Fostering is the ideal way to go before you commit to actually taking on an animal full time
We had taken in the three-month-old pup from the DSPCA who told us her heart-breaking back story. Left alone with her three siblings at the side of the road, she was in need of a good home and a kind family to take care of her.
The kids had been pestering us to get a dog but the decision to take on a new pet was not taken lightly in our house.
For one, we already had a pet, our resident cat Omey, who didn’t get a say in the matter.
Whose dog would this be? Who would take it for walkies? And most crucially, who would clean up after it and feed it?
We wanted to make sure the kids knew what we were taking on, before agreeing to their demands and that’s when we discovered a compromise.
Instead of signing up for a full-time pet we found out we could foster one for two weeks instead, which meant we could do a trial run and see what happened. If it all went wrong we could simply hand the dog back. No problem.
And so, she arrived early one morning and immediately caused absolute chaos.
She chewed old slippers, broke free from her lead and managed to smash a pair of expensive glasses.
She went to the toilet so many times that I was reminded of that scene in The Snapper where Colin Meany’s character despairs at the amount of excrement in his garden. “Can you believe so much crap came out of one dog,” he exclaims as he looks around in exasperation.
Omey was none too impressed by this new rival either and there was a certain relief when, after two weeks, we brought Charlotte back to the good people at the DSPCA who took her off our hands.
It was a steep learning curve and while we enjoyed getting our house back to the way it was we’re prepared to do it again.
Because, even though it had been disruptive, it was fun to have her around, knowing we could give her back. And after she was gone we were able to take stock and determine how one would fit in around the home on a full-time basis.
I wasn’t even aware that fostering a dog or a cat for week or two at a time was even an option, which Gillian Bird of the DSPCA, agrees is perhaps the same for other pet-searchers.
“It's actually a big thing we push, and not just for Christmas, but at all times of the year,” she explained. “We say to people, this is a great idea if you are thinking of getting an animal but you’ve never had one before.
“Or let's say you had a very old dog that has passed away and now you're thinking of getting a puppy. Fostering is the ideal way to go before you commit to actually taking on an animal full time.
“We've done this for years actually, as far back as I can remember, but we do it much more intensively now. And during Covid, because it was difficult for people to come up and meet the dogs, what we were doing was, we were allowing them to foster the animal for a few weeks and then they could adopt if they wanted to.
“So now, with our adoption procedure, you actually foster the dog first, for a week or two, and if everything works out we go ahead with the whole adoption process.”
After learning that fostering was an option, as soon as we applied, a dog was available straight away, suggesting that there is a demand from people to take in a pet on a temporary basis.
“Absolutely, there is a huge demand,” Gillian agrees. “It’s the sort of thing that people think about at Christmas time.
“We try to get as many of the animals out of the shelter as possible over Christmas, and that allows them to have a bit of experience in a new home while it takes the pressure off the shelter. It allows us to get in there and do a lot of deep-cleaning work, assuming we're not taking in any large quantities of the unwanted pets we hear so much about.”
Gillian also revealed how they have “serial fosterers” who take in animals on an ongoing basis.
“It actually works really well because the fosterers usually come back to us a with a huge list of all the individual animal’s likes and dislikes and personality traits. That then helps us when we're putting together the profile for the full-time adoption.
“So, many of the foster families aren't actually intending on keeping the animals on a long-term basis, they just like the concept of fostering. And then, when some of them do decide to adopt an animal, we joke that they have become a failed fosterer.”
Gillian revealed that it’s not just dogs and cats that can be fostered.
“There are situations where we may have a rabbit that has just had babies, for example, and then there are Guinea pigs, and ferrets that you can take in for just for a couple of weeks as well.
“Sometimes, in the case of rabbits, if they come from a family home, they’re not going to do well in a hutch or a cage. And Guinea pigs, because they do need to be kept at reasonably warm temperatures, they're not really hutch animals, and they do better in a home environment.”
Gillian said that unfortunately the old adage that a pet is not just for Christmas still falls on deaf ears.
“It really is a problem and during Covid it was particularly bad when people were buying animals during lock down and then realising they didn’t really want them.
“What we recommend to people is, if you're going to adopt an animal, the best thing to do is to come to somewhere like the DSPCA, foster an animal and then you have a trial period.
“It’s a really good way to go about it, especially if you have kids. You can say, ‘look we're only looking after this animal for a few weeks and we'll see how it goes, so they know it is going back’.”
And this we can vouch for. Fostering an animal does give you a ‘get out of jail free card if it doesn’t all work out as planned. Even though she’s only gone a few weeks we are already missing our cheeky little Charlotte and looking forward to our next doggy adventure.