Fostering a Dog – Foster Fail?

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When someone asks when or how we adopted our dog, Spark, I usually start with, “she was a foster fail!”  “We just could not bear to see her leave us.”

  Every application that was submitted for her had something wrong with it (in my eyes).  We just were not able to give her up and because she was disabled, we felt very protective of her as she had been found in a garbage pile in Pitillal.  Sometimes it is just something in your gut and your heart that points you in the direction of adopting.

 Spark portrait

What does it mean to foster fail?

The term “foster fail” means when a person is fostering a dog, they decide to adopt the dog for themselves. I am certain that every single foster volunteer in rescue I have worked with, has foster failed at least once. I am not sure I like the term “foster fail”, because I love the idea of foster failing. It gives a person a chance to really get to know the dog before adopting him or her.  As a foster, you get to know the dog in a very personal and detailed way, including all their quirks.  Guiding the dog through sometimes intensive medical treatments and recovery does bond you to them in many ways.  Knowing how strong, smart and loving they are, even during the darkest days after rescue.

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Foster fail stories

I hear so many stories of foster fails through our rescue and on Facebook… some are happy, and some are sad. Most people foster fail because they felt they found their perfect match, their soul mate, meant to be. 

“After a week at the vet and initial medical recovery at a foster home, we became Chupey’s second fosters. We weren’t actively looking for another dog to keep, having put our other senior down a few months prior. After seeing him in such bad shape then seeing him get stronger and happier, I couldn’t imagine giving him to someone else. It didn’t take long for us to realize he was a foster fail who would be our newest family member.”  - Karen Chesson

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Others foster fail because they are worried the dog could never find a home that would accept their behavior issues. 

Sabina was rescued with her two brothers, at that time I had lost my old cocker spaniel of 17 years.  Her two brothers found homes really quick, and there she was, this white small puppy, kinda crazy and bossy.. she had a lot of energy and she didn't respect anybody.. she destroyed a lot of things, but that wasn't was the issue.  When going for walks she was always scared and would get crazy with strange people, barks a lot, not to bite, but just really scared.. and then when new people come to the house she gets really anxious, and barks, and it is a process to calm her.. so.. I decided to keep her.. I was afraid that other people couldn't manage her behavior and be patient.  - Samara Pok

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So, yes - my husband Roger and I are foster fails. We decided to foster Maya (then Toto) one of 3 sisters and their Mama who were abandoned when the owner moved away. We think it was about 3 weeks on the street before ADNL rescued the family. Maya was the runt of the litter, and she stole our hearts. We found she had a few treatable medical issues, and within 1week of joining our family, we knew we would see her through her treatments and beyond. She is a bundle of joy whose tail NEVER stops wagging! It’s true, rescued dogs are especially thankful and are the most loyal animals you could ever meet. Her big brother Loki loves her to pieces too. - Blaze Lattrell

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Whatever the reason, it should be a personal decision. Carefully consider why you want to adopt this dog. Is it the right thing to do for you, your family, and the dog?


Why should I foster a dog?

Fostering a dog is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have (other than adopting, of course). By taking an animal in need temporarily into your home you are:

  • freeing up a spot so the shelter or rescue can take in another dog.
  • giving your foster dog the time that he needs to be ready for adoption.
  • helping the shelter or rescue learn more about the dog so he can end up in the best home possible.
  • socializing the dog to a home environment and possibly getting him used to being around other pets and different types of people.

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How to not foster fail

If you are afraid to foster a dog because you do not want to foster fail, then you need to go into the situation strong-willed. 

An easy way to keep your heart safe is to always remember that for every dog you let go, it makes room for another to save. If you foster fail a dog, then you may not be able to continue fostering. 

I know it is difficult when you see those cute brown eyes and soft ears. But stay strong! 

If you have family and kids have an open conversation to explain to them you are not going to adopt this dog. That you are a temporary safe home so he can find his forever home. 

Think about the following points.

  1. Your first is always the hardest to give up. Lots of people will overlook the "negatives" or reasons why the dog may not be the perfect one for you because you fall in love so quickly. You are not the only one who can love the dog, there are lots of good homes!
  2. OBJECTIVELY look at the dog you are fostering. Is he everything you have ever wanted? Or is it simply hard to give him up because he is cute and now you love him?
  3. Are you in the right place in your life to adopt? Are you ready for a 16-year commitment? What about financials? Do not pressure yourself into committing if you are not truly ready
  4. Why did you choose to foster? Was it to find your perfect dog or was it because you were not ready for the commitment? Revisiting why you decided to foster instead of adopting may help you.



TONS of fosters adopt their foster animals. It is not really a "fail"! You get to see the dog and all his quirks before you officially adopt him, it is super helpful. But since I foster myself and guide other fosters, I wanted to share the points I made above. A lot of people are willing to overlook a lot that they normally would not because they feel that sense of attachment. Just make sure you are truly ready!