Proven Strategies

Tabby looking stern at camera

How to Keep New Fosters Engaged Post-Pandemic

Last week’s blog discussed the impact in raw numbers that the pandemic has had on operations at 1,200 shelters, and additional anecdotal feedback from partners shows the same trends. Not only are more organizations adopting managed intake models and shifting the focus of field services to control the population of pets being cared for within facilities, but the sense of urgency surrounding COVID-19 caused a spike in community members coming forward to foster animals in need.  

As the country moves slowly into re-opening businesses, shelters need to be strategic. What are the improvements that have come from adjusting standard operating procedures and how can shelters normalize again without also going backwards? And when it comes to all those new foster homes, how can we keep them engaged with lifesaving work beyond the crisis?  

To help answer key questions around how to retain the robust, active numbers of foster homes that have bloomed during the past few months, Best Friends has put together a Strategic Plan for Foster Families During and After COVID-19.  

The guide incorporates material from numerous experts in our field, including Maddie’s Fund, Animal Farm Foundation, American Pets Alive! and Jacksonville Humane Society, who advise on such topics as:  

  • Empowering fosters to find permanent homes for the pets in their care. If you have not yet trusted your foster families enough to make adoptive matches for the animals who have been sharing their homes for weeks, now is the time to think about doing so. We know it can be scary to let go of the process of vetting and approving new homes for animals that are the responsibility of your organization. Ask yourself, though: haven’t these families put in enough energy and time getting to know the dog or cat living with them to want to find that pet the perfect new home?  
  • Communicating effectively, transparently and frequently with your foster families. Whether you set up regular video calls on Zoom or develop an online group to share experiences and questions, talking to your new foster volunteers is critical to keeping them engaged and active.  
  • Helping fosters and the public acclimate an animal to a new environment. The public seeks out the expertise of shelters because you are the pros when it comes to introducing new pets, managing behavior issues and so on. Make sure you have such information accessible so foster families can easily adapt to a new dog or cat sharing their home and so that they can educate potential adopters on the resources available for new pet parents.  
  • Taking the time to really evaluate what your “normal” should be. Once you get the go-ahead to open to the public again, do not rush foster pets back into your facility. At the very least, coordinate re-entry so that the numbers are manageable within your shelter. Even if you do have empty kennels, consider asking your foster parents to keep pets in their homes temporarily. You still need to market these pets and find adopters, but you can now leverage the team of foster volunteers to help you while keeping those animals from living back in a stressful environment. 

In addition to our guide, stay tuned for access to a self-paced, online course on “Foster Programming,” which covers what’s needed for a successful foster program, foster program fundamentals, empowering fosters to assist in the outcome and a list of resources and sample documents. 

Stay the course  

Managing a foster program when you haven’t had one before—or haven’t had one with many volunteers—is not without challenges. But now is not the time to discount the progress our industry has made under the coronavirus outbreak. Fosters are the future of our movement and we sincerely hope our guide will take you through the steps you need to continue this successful addition to your shelter programming. 

Makena Yarbrough 
Regional Director, Mid-Atlantic Region 
Best Friends Animal Society

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