I Need A Temporary Home For My Dog

Since this website went up in 2001, I have received numerous emails from people seeking temporary homes for their dogs. For the most part, these are good, decent people who are trying to do their best for their pets while dealing with circumstances beyond their control. They hope to find a better option than dropping their pets off at the local shelter or giving them away to the first taker in a "free to good home" ad.

However, there seems to be some confusion by some of those well-meaning owners about what a "foster home" really is. This page attempts to clear that confusion and offer viable alternatives.

Common reasons that people seek temporary homes for their pets

Here are some of the more common reasons that pet owners have found themselves in need of temporary housing for their pets:

Do I need a foster home or long-term in-home boarding?

If you are asking this question, then the answer is probably boarding! Except in rare circumstances, a foster home cannot care for an owned dog with the eventual goal of returning the dog to its owner. The purpose of fostering is to prepare a dog for its new permanent home, not to provide free care for an owned dog. So unless you're looking for a new permanent home for your dog, you need boarding, not a foster home.

Thoughtlessness and poor planning certainly don't entitle an owner to free in-home boarding just because they try to call it "foster care." Through this website, I received an email from someone in New York (I live in Pennsylvania) who wanted me to "foster" his pup for six months, for free, because he was moving into a no-pets apartment while his new home was being built in Florida. He wanted to drop the dog off at my house on his way down south, because he hadn't thought to make arrangements for the dog until a few days before he was moving. Make no mistake -- finding a "foster home" is not a way to get free dog boarding. In this instance, seeking long-term boarding at a reasonable fee (and ideally in a home setting due to the pup's age and the length of his stay), would be one possible solution. Finding an apartment that allows pets -- even if it isn't in your ideal location -- would be another possible solution. (In this particular instance, finding a new home for the dog might have been the best solution.)

There are certain circumstances in which it might be appropriate to seek free short-term assistance with your pets, such as a flood or fire. In most other circumstances, it would be inappropriate to expect someone to care for your pets for free, but due to the length of the stay, a traditional boarding kennel might be prohibitively expensive or detrimental to the dog's health or well-being.

One such example would be moving overseas temporarily for a job. In this case, long-term in-home or home-style boarding would be a possible solution. Long-term boarding facilities (including some traditional boarding kennels) typically offer reduced rates depending on the length of the dog's stay. Home boarding arrangements ("in-home," "home-style" or "host family" boarding) allow the dog to spend all or most of its time in a home setting, interacting with people, with leash walks and access to fenced outdoor areas for exercise.

"Cage free" boarding is another alternative for active, outgoing dogs that enjoy the company of other dogs. This type of boarding typically offers plenty of off-leash exercise but may or may not provide a home-style atmosphere.

Some dog daycares and pet sitters are able to offer cage-free or home-style boarding on a limited basis.

Where to find help

Some animal shelters can provide emergency boarding in truly dire circumstances, such as a house fire, flood, or domestic abuse. Check with your homeowners insurance -- they might cover the cost of boarding your pets after a fire. In the case of domestic abuse, check with your local women's shelter for suggestions on what to do with your pets; many of them have partnerships with animal shelters or other organizations. If your local shelter or other group doesn't have an appropriate program, they might be able to point you in the right direction. A web search for local dog-related email lists or websites might turn up more suggestions. Some boarding kennels, petsitters, dog daycares, or in-home boarders may be willing to negotiate a special fee based on the length of your dog's stay and your personal circumstances.

Our links page includes a number of local and national groups that can help pet owners in various circumstances. Some groups can provide foster homes (for pets of deployed military, for example), while others may be able to provide other types of support.

Foster care contracts

If you find a friend or other person who agrees to care for your pet temporarily, a contract between the owner and the temporary home is strongly recommended. A contract outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parties. This type of arrangement is different than a typical foster contract between a shelter and a foster volunteer, since the dog does have an owner who hopes to reclaim him at some point. Here is one example of this type of contract.

Some points to consider include:

  1. Length of the foster/boarding period
  2. Responsibilities of both parties (who pays for food, vet care, etc.), and what happens if these responsibilities are not met
  3. Any applicable fees or donations
  4. What if the dog becomes injured, ill, or lost? Can the pet owner sue for damages?
  5. What happens if the owner is unable to reclaim the dog by the agreed-upon date?
  6. Who is liable for the actions of the dog? What if the dog bites a person or another animal?

From the foster care provider's perspective

  1. Shelters and rescues are filled to overflowing and often do not have any foster homes available. If they do have space, most will be hesitant to take an animal that they know they will have to keep for a long period of time without any possibility of placement. Your owned dog could, in effect, prevent the foster home from taking in and placing several shelter dogs that are scheduled to be euthanized. Please keep this in mind before becoming angry at a volunteer for not agreeing to take your dog.
  2. In most cases, foster dogs do not live in kennels. They live inside the volunteer's house and are treated as one of his or her own pets. This is why the pet's medical and behavioral history are so important. Questions about the dog's age, sex, size, temperament, and training are vital because they help the foster care provider to determine whether that pet can be safely integrated into the home.
  3. It costs money to care for your pet. As a bare minimum the owner should make arrangements to pay for the dog's food and vet care, plus any additional amount that is agreed upon by both parties.
  4. Are you sure you will be able to care for your pet again within a reasonable period of time? Do you have a plan in place to make it happen? If not, you should find a new, permanent home for him. It's not fair to the dog (or to the foster care/boarding provider) to be stuck in limbo.

Info for rescuers and foster homes

Rescuers, keep in mind that dogs in bad situations today may become your "rescue dogs" of tomorrow when their owners finally run out of options. If you have the necessary resources, consider starting a reduced-cost boarding program to meet the needs of beloved pets whose owners are temporarily in bad situations.

Consider offering a rate reduction after a certain period of time, to make long term boarding an affordable option for the owner. You can choose to board all breeds, or to specialize in your breed. By taking in the occasional paid boarder (even at reduced rates), you can help to offset the costs of your rescue dogs. Everybody wins.

As always, make sure you are in compliance with your state and local laws.