Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Looking for a short-term relationship?

Some of the crazy cat and dog women I know are trying to figure out how to find more people who want to foster homeless pets. Obviously, the best possible reason to foster would be to see a face like this every morning.

But for some reason, they don’t want to go with the obvious, and have decided to collect “Data.” I will let my foster auntie tell you about their “Results” while I rest up on my throne.

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Both people who had never fostered and people who have already fostered answered the survey. Most people who had fostered found it a positive experience and would consider repeating it. We were most interested in what would encourage them to try fostering, either for the first time or again.

Of the possible answers to this question, one was chosen by almost all respondents: “Having all medical and food costs covered.”

Fortunately, this is easy. Rescues always provide food, supplies, and veterinary care. Many potential foster volunteers are not aware of this, however, which suggests that it would be good to emphasize that fostering carries no financial cost.

(Or a face like this.)

In second place was a tie between two responses that both suggest people are more likely to foster if they have input into which animal comes into their home: “Being able to specify conditions (e.g., housetrained, no medical problems),” and “Being able to help choose the animal.”

Rescue groups allow volunteers to indicate their preferences about conditions, so that they do not end up with an animal whose needs they cannot meet. However, groups rarely let foster volunteers participate in choosing the animal they foster. There may be logistical and other obstacles to this, but it is worth thinking about – people want to feel connected to the animal they are living with.

(Or this. That's right. This is a cat.)

Third place was also a tie, this time between two responses that reflect people’s desire to know about and help determine the animal’s long-term fate: “Being able to participate in placing the animal in a permanent adoptive home” and “Being able to learn about how the animal is doing from the adoptive home.”

Both answers suggest that potential foster parents see placement in a permanent home as part of the foster process and are eager to participate in it. This makes sense in light of the fact that one of the most common reasons given for not wanting to foster is fear of becoming too attached. Knowing that your former foster pet is in a good home and getting regular updates would go a long ways to alleviating that concern and may make fostering more appealing to a wider number of people.

(Seriously. How can you resist?)

In fourth place was “Having a relief foster home to take the animal when I travel or am sick.”

We thought this might rank higher. While it’s still a significant concern, it is not as important to people as being able to choose and help place their foster pets. Maybe willingness to foster hinges more on emotional investment than logistical matters. (And perhaps many potential foster volunteers already have their own animals and routinely arrange for their care while traveling and assume they would make similar arrangements for foster pets.)

(This one even comes with a matching toy.)

In fifth place was a tie between “Receiving initial training and advice” and “Having someone else transport the animal to adoption events.”

While these are not the most important concerns, these are both services that could be provided, and their availability might make it possible for some people to foster who otherwise could not do so. However, these are not services that rescue staff can offer, because they are constantly busy with administration, animal care, and processing adoptions. We’d like the foster network to be able to provide some of these support services. Experienced foster volunteers might be able to hold small orientation sessions or even one-on-one consultations for new foster homes. And people who cannot themselves foster might be able to provide transport to adoption events.

In last place (though still checked by about a quarter of respondents) were “Help with training and behavior issues that might arise” and “Having a specific limit on the time the animal will be with me.”

We’d like to look into having a pool of experienced foster volunteers and regular dog and cat owners, trainers, and behaviorists who can provide help as needed, to relieve rescue staff who are already overworked. This might help not only to encourage people to foster but also to enable people to keep fostering even when problems arise.

The time limitation is trickier, but we included it on the survey because we wanted to see how important it was. For a few people, this might be a major factor, and in those cases we might make use of a pool of relief/backup fosters, the same ones who might help when foster families travel. Perhaps most important to keeping stays relatively short, however, is marketing help to get animals moved into adoptive homes quickly. Foster families can be very effective adoption advocates, and they seem to want to do this. We can seek out ways to make them more effective and make this process fun and convenient for them – e.g., by organizing fun events for them to attend with their foster animals and by thinking of creative marketing and advertising ideas.

We’d love to hear your suggestions about what might make fostering more appealing, easier, and fun. The survey is still available. Please take it! http://cs.createsurvey.com/publish/survey?a=44RySV

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