Foster Dog Program

Foster parents are a critical part of our program at Seattle Animal Shelter. Fostering saves dogs from unnecessary hardship and the stress of the shelter environment. In 2011, more than 75 dogs were adopted from foster care. Without our dedicated foster parents, we would not be able to offer these dogs a second chance at finding their forever family.

While fostering requires time and patience, the rewards are immeasurable. You will have the joy of knowing you have helped save a dog's life, and you free up resources within the shelter to help other homeless dogs. Watching your foster dog blossom in your care and eventually go to their forever home is truly an amazing experience.

If you are interested in fostering, please read through the information below. To simplify the process for fostering, we no longer hold separate orientation and training sessions. All the information previously covered in orientation is now available online. Please carefully review the information on this page to determine if our foster program is a good fit for your interests and lifestyle. Once you've reviewed the program information, you'll find information on the foster parent application process and training.

What types of dogs are placed in foster care?

Our foster dog program primarily supports dogs needing extra care or training. Healthy, well-behaved dogs generally remain at the shelter so that they can quickly find their forever homes. If you are looking to foster small, mellow dogs without behavioral or medical needs, you are not likely to find a match in our foster program. Our foster program typically supports the following types of dogs:

  • Young adult dogs needing extra structure, more socialization or work on their manners. These are typically large breed dogs between 6 months and 2 years of age.
  • Dogs suffering from "shelter stress" who are in need of a calm home environment. These are typically large breed dogs of varying ages.
  • Sick, injured or post-surgery dogs, or dogs with special medical needs.
  • Puppies too young and/or immature to be adopted.
  • Senior dogs that will be more comfortable in a home environment.

While we place a large range of dogs in foster care, our greatest need is for foster parents willing to foster large, young, untrained dogs. We provide plenty of support, including a dedicated case manager, access to training resources and adoption support. We are also always in need of foster parents that do not currently have other animals in the home.

All our dogs receive a health check, vaccinations and a behavior evaluation before going to their foster home. We also do our best to determine their level of compatibility with other animals. If you have other dogs in your household, an Animal Care Officer will supervise a meet and greet between the dogs before sending a foster dog home with you.

What does the shelter provide, and what do foster parents provide?

You provide the basics—space, food, exercise, socialization, basic training and love. We provide a crate, bed, collar or harness, leash and toys; pay for all necessary, pre-authorized vet care; provide professional training support if needed; provide adoption promotion; and assign a dedicated case manager to assist with any questions during the duration of your foster dog's stay. We also offer foster sitting if you need to travel out of town while you are fostering.

How long are dogs in foster care?

This varies greatly, depending on the individual dog. The duration can range from a few weeks to several months, with an average stay of two to three months. We ask that foster parents commit to fostering a dog for the duration of their stay in foster care. It is extremely stressful for a dog to go back to the shelter from a foster home. If a foster parent cannot continue to foster a dog, we prefer to try and transfer the dog to a new foster home. We ask that foster parents only request a transfer when absolutely necessary, such as an unexpected family emergency, significant changes in schedules or unforeseen difficulties in addressing a dog's specific needs.

Program Requirements and Guidelines

In order to foster for Seattle Animal Shelter, you must be over the age of 18 and have previous dog handling experience. Households with children under the age of 18 are welcome, but the primary caregiver for the dog needs to be over 18.

In addition, you must be willing to adhere to the following program rules:

  • No off-leash park visits. This includes taking a leashed dog to an off-leash park.
  • Foster dogs must be on leash at all times when outdoors unless in your own securely fenced yard. Foster dogs may not be left unattended at any time outside, even in a secured yard. You may not leave your dog loose in the house with an accessible doggie door when you are not present.
  • No aversive training techniques or tools may be used on foster dogs. Aversives include prong collars, pinch/choke chain collars, E-collars, spray bottles, physical reprimands including alpha rolls, etc. You will be provided detailed guidelines on approved training techniques and tools. 
  • All vet visits must be pre-approved by calling the Vet Hotline, and you must visit an approved veterinarian. There are approved veterinarians in most Seattle neighborhoods.
  • Any aggressive behavior must be immediately communicated to shelter staff. Any behavior problems must be communicated to your case manager.
  • Foster parents must respond within 24 hours to communications from shelter staff, Foster Dog Team members or potential adopters. Foster parents must have internet access and check their email daily as this is the primary form of communication.

Additional program guidelines will be covered as part of the foster program training. Please note, shelter staff may remove a foster dog from a foster home for any reason they deem necessary.

How can I become a foster parent?

There are three steps to becoming a foster parent.

  • Complete an online foster parent application. Once received, your application will be reviewed by the foster team. If you are a good fit for our program, you'll be invited to attend a foster dog training session.
  • Attend a Foster Dog Training session. Sessions are held once a month and last approximately two hours. Once you've completed the foster dog training session, you'll need to agree to and sign the Foster Dog Parent Agreement, which covers all program requirements.
  • Complete a dog-handling evaluation. This allows us to get a sense of your existing skill level and ensure that you are appropriately matched with potential foster dogs. Dog handling evaluations are held immediately following Foster Dog Training sessions each month. You are not required to complete the evaluation the same day you attend training, but you must complete it before fostering a dog. Current Seattle Animal Shelter volunteers already active in a dog-handling program (Dog Walking, Get Fit with Fido, Advanced Dog Walking or Adoption Assistant) do not need to complete a handling evaluation.

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, please click here to access the online foster parent application. Filling out an application does not obligate you to foster, but we do ask that applicants be considering fostering in the next three months, so that we can most effectively use our limited training slots.

Frequently Ask Questions

Can I foster if I live in a condo, townhome, or apartment? What about a house without a fenced yard?

We have foster dogs that can be successful in a variety of living situations. The most important thing is that you select an appropriate dog for your lifestyle and are willing to commit to providing your foster dog with the needed physical and mental stimulation. While a fenced yard is a nice-to-have for those early morning or late night potty breaks and for a game of ball, it is not a requirement. Dogs need focused physical activity, mental stimulation and socialization, and simply letting the dog out into the yard does not accomplish this. The best way to do this is by walking or running your foster dog on leash, playing games, or working on training together. Please note that regardless of your living situation, if you do not own your dwelling you will need landlord approval and must abide by any weight or breed restrictions.

What if I have children?

Fostering is a wonderful family experience and can build a foundation of philanthropy in your children. It's important to select a dog that is "age" appropriate with your children, and as a general rule, children under 16 years old should NOT be left alone and unsupervised with any dog. You must also be diligent about providing guidance, instructions and rules to your children about safe interactions with all dogs as well as how to care for your particular foster dog.

If I have my own animals, can I still foster dogs?

Yes! Many of our foster dogs can live with other dogs, cats, or critters. We do our best to provide guidance on a given animal's level of compatibility with other animals, and conduct a meet and greet between dogs if you have a resident dog at home. We also have tips on how to best introduce a new animal to the home and ensure all animals remain safe during your fostering experience.

Note that there is always a small health risk when you expose your animal to other animals, whether walking at parks, visiting the vet, or fostering another animal. The health risk is minimal if your animals are current on their vaccinations, maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, and are not elderly or very young. We encourage you to talk to your vet about any questions or concerns you have.

Finally, if you or someone in your household is immune-compromised, consult your doctor before fostering, since working or living with animals exposes humans to zoonotic diseases.

What supplies are needed to foster?

Foster parents provide space, food, basic training, exercise and love. The shelter will provide you with all the other supplies and equipment needed throughout your foster experience.

Am I responsible for training my foster dog?

While foster parents are not expected to be professional trainers, working with your dog to develop basic obedience and manners is one of the best ways to improve their adoptability. Seattle Animal Shelter provides access to professional training resources, so that foster parents have the tools they need to help their dog develop these skills.

Do I have to crate-train my foster dog?

No, but it is one of the most efficient and effective ways to house train a puppy or re-train an adult dog. Some dogs do not like crates, and most dogs need to be transitioned or "trained" to use a crate, so it's up to the foster parent to decide whether to crate or not. Putting the dog in a crate while you are gone will give you peace of mind knowing that they are in a safe place, away from harm, and not doing any damage to your belongings or themselves. For many dogs, a crate can also represent a safe and comfortable place to call their own and provides them with a sense of security. Dogs actually like having a "den" to cuddle up in. Crating should never be used as punishment.

Do I need to have prior medical knowledge or expertise?

No, but you may be asked to dispense medicine to your foster dog so you will have to be comfortable following veterinarian's instructions if fostering a sick or injured dog.

What if my foster dog becomes sick?

All veterinary costs are paid by the shelter through the generous donations to the Help the Animals Fund. If a foster dog becomes sick, foster parents must call the Vet Hotline. The Seattle Animal Shelter Staff that answers the hotline will authorize a vet visit, or advise you on alternative steps to take.

How much time each day is needed to foster?

Commitment and responsibilities depend on the individual dog and situation. It's essential that foster parents understand that shelter dogs may be stressed and moving the dog from the shelter to the foster home is also very stressful and emotional. Foster parents must be willing to be patient and commit to the dog because our goal is to keep them in a stable and consistent environment.

Many of the dogs at the shelter are "adolescent" dogs between the age of 6 months and 2 years. They typically have a lot of energy and require vigorous daily exercise. This means at least a 30-45 minute brisk walk/run in the morning and again in the afternoon/evening, usually with a mid-day potty break. You should also plan on additional play and training time each day.

Older dogs may only need a morning and evening stroll. Older dogs are more likely to have special medical needs and may require daily medicines or more frequent vet visits.

Puppies require the most time each day. Young puppies can not be left alone more than a few hours at a time, and require significant socialization on a daily basis. Puppy foster parents are also required to participate in puppy socialization classes. Unless you can bring your puppy to work with you, people who work full-time outside the house are not good candidates for fostering puppies.

Can I take my foster dog to an off-leash park for exercise and socialization?

No. You are not allowed to take any foster dog from the Seattle Animal Shelter to an off-leash dog park. While these parks can be fun for some dogs, there are far too many unknowns for it to be a safe and healthy experience for a foster dog. Diseases are easily transmitted and the temperaments of visiting dogs are unknown, thus creating a huge liability to the Seattle Animal Shelter.

Am I responsible for finding my foster dog its forever home?

No, but we do need your help. Once a qualified applicant is identified, you will be asked to schedule a meet and greet with your foster dog and the potential adopter. Your quick response and feedback on the potential adopter is critical to finding a great match.

Many times a foster parent will find a perfect match through their own network of friends, family and colleagues. The shelter greatly welcomes these referrals! If you think you have found a perfect forever home for your foster dog, remember they still must go through the application process and be approved by the shelter staff.

How are foster dogs promoted?

Photos and stories of all adoptable dogs in foster homes are posted on Petfinder.com and at the shelter where the public can view them. Foster parents are also encouraged to bring their foster dog to special events, held periodically throughout the year, to help increase their visibility to potential adopters.

In addition to the promotion that the shelter provides, we've found that some of the best promotion is done by the foster parent. Sharing information about your foster dog with family, friends, colleagues and the general public through flyers, emails, social media such as Facebook, or even just by walking your foster dog in local neighborhoods with an "I'm available" bandana or vest is a great way to gain exposure for your foster dog!

What is the process for adopting a foster dog?

The process is very similar to adopting a dog from the shelter. The steps are briefly outlined below:

  • Potential adopters are required to submit an adoption application for review before they can physically meet a foster dog.
  • Suitable applicants may be contacted for additional screening.
  • Once approved, meet and greets with the foster dog and foster parents will be scheduled with qualified applicants.
  • After the meet and greet (and if the applicant is still interested in the dog), foster parents will make a recommendation to the shelter staff regarding the adoption. The foster dog stays with the foster parent until they hear from the shelter staff.
  • Adoption is approved or rejected by shelter staff.  Final approval of all adoptions is at the sole discretion of the Seattle Animal Shelter staff.
  • Once approved, the adopter pays adoption fees to the shelter and makes a spay/neuter appointment, if necessary. Foster dogs cannot go to a potential adopter's home until the adoption is official and approved by shelter staff. Foster dog then goes to its forever home.

Foster parents should stay in contact with their case manager for assistance with the adoption process.

How can I help my foster dog become more adoptable?

There are two ways to make a foster dog more adoptable. First and foremost is marketing. If no one knows about your foster dog, or how wonderful it is, then it will be very hard to find them a forever home! In addition to supplying great photos and a bio and updating these regularly, giving a foster dog additional exposure by telling friends and family about them will help create a "network effect" and will speed up the process of finding a forever home. Simple steps like taking a foster dog on walks in local parks, outdoor shopping areas and other high traffic areas will help find potential adopters.

Secondly, our orphaned dogs benefit greatly from the exercise (with the exception of those with some medical conditions), basic training, special love and attention you give them. While marketing provides you with applicants, it's always the dog that "closes the deal." Providing a foster dog with basic training and manners will increase their adoptability. Shy dogs will benefit from your patience, routine and slowly exposing them to new people to build their confidence. Rambunctious adolescents who learn good manners will help show off their trainability and long term potential. And while puppies are adorable, they need a lot of love, attention and hand-holding from humans to develop properly and feel secure.

Can I adopt my foster dog?

Foster parents who decide to adopt their foster dog must follow standard adoption procedures, including submitting and application and paying any applicable adoption fees. While it's easy to fall in love with your foster dog, we highly encourage serial foster parenting. The joy you get from seeing a dog move on to be happy in its forever home is addictive!

Can I return my foster dog to the shelter if I am unable to foster any longer?

We prefer that foster parents continue to foster until we find a permanent home for their foster dog. It's extremely stressful for a dog to be returned to the shelter environment. However, we understand that situations change and it may become necessary to discontinue fostering a dog. If this happens, we request that a foster parent provides as much notice as possible (minimum 3-4 weeks) so that we can find an alternative foster home to transfer the dog to. Of course, in an emergency a foster parent may always bring their dog back to the shelter.

What if I go on vacation or have a business trip?

As part of our program, we offer foster sitting for your foster dog if you have occasional out of town travel. We ask that foster parents provide at least a week's notice for sitting request. If a sitter cannot be found, the dog can be returned to the shelter during your travel.

Are foster dogs ever euthanized?

Much energy, love, time and vet care is devoted to our foster dogs, and the shelter is committed to finding homes for ALL the adoptable dogs within its care. However, some dogs are in foster care because they're seriously ill or injured, or have significant behavioral issues. If, after medical and/or behavioral attention, these dogs are unable to be healed or safely made available for adoption, then the shelter staff will humanely euthanize these animals.