Thursday, April 14, 2011

Short Term, Long Term, and Everything in Between

One of the most common questions people ask about fostering is how long you’ll have a dog. And the answer is that it totally depends. It depends on the time of year, it depends on the weather, it depends on the dog’s age, it depends on the breed(s), and, of course, it depends on the dog’s personality.

From my mere six months of fostering experience, I’ve broken down the lengths on times into a few categories:
  •  Super short term: Many of the highly adoptable dogs are only with you for a week. Like Wookiee, they are young and cute and don’t have limiting factors. Many of the puppies that the rescue takes from high-kill shelters in the South fall in this category. They come in on Saturday night and are adopted out the next weekend. The truth is that people love fuzzy, wuzzy, I-want-to raise-them-from-the-beginning puppies, so these dogs go fast. The nice thing about these fosters is that you can save/foster/adopt many of these pups in a short amount of time. And, within a week, you can’t get too attached to the dogs. (Yes, I know I cried when Wookiee left, but with the retrospect of longer-term fosters, the bond you form in a week is nothing compared to several months.) The downside to the super short term fosters is that each week, you have to get accustomed to a new dog. You have to begin training again, understand what you can (and can’t) trust them with, etc. It’s a revolving door and, although I don’t know this all too well, I’m sure it’s exhausting.
  • Short term: I would put short term at 2 weeks to a month. These dogs may be younger or just good adult dogs that can be placed successfully without any special considerations. This is a good amount of time to get to know a dog’s personality.
  • Medium term: Let’s say these dogs are with you for a month or two. Quite frequently, they are adult dogs or younger dogs with special considerations. Why more people don’t look for adult dogs is beyond me. I’d never take in a puppy (unless my work schedule changed and I could be home all day—wishful thinking.) We only take adult dogs because we’re gone for eight hours a day and, as a result, can’t properly housebreak a puppy. (By “adult dogs” I mean “mature bladder dogs.”)
  • Long term: I would put this at 3 to 6 months. Often these are dogs with special needs—be they medical or behavioral—regardless of age. They often have other limiting factors, such as not being good with other dogs or cats, requiring a fence, etc.
  • Super long term: I haven’t been here yet, but I’d say you’re really in it for the long haul once you’ve hit 6 months. (Has anyone been there, done that?) 
What’s interesting is that these terms can vary greatly between rescues. Some breed rescues that work with harder-to-adopt dogs may find that adopting out a dog within a month or two is a super short-term success story.

With Karina, we’re on the cusp of medium to long term. (If you consider the time between when the volunteer found her, treated her for heartworm, and got her back on her feet, she’s been with the rescue for seven months total.) If we could negate the “not good with other dogs or cats” factor, she would have only been with me and Jonathan for a week. But we can’t. While we’re trying to teach her to ignore other dogs, we can’t remove that factor entirely.

And we also can’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Well then why don’t you just rescue all of the young, highly-adoptable dogs so you save more lives?” I have to be honest and tell you that thought has crossed my mind. Just how many dogs could we have saved in the time we’ve fostered Jack and Karina?, I wondered during one exceptionally trying adoption day. If numbers were all that mattered, then that would be a great idea. But the truth is that the life of a fuzzy, wuzzy puppy is just as important as that of an adult dog with special needs. Each of them deserves a fair shot at a good home—no matter how long they’re with us. 


  1. Well put Kim! And even the fuzzy wuzzy puppies with cute names like Pancake and Waffles took a month to adopt out. I feel like I am constantly housebreaking dogs! Not that I mind but the revolving door can wear on you (and the one dog who really doesn't like fosters). The fuzzy puppy will often be held in a shelter longer than a Jack or Karina, especially due to their BBD syndrome.....or another group will pull the fuzzy pups.

  2. One of our current fosters, Pauley James has been with us for a little over six months. Previously, the longest we had a foster was 3 months. I have to admit, I have grown VERY close to Pauley.......

  3. How do you do it? At six months, they must just fall write into your routine, right?

  4. At this point, he feels like part of the family.

  5. Please ignore my typo above—write/right.
    It's so hard. Even though Karina has only been here 2.5 months, she just fits right in. She has snuggled a place right into our home.

  6. our longest was 8 months. Our shortest was 5 days... unless you count buckley then it was 2 seconds because I knew I had to adopt him.

  7. I've had Ziggy for a year and a half now, but honestly he's going to be easier to let go than some of the fosters I've only had for a week. That's just Ziggy - DIFFICULT! :-) I do love him, but I'd prefer to love him from a distance. :-D