There are hundreds of millions of homeless dogs in the world — some estimates say as many as six hundred million, and almost all of them wound up that way because of the failure of humans to do their part. Either people did not give strong Pack Leadership and gave up the dogs because of behavioral issues, or they didn’t provide proper protection, so the dogs ran away.
There are also people doing their part to try to reverse the trend, either by providing no-kill shelters, operating rescues that place dogs in homes, or promoting spay and neuter. They’re doing amazing work. I understand that not everybody can run out and adopt every unwanted dog at the local shelter, but there is something you can do to help.
How you can help
What you can do is foster dogs, especially if you can’t make a commitment for the dog’s lifetime. The immediate goal of foster programs is to get the dogs out of the shelters and in temporary homes, and this is a benefit to both of them. It gives the shelters more room to take in other animals, and gets the dog out of the often chaotic atmosphere of the shelter and into a much calmer home environment.
Most shelters are willing to train their foster volunteers, as well as provide discounts on food and give medical treatment, so the financial commitment is lower than it would be for a permanent adoption.
It isn’t necessarily a commitment for seven days a week, either. Many shelters will foster out dogs for weekends or holidays (or on your schedule), mainly as a way to help the animals become socialized and allow their foster family to help train and rehabilitate them. November and December in particular are the months when shelters need holiday foster families.
The benefits of fostering
Have you always wanted to raise a puppy but didn’t want to commit to a dog? You can with many foster programs that are designed specifically to place young litters with families until they are 8 to 10 weeks old. It’s a great way to learn about puppy development, as well as to practice early housetraining and obedience.
The point of foster programs, beyond alleviating crowding, is to help make the dogs adoptable by rehabilitating them. But it doesn’t just benefit the shelter and dog. As the foster owner, it’s a great way for you to learn and practice your Pack Leader skills, especially if you foster many different dogs with different energy levels and temperaments.
How fostering helps your pack
This part will actually help your future dogs as well. Maybe you had a dog in the past that had behavioral issues you just couldn’t fix, which is one of the reasons many dogs wind up in shelters in the first place. By working temporarily with a dog with a similar issue, you can become a better dog owner, more able to handle these issues if you do decide to adopt another dog later on, but without the pressure of knowing you’re stuck with this dog if you can’t rehabilitate it.
If you already have a dog that needs socialization, fostering can be a great no-commitment way to help in this process by bringing a second dog into the home. If they don’t get along, at least you don’t have the problem of having two dogs battling each other for their entire lives — but you can learn how to avoid this by seeing your dog interact with different dogs.
Fostering is a great way to help dogs in need until they find a forever home, and to make yourself a better Pack Leader. And who knows? You might become what’s known as a “foster failure” — that is, the proud, permanent adopter of a homeless dog.
Whether you “fail” or not, it’s a win-win situation for you, the shelter, and the dog. So, if you can, check with your local shelter or rescue to find out about becoming a foster volunteer, and help us tackle the problem of homeless animals until there are no more unwanted dogs.
Stay calm, and foster!