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The ASPCA estimates that more than 6.5 million dogs and cats find themselves locked up in shelters every year. Most rescues and shelters are overcrowded. For many animals, it’s not the ideal environment in which they can thrive. This is especially true for kittens, puppies, and pets with health conditions. Pets that have experienced mistreatment also have a difficult time in the shelter system.

Several animal rescue facilities have implemented foster systems. These systems give pets the chance to experience a home environment, rather than being stuck in a kennel or cage. There’s a huge need for more people to foster pets.

What does it entail? That varies by organization, but at its most basic, a pet foster parent offers a temporary home to a needy pet. This could be for as short as a few days or as long as a few years. The pet could be perfectly healthy, or it could have special needs. Most organizations pay for vet work and necessities while the pet is in your care.

There are many benefits to fostering. By taking in a rescue, you’ll free up space for other animals. This reduces the number of dogs and cats (and others) that face euthanasia. It also gives you the chance to see if being a pet parent is right for you if you don’t already have pets. You’ll get the experience of owning an animal without making a long-term commitment.

Shelters are high-stress environments. It’s confusing and frightening to the pets who are there. When you foster one of these animals, you give it the chance to shine. His or her personality will become apparent, which attracts potential adopters. You’ll also be able to evaluate the pet’s likes, dislikes, and general habits. This helps shelters identify better matches when considering adoption applications.

Don’t worry about being the perfect foster. Most rescues and shelters work with people who have all kinds of living spaces and work schedules. The important element of fostering an animal is providing them with a safe, loving, healthy environment—it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can work with the group to find a foster pet that fits with your lifestyle.