Sponsor spotlight: Senior pet fosters help both sides

Adrienne Miller

Last year I wrote an article on the power of pets and the benefits of pet ownership for all pet owners, especially for those over the age of 65. However, there are many seniors who may be hesitant to take on pet ownership due to their age, health, or the unknown number of years that they may be able to care for a dog or a cat.

Owning a pet is a commitment, and most senior citizens are well aware of this fact. The type of commitment might be more than some adults are willing to sign up for in their older years.  Pets can be expensive; a senior’s fixed income may not allow for the regular expense of owning a pet. Also, seniors who enjoy traveling may not want the hassle or expense of finding someone to care for their pets while they travel. Still, other elderly adults may worry about their pet outliving them and be concerned that their pet will end up unwanted in a shelter.

Many senior citizens who love dogs and cats may find that rather than owning a pet, fostering one is an ideal situation for them.

What does it mean to foster a pet?

Fostering a pet means that someone brings it home from a shelter or rescue group for a short time. Animals, especially dogs, thrive more in a home with a loving caretaker than in a shelter. During the time they are fostered, a pet is cared for by its foster parent just as if the foster parent owned the dog.

The goal of foster care is to ready the pet for its forever home, the home of the person who will eventually adopt it for good. Fostering a pet also means that room in a shelter or rescue has been freed up for another pet to use, making it possible for more dogs and cats to eventually find a home.

When a senior citizen fosters a pet, they get the companionship of having a pet around and the satisfaction of helping one out without having to be concerned about a long-term commitment.

Why do pets end up in shelters?

An article in The Seattle Times, published in August 2023, states that Seattle-area shelters have been taking in more animals. This is not because of people returning to work after the pandemic; it is instead based on inflation, the housing crisis, economic hardship, housing insecurity and increasing veterinary costs that are forcing people to give up their pets.

At the pandemic’s peak, Seattle Humane had a relatively low number of animals, as people in lockdown were better able to support their pet’s needs, said Libby Jones, chief operating officer of Seattle Humane in Bellevue.  But between 2020 and 2022, the shelter took in more and more pets each year.

Not only are people bringing their pets to Seattle Humane out of desperation, but more strays have been arriving, too, said spokesperson Brandon Macz. Normally strays would go to municipal shelters, he said, but they are dealing with capacity issues, too. Strays can sometimes be abandoned out of hardship.

Summer is traditionally the time of year when shelters have their highest number of animals that need to find homes. A few reasons for this are:

Kitten Season – Kitten season for local free-roaming cats typically starts in early spring and extends into the summer.

Vacations, Part 1 – It’s hard to believe, but people really do drop off pets at shelters before leaving home for extended periods of time. There is an increase in “owner surrenders” during the summer, which in industry jargon means giving up a pet.

Vacations, Part 2 – Summer is an optimal time for vacations, especially if a family has children. People often wait until after vacations to take on the commitment of getting a pet.

Escape Artistry -July 5 is one of the busiest days of the year for shelters. The 4th of July fireworks can be terrifying for both cats and dogs. Gates being left open when gardening, children leaving them open when playing and summer thunderstorms are all reasons pets will get away from a home and become lost.

What are shelters doing to care for these animals and to find them homes? 

To help people struggling to make ends meet, and to reduce the chances of them having to give up their pets, Seattle Humane provides resources like a food bank, temporary foster care and assistance paying pet rent. Demand for those resources has been increasing, so the need for pet foster parents is on the rise.

Pet fostering requires less commitment than full pet ownership and retirees, empty nesters and senior citizens make ideal candidates for the volunteer role.

How long should a senior citizen expect to foster a dog or cat?

The average stay of a dog or cat with a foster parent is about two months, but that can be shorter or longer depending on the demand for the breed and the age of the animal. Those who choose to foster a kitten may find that their foster time is only a week or so. A shelter should be able to give a foster parent some sort of indication of how long they think the foster situation will last.

How much does it cost for a senior citizen to foster a pet?

Many shelters and rescues help a foster pet parent with expenses such as food, leashes, crates, and vet bills. The amount each shelter provides varies, so a senior citizen in a retirement community that charges a pet fee, should find out exactly what money is available for pet’s expenses. Fostering may be a way for seniors who can’t afford to own a pet to take pets into their homes for companionship – both for the human and the animal.

Is it best for aeniors to foster senior pets?

Older adults tend to have a heart for older dogs and cats that have difficulty finding homes.  A senior pet that’s already trained and doesn’t have significant health problems is often the perfect choice for a senior citizen to foster.

Older animals – particularly dogs – often have less energy than their younger counterparts, so they can provide companionship and affection without needing as much exercise as a senior may not be able to give them.

Also, knowing that they’re bringing comfort to an older animal’s senior years may be a comfort to an older pet foster parent.They understand that sometimes those who are older get overlooked.

Some rescues specialize in pairing senior animals with senior foster parents, allowing seniors to spend their golden years with the companionship of a dog or a cat.  Some of these are placed as a permanent foster placement, knowing that the animal will spend the rest of their life in the home, but without the need for adoption and the costs that go with pet ownership.

To learn more about Pet Fostering, please visit these programs in the Seattle area:

— By Adrienne Miller, Forever Care Services Chief Care Officer




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