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Should You 'Foster' a Pet?

Providing an animal with a temporary home can fill a void and be a lesson in how to love — and let go

When my only child headed off for school last fall, the house was quiet. Tomb quiet. Even my 6-year-old bichon frise, Rosie, felt the emptiness.

My home needed new energy, which soon arrived in a crate of three wiggling, yapping, licking and bounding dachshund puppies, who needed a foster home. Soon, 8-week-old Sunny, Red and Vinnie were filling big spaces in my heart and house with little antics — latching on to the same toy, tumbling over long-suffering Rosie, snuggling in my lap for a midmorning snooze.

Fostering rescue pets is a lesson in loving and letting go. It's a great fit for older animal lovers who want to share themselves and their homes fully, but not forever.

"Fostering is particularly attractive to older people who generally have more flexible schedules and more time to devote to animals in need," says Kim Intino, director of shelter services for the Humane Society of the United States. Also, many shelters foot the bill for food, toys and vet bills, which makes fostering "attractive to folks on a fixed income," Intino says.

Fostering, which usually lasts between one week and three months, also can be a labor of love for snowbirds and frequent travelers, who shelter animals between trips.

"Some older people own two homes and aren't in one area for a whole year," says Lois Lefkowitz of Virginia, who has fostered 24 animals over four years. "Fostering is a great way to have some companionship and help some dogs and cats."

Although national rescue groups don't keep statistics on pet fostering, the Humane Society estimates that tens of thousands of families foster pets every year. In Sacramento, Calif., alone, the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals placed 1,000 animals — including rabbits and rats — with Sacramento-area foster families in 2009.

"Retired people are a prime resource for us," says Leslie Kirrene, a spokeswoman for Sacramento SPCA.

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