In 2021, Michigan Humane launched a compassion fostering program called Safety Net Fostering. This program provides foster homes for animals in need of temporary housing and is designed to be a support system for families experiencing a housing crisis, medical procedures requiring time out of the home, or other temporary status that inhibits caring for a pet with all other alternatives exhausted. The overarching goal of this program is to keep families intact despite a crisis that might result in a sudden separation from their pet.

A critical component of this program is recruiting and maintaining volunteer foster homes willing to foster these animals. We recruit these families both from our active foster volunteer body and the public at large, with appropriate onboarding and training, of course. Successful training includes general foster training (the ins and outs of animal care, how to make appointments, supplies, etc.) and additional information regarding supporting families in this program. It is critical that foster families supporting any compassion foster program understand both the importance of their service and the nature of sometimes unpredictable situations, while still investing in reunification of the family with the pet.

Some initial hurdles working with volunteers include addressing internal biases towards community members in need and providing animal behavior education. For example, a common misconception is that if an animal is shy or afraid in the foster home initially, then that animal did not have a good previous life and/or possibly was abused. With proper understanding of these behaviors, however, we know that this is a common response to an abrupt change in the lives of animals in general and is not indicative of a bad home life. Empowering compassion foster volunteers with the right education up front before they encounter the animals they are fostering will help them embrace the fostered animal and look forward to reunification for the family.

Additionally, we found that having regular, intentional check ins with compassion foster families about the animal helped control for the ever-challenging specter of compassion fatigue in foster families. When possible, changing care from one foster family to another can be very beneficial in ensuring that your foster families don’t get burned out or over-committed.

It is critical for the success of a compassion fostering program to invest up front in your foster homes. Without that training, understanding, and commitment, it can be hard for families to embrace these compassion foster situations that require a unique understanding of the community and animals we’re serving. Foster families that understand that the best place for an animal is in a home with the family that loves it, even if that home is imperfect, will ensure your compassion fostering program has the strong foundation it needs to best serve your community.

Photo credit: Michigan Humane

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