Fostering is committing to allow an animal in a rescue program to live with you until his/her forever home is found. That's it in a nutshell. But there are many layers to that shell. Much like the fosters who come to live with us. Some are a tough nut to crack. Some are easy, some are short term, some long term. It is a commitment to take what you get and work with it. No two fosters are the same, ever.
You put your love on the line with them, and sometimes your possessions. It's not for the meek of heart, but for those with hearts full of love, optimism and a sense of humor. It's for people who believe second chances are worth some puddles, piles, and/or a few teeth marks on the furniture. It's about letting an animal into your life and loving them enough to let them go.
It is the joy of seeing an animal learn what it is to be safe, loved, socialized, well fed, healthy, able to play and to trust. It is saving a life. It's not all glory. There is plenty of trial and error. There are accidents and incidents, hints and allegations. No wait, that's from a Paul Simon song. But it applies! Those of us who have fostered have stories of great escapes, damaged crates, puppies who nibble, fosters in heat, illnesses, spay/neuter procedures, the dreaded cone of horror and surprise puddles in the night. We train them, exercise them, write their bios, run them to vet appointments. We take them out on lead in the rain, the snow, the cold, the heat.
But we balance those stories with the magic of an animal coming out of it's shell, feeling safe enough to be silly, getting healthy and eventually finding their forever home. Some of those golden moments are the result of hundreds of baby steps. Some come in leaps and bounds. They learn sometimes that a couch is a terrible thing to waste and a cuddle is a blessing beyond measure. They learn what a gentle hand feels like, what toys are for and what a treat is.
Fostering, in a family setting, is a team effort. A true commitment. Even the resident pets needs to be on board. Each day with a foster is a learning opportunity for the foster, and the foster home.
And yes, we struggle with letting go... We are the half-way house to their forever home. We worry whether their new home will care for them as well as we do. Will they be safe, will they be loved, did their bios tell exactly how great they are and what special needs they may have. We wonder if we have done enough to prepare them.
When the time is right we send them off with their new owners. And we long for photos, updates and newsy notes telling how much they are loved. We laugh at the memories and begin the process again. Because there is always another who needs a second chance. It's who we are, it's why we foster.