Confessions of a Serial Foster

April 30, 2013  

A foster mom shares how she copes with saying goodbye to the dogs she cares for

By Kirstyn Northrop Cobb

I foster a lot. And I mean a lot. When I bring this up to people, the first thing that I am asked every time is “How do you do that? I could never do that; I would get too attached.” Trust me, I am right there with you.
I mostly foster dogs. I prefer dogs that need to learn how to act in a home, such as dogs who are frightened, dogs with medical issues that are best worked on in a home environment, dogs from ugly situations (such as dogs from a dog fighting or other abuse situations), or dogs who just haven’t had the opportunity to be dogs and need to learn what toys and such are. I don’t stop at dogs, though. I also take in the occasional chinchilla, and once I brought I a pot-bellied pig home. (Note: Always warn your spouse before bringing a pig in the house – learned this the hard way).

On to the questions of “How do you do that?” and “Don’t you get attached?” Well, let me take time to answer these questions. The answers are, “I just do it,” and “Yes.”

Another question asked is, “Do you ever keep any of the animals you foster?” I have four dogs, so the answer to that is also, “Absolutely.”

But back to the question of, “How do you do that?” So, let’s start with Vienna. A couple of years ago, I fostered a dog named Vienna. Before Vienna, I had fostered only puppies. You see, puppies are easier for me to foster. They come not at all house trained and don’t seem to bond as quickly. Not to mention, they are into everything, so it’s almost a relief to get them out of the house when they go! But Vienna was a different story. Vienna was my first adult dog. She fit in right away, did well with my personal dogs, was housetrained and was, well, perfect for my home! What a great dog. We fell in love with her right away. So, when someone was interested in adopting her, I’ll be the first to admit, we were prepared to find everything and anything wrong with the adopter. (Sorry Vienna’s family if you are reading this, but we were so ready to judge you!). We went over to the home to meet them and, unfortunately, they were great. They would love Vienna, and she would be perfect for their family as well. It was horrible, but we were going to have to let her go to live with them. And we did. I still keep in touch with them and get updates, and you know what? For as much as we had bonded to Vienna, nothing compared to her new life.

There have been so many others since then. Klondike went to a home after three months with me. I had to leave the home quickly because I felt the tears coming quickly. So I left and cried for an entire hour. Oh, and by the way, once I finally stopped crying, the new family called me and said that he was sniffing around a lot and could he be looking for me? And the water works started all over again. But, Klondike is the best friend of a 9-year-old boy now, and let’s be honest, every 9-year-old boy needs a dog to pal around with.

Then there was Gidget. She never left and isn’t going anywhere. I’m not alone here. The HSCC has many foster families, and all of them have similar stories. Including the story of my Gidget –failed foster, now family member.

I bring this up now because my current foster has someone showing interest in him. I’ve fostered 27 dogs over the past year. Some, like those mentioned above, I have been super attached to. Some, who I will not mention, I was so ready to move on to their forever homes. The current foster, I am very attached to. And I found myself trying to find something wrong with a person who I have never met, so maybe my current foster would have to stay. … But let’s be realistic, I may not be able to find something wrong with all the families interested. So I warn them that, yes, there will probably be crying. Lots of crying. But, I’ll recover. And I’ll go on to foster again.

There are dogs out there that need me to help them get ready for forever homes, or just dogs who are in a shelter where maybe their time has run out or space is limited. Some I will get super attached to, but in my heart, I know that there is another family out there who will love them as much as I do, probably even more. And so, yes, I do get attached, but for now, I have to put that aside and remember that I am only a temporary home, and the forever home is out there waiting for my foster to become a member of their family.

This article was originally published on June 19, 2012.

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45 Responses to “Confessions of a Serial Foster
  1. jennmartinelli says:

    So far my only two fosters (both cats – a more frequent request at the shelter I work with) have both been “foster failures”. I strive to be like you and be able to keep fostering and actually be able to let go and send them on to a new forever home.
    Thank you for being willing to do this, even with how hard it is to let go in some cases!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @jennmartinelli We think people who foster are the noblest of people and even if you have foster failures, you still succeeding in finding them a home, you just didn’t have to look too far. 🙂

  2. JaneFerguson says:

    I have to admit we are foster failures as well, we kept a pit puppy after we fell completly in love with her. We had two of her siblings as well and even though they went to great homes we cried like big babies when they left. Its so hard and yet so rewarding to foster. Our house is too full now to foster but I would do it again in the future.

  3. jessking says:

    I am new to fostering and have two 7 week old puppies.  I agree that they are going to be pretty easy to let go because they are so much work!  They are super cute though and I have really enjoyed getting to care for them for a few weeks.  I don’t know how I would handle it if I had one for a longer period of time and if they got along with my dogs.  Thank you for all that you do for these pets!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @jessking Thank you for fostering those puppies! It’s such an important job! Best of luck!

  4. blazer says:

    Love this!  I have to remind myself to ‘suck it up’ and JUST DO IT!  When our first litter of kittens were adopted, my heart was ripped out each time one didn’t come home with me. Over a year later and I can STILL cry at the thought of those naughty little booger faces. When our first foster dog got adopted, I loved her to pieces and thought the right home would never come along, but they did! And I hardly cried at all — I was SO relieved that they loved her for her and all her quirks. It was a great feeling and SO rewarding!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @blazer Thank you for sharing and fostering. It’s so rewarding to finally find a home for a dog that you thought would never find one. Great job!

  5. chirsch4 says:

    I think people who foster are amazing.  You have patience, and understanding and then when the time comes, the strength to let your foster move on to his/her furever home.  I often hope we will be able to do this in the future, but right now we can only have one dog in our apt, so we rescued our baby, and will love on her and spoil her for forever.  Thank you for being able to foster and for just doing it, as you say!

  6. jkileus says:

    Thank you for sharing! We also foster but only English Bulldogs at this time. We started fostering for the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue after we adopted our first Bully named Lucky-Boy. We have had him a little over 2 years now. We have 2 more that we fostered and adopted. All 3 are special needs Bully’s. 2 of them, Boop C and Butter cup were owner surrender and have Spinal Bifida. Lucky-Boy is going blind at 7 years old due to neglect. I can’t imaging life without those three. We have fostered 12 other and all have been very special. Oh yes and we currently have a foster named Charlie. He is 3 years old and one of the sweetest dogs we have known. We probably would consider adopting but 3 is enough for us and we wouldn’t be able to foster if we kept him. It is very hard to let go of these wonderful animals but CEBR places great emphasis on screening and finding the right fit. 

    • StubbyDog says:

       @jkileus That’s great! And WHY haven’t you sent your story into us so we can share all the details with everyone. If you want to, send your fostering story to and include photos. You are an angel for fostering special-needs dogs. Bravo.

      • jkileus says:

         @StubbyDog I just found out about StubbyDog. I will have to write up our story and submit it. The best story is when we fostered a mom and her 3 puppies. The littlest one was named Pearl and she had to be tube fed every 3 hours due to a cleft palate. Needless to say we didn’t get a full nights sleep for a very long time.  They were only 10 days old when the came into CEBR. Pearl had her surgery at 12 weeks and she is fine now, living with her sister Mo with there adoptive parents.
        I will send a story soon with photos!

  7. I’ve thought about fostering dogs before, and I’ve always had the typical “oh, but how will I let go?” response. I was convinced that I’d get too attached. After reading this, it’s more like they’re your children, and your role is to teach and love them until they’re ready to head out into the world, to love others. Thank you.

  8. DianaJones says:

    Thank god for folks like you to balance out folks like me!! Epic foster failures. I strive to be like you, just haven’t quite made it yet.

  9. marieelise0928 says:

    I have a 100% foster success rate!  I’ve never had a dog.  My parents finally caved and let me foster in high school, and I think it’s just what I became accustomed to.  I do still cry when they (well, some of them…) go though.  
    Here’s a video I made of my fosters from last year!  

    • StubbyDog says:

       @marieelise0928 Oh Marie, that is just the sweetest video we have ever seen. What an incredible angel you are! Please write your story for us, you are unique in that you have been doing since you were a teenager and you don’t have a dog. Please. If you’re interested, please email and send photos and we will post your video in the story too. Thank you so much for all you do.

    • marieelise0928 says:

      Sure, I’d love to! 

    • chirsch4 says:

       That was such a sweet video, it made me cry.  You are amazing for being a foster mom, thank you, thank you, thank you.

      • marieelise0928 says:

         @chirsch4 Thanks!  Loved all of those dogs, and making the video was a really nice capstone for me.  Appreciate you watching!

    • FosteringRosieTheRed says:

       @marieelise0928 Really lovely video. Our “dog-less” (or even better, “pet-less”) fosters are amazing – some of the best we have in our program.  Thank you for all you do!  I too would love to hear more about your experience, so I hope you’ll connect with StubbyDog on a story!

      • marieelise0928 says:

         @FosteringRosieTheRed Thanks! Particularly when we’re talking about bully breeds, I think it’s so important to have foster homes where the dog sensitive dogs can go and get their new start.  Takes all sorts of homes for a foster program to really flourish, and I’m always happy to offer mine!

        • FosteringRosieTheRed says:

           @marieelise0928 Absolutely! It’s such a blessing to be able to just place a dog and not have to worry about the dog-dog interactions. And to have someone who can give 100% of their doggie attention to their foster. All fosters are AMAZING, but I really think people like you are extra special.

        • StubbyDog says:

           @FosteringRosieTheRed  @marieelise0928 If either one of you want to share your fostering story with us, please email and send photos (and videos!) and tell us about your feelings and experiences. We would love to post them here on our site. Thanks!

        • Matt.S says:

           @StubbyDog  @FosteringRosieTheRed  @marieelise0928    That would be great reading!

  10. Cabweirich2284 says:

    We all have to realize that the only way to save lives is to foster. I can’t let go isn’t a good reason…. I always say, “if you fell in love and can’t let go, then keep the dog!” it’s one more precious life saved. I have been fostering for years and currently have 10 dogs in my home now. It would be so much easier to us serial fosters if we had other people stepping in. I realize that if I don’t get the dog, it dies!

  11. ReneeMKeller says:

    It takes a strong heart to foster.  Here is a poem that I think should be shared with all fosters
    Dear Foster Mom There I sat, alone and afraid, You got a call and came right to my aid. You bundled me up with blankets and love, And, when I needed it most, you gave me a hug. I learned that the world was not all that scary and cold, That sometimes there is someone to have and to hold. You taught me what love is, you helped me to mend, You loved me and healed me and became my first friend. And just when I thought you’d done all you do, There came along not one new lesson, but two. First you said, “Sweetheart, you’re ready to go, I’ve done all I can, and you’ve learned all I know.” Then you bundled me up with a blanket and kiss, Along came a new family, they even have kids! They took me to their home, forever to stay, At first I thought you sent me away. Then that second lesson became perfectly clear, No matter how far, you will always be near. And so, Foster Mom, you know I’ve moved on, I have a new home, with toys and a lawn. But I’ll never forget what I learned that first day, You never really give your fosters away. You gave me these thoughts to remember you by, We may never meet again, and now I know why. You’ll remember I lived with you for a time, I may not be yours, but you’ll always be mine. Author Unknown

  12. WillowWonderBull says:

    Fostering is a hard but rewarding thing to do! I commend you for doing it.  My Mama’s Foster too.  The longer they stay …the harder it is to let them go. But knowing they will have their own family and will get all the time and attention they deserve makes it a little easier. Then we can save another one.

  13. FosteringRosieTheRed says:

    Wow, what a great story!  I’m amazed that you’ve taken in 27 foster dogs in a year – I would love to hear more about how you promote your dogs for adoption.  Often we have dogs that stay in foster 3, 6 or even 9 months, so even our most dedicated foster families may only have 3 or 4 dogs in a year.  We are always looking for ideas on how to shorten the time to adoption!

    • Kirstyn says:

       Well, I put a lot of focus on write ups and pictures. I try to stay away from the basics like age, size, exct. I focus on what draws me to the dog. What do I like about this dog. I also really utilize the varous outlets, such as and Facebook. In addition to that, I take my foster dogs out and get them seen. We have many dog friendly restaurants in my area and a lot of my fosterdogs frequent them with me. That’s pretty much it. Exposure, exposure, exposure! But a great picture does help a lot. And, honestly, I think that a lot of it is dumb luck as well… Sorry, probably not the answer you were looking for, but that’s pretty much it!

    • marieelise0928 says:

       @FosteringRosieTheRed I REALLY like videos!  Here’s one that I got really positive feedback too — it was fun and silly, and really showed off her personality!  Sometimes people just need a three minute capture of what’s great about the dog!

      • FosteringRosieTheRed says:

         @marieelise0928 I LOVE videos as well. I think you and I are on the same page – check out the video I did for my first foster (“Rosie the Red”). You’ll see what I mean as soon as the video starts 😉 
        My other absolute favorite is this one – amazing what the power of love (and foster) can do!!!…

        • marieelise0928 says:

           @FosteringRosieTheRed LOL, great minds, and all that!!  Love both those vids, and copying down the song inspirations from the second.  Man, I love dogs!

        • StubbyDog says:

           @FosteringRosieTheRed  @marieelise0928  Those videos are fantastic! we loved them, now we are wondering, did Apollo get adopted. What a wonderful story!!

        • FosteringRosieTheRed says:

           @StubbyDog  @marieelise0928 He has an adoption pending – he’s on his trial period with the family right now 🙂  The two best things (I couldn’t pick just one) are – 1) they said they fell in love with him the second they saw the video (it really does matter!), and 2) they’ve agreed to let me come take video of him in his new home, so I can share that back with all the people who worked to save him and get him back to healthy. Thanks for asking!

        • StubbyDog says:

           @FosteringRosieTheRed  @marieelise0928 That’s so wonderful. Those videos are really  fantastic, you did a great job.

  14. Kirstyn says:

    Just a quick update, after the foster that this was written about found his wonderful forever home with 4 kids to play with and another dog, I quit fostering for a bit. I gave myself and my family a 3 week break. Then, the day this came out, I filled my home back up again! So, I’m back to it and loving it!

  15. Matt.S says:

    I’m 0 for 2 fostering. Two dogs, two failures.

  16. The first time I fostered was a pup named Champ, his fit him to a T.  He was a very confident pup so unaware of his situation in the shelter.  Long story short he’d already had an application on him when we pulled him from the shelter.  My son always wanted a puppy puppy (Sasha was over a year when we adopted her & Krush was 5 months when we adopted him but he was so tall he didn’t look like a puppy).  Like you we tried to find something wrong with the family (although the home visit was conducted by someone else).  Champ needed to meet the pack he was going to live with.  Everything went well at the meting and although Champ was with us for 2-3 weeks we were attached.  When the time came for us to take him to the new family the tears filled my eyes and I was not the same.  We continued to foster puppies only because Sasha is selective with her doggie friends.  There was a special girl we wanted to be a foster failure (we blogged about Holiday titled Foster Failure) for but she was gone before I could put an application on her.  We named her Holiday, a beautiful blue pittie pup.We named her Holiday after the singer Billie Holiday.  Her story was tragic & we got her around Thanksgiving.  Sasha actually liked her from day one, maybe because Sasha knew that Holiday was scared & needed be around a confident dog to bring out her confidence.  Our aches every time one our fosters gets adopted.  Most say they’ll keep in touch but don’t, we never got a chance to meet Holiday’s adopter, they picked her up from the vet after she was spayed.  Holiday’s situation made me bitter a little and I shied away from foster for a little while.  Our last foster we named him Peanut now named Lenny.  His foster family appreciated what we do and keep in contact with us. He’s so big and handsome now.  Fostering has it’s ups and downs all in all we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Thanks to all fosters, foster failures and those that want to be fosters, it’s a thankBUL job!

  17. JeanneFlynn says:

    I get the same questions, and they actually annoy me a little.  It’s like the people who say “I could never foster, I’d adopt them all!” or “if I had the room, I would have lots and lots of dogs!”  So these people are saying they would like to be hoarders, or that the choice is between that and not helping.  I don’t have this conversation with them, of course, but I do usually tell them that what gets me through it is imagining them in their new home, the center of someone’s universe, and loved to the point of being spoiled.  In my house, they would be one of a family and would be loved, but then the ability to help would begin to end.  There are only so many dogs I can responsibly care for permanently, but there is no natural end to how many I can help if I foster and love them enough to let them go.  Hoarding is selfish, fostering is giving.