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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

Foster families provide not only temporary shelter for rescue animals, but also training and socialization. Retirees especially have the time and experience to devote to training animals to walk on a leash, sleep in a crate or do their business outside.

"These animals don't need to be locked in a kitchen all day when someone goes to work," Kirrene says. "They benefit from someone who is at home and can give them the attention they need."

Fostering pets often begins with an application designed to match human with critter: dog or cat, puppy or adult, big or small, high energy or couch potato.

"I like older dogs," says Lefkowitz, in her early 50s. "Puppies are really energetic and a lot of work."

Most shelters offer a short pet care and training class, then support a foster placement by paying all costs attached to the animal, even trainers to help change antisocial behaviors.

Foster parents are expected to introduce their charges to prospective adoptive families during private meet-and-greets and at adoption fairs. Although the rescue group makes the final decision, fosters greatly influence who adopts the pet.

Often, a friend or relative falls in love with the pet. Sometimes, the foster family becomes the forever family. Rescue groups half-jokingly call them "foster failures" with hearts two sizes too big.

"Every time a foster family keeps an animal, we risk losing them as a foster home," says Kirrene. "Foster parents need the ability to care, form a bond and then let go."

I just about died when sweet newlyweds adopted my Sunny two weeks after she arrived. But when Red and Vinnie pranced out two months later with a single woman who couldn't bear to break up the pair, my heart soared: The siblings could grow up together, and I could finally shampoo my rug.

"When a dog leaves your house it's always bittersweet," says Lefkowitz. "I'm sad to see a dog go because I become attached. But I'm really happy because I'm free to save another dog's life."

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