption application process, including marketing the dogs, maintaining the websites, and screening applicants. When an adoption is finalized, we arrange for transport of the dog to its adoptive home and provide follow-up advice and assistance to the adoptive family, including maintaining a toll-free number to track lost dogs. We provide networking and support between foster homes. We also do lots of fundraising and grant-writing to try to bring in money to run the organization.

Q: How long does it take for a dog to get adopted?

A: That depends on the dog and on you. Two weeks is the minimum time a dog must remain in our program, to allow us to adequately evaluate its medical condition and temperament. It’s common for dogs that are healthy and have no behavioral “issues” to be adopted within a month or so. The average length of time in fostercare is about 2 months if the foster family doesn’t procrastinate on their responsibilities (such as submitting the profile for the websites). 95% of the dogs will be adopted within 6 months. It is very rare for a healthy dog to remain unadopted for over a year, and it’s usually because the foster parent is not being proactive about helping us to “market” the dog by keeping the bio updated, providing good pictures, responding quickly and thoroughly to inquiries about the dog, etc. Even senior dogs and those with serious medical issues (such as blindness) are often adopted in just a few months if the foster family actively assists the process.

Q: If I fall in love with my own foster dog, will I be able to adopt him/her?

A: No. Ratbone’s policy is that a dog may not be adopted by its foster parent unless it has been available on the website available for at least six months. Years of experience and hundreds of occurrences have taught us that almost all new foster parents will fall in love with their foster dogs and want to adopt them. Foster parents are warm-hearted folks who bond with their dogs and may become convinced that no one else could love and care for this dog as much as they do. But they can. And they do. Applicants select that dog, among thousands of others, because something about the dog “speaks” to them, and they are put through a lot to prove that they are a good match. You will be in tears when your foster dogs leave for their forever homes. But when you hear back about how wonderfully they are doing, how much happiness they have brought their new families, what they've learned, and how much they are loved, you will be happy for them. And that emptiness in your heart and home will be filled when you open up to another dog that needs you. Because that is what fostering is all about: saving needy dogs—dogs who may not have a chance at life if you are not available for them. And you’ll grow to love the new ones, too.

Adoption is important, too, of course, and no rescue group could operate without adopters. But frankly it is much easier to find good adoptive homes than good foster homes. Foster parents must remember what brought them into the program in the first place: the desire to make a difference for many dogs, not just one. The ability to save, nurture, care for, and then give up the dog is our special strength.

Q: What if I independently find someone who wants to adopt my foster dog?

A: All adoptions of Ratbone Rescues dogs must go through the official Ratbone application process. If you have a friend, relative, or co-worker interested in your foster dog, you must have them fill out a Ratbone application and they will be screened just like all other applicants.

Q: Do I have a say-so in the adoption process?

A: Yes. The foster parent communicates with applicants, giving a more thorough, complete description of the dog, its background, personality, training, medical condition, habits, and other traits. The foster parent answers questions, sends additional photos if possible, and sometimes even arranges for the applicant to meet the dog. While the Applications Team focuses on whether this applicant would provide a safe and suitable household for a Ratbone dog in general, the foster parent concentrates on whether this applicant would be a good match for this particular dog and vice versa. The foster parent then provides feedback to the Applications Directors, who make the final approval decision.

Q: How long does it take to get approved as a foster home?

A: Count on it taking us a few days to reach your references and recruit a home visit volunteer. The home visit volunteer will contact you to schedule a mutually convenient time to come inspect your property. After the home visit volunteer turns in the report and the Applications Coordinator reaches you for a telephone interview, it should be just a short time before you hear if you’re approved to be a Ratbone Rescues foster home.

Apply to Be a Ratbone Rescues Foster home

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