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Examining the term 'Foster Failure'

"After 13 years of fostering, for the 1st time, I’m a “foster failure!” I’m still scratching my head as to how this happened so, I’ll just blame it on my husband since it was his idea!" 

That was my facebook post a couple weeks ago and there was confusion about the term 'foster failure.' 

Let's  delve into this subject a bit!

Foster Failure (noun): a pet-foster-parent designated to temporarily keep/care for a pet that ends up permanently adopting said pet. definition provided by me
Thomas, a little dog we fostered 4 yrs ago,
pictured here with his adopter

    -If you google the term you'll find other similar definitions.  
    And most of what you'll find is lighthearted.

    But... my background in shelter and rescue work puts an entirely different spin on the idea of being a 'foster failure.' 

    In my experience, 'foster failure' generally is not a flattering term! 

    -Whether being a foster failure isn't seen as a big deal, as in, "Looks like Scrappy's foster mom's going to be a foster failure with him... yay for Scrappy!" 
    Or it's shunned as in, "We do not allow 'foster failures.' This is not an option when fostering for __________," depends entirely on the rescue group! They're all a little different!

    And I'm very familiar with organizations all across the spectrum as to how they deal with foster failures.

Another Cutie-Pa-Tootie we fostered from a few years ago

Logistics for a shelter worker: Foster Care Coordinator was one of my positions with MDAS (before the job had even been officially created... back in 2012).  

    Luis Mendoza and I were able to do some amazing and highly rewarding work with this program.
    And for us (for me in particular) foster failures weren't an ideal part of the foster program equation for the most part
    I recall one young couple being showed into my 1/2 of the cubicle one day smiling, saying, "Yes, we'd like to foster Ritz, the little 11 year old Pomeranian that you all have." 
    "Why don't you just go ahead and adopt him?" I asked, maybe not smiling back.
    At this point in my shelter work career I had a very overwhelming work load and had gained a strong intuition... into seeing foster failures from a mile away! 

Former Foster dog Nisa relaxing with Sam and Bella

    The couple looked at each other, then me, 1/2 puzzled, 1/2 offended. 
    "Let me ask you whole-hardheartedly, 'if you get this little dog home and he fits in nicely to your life, would you want to keep him?'" I emphatically asked. 
    "Yes," they said, as if that were a no-brainer. 
    "So please help all of us save time, resources and energy by just adopting the dog.  
    With the foster program an animal in basically in limbo within our system," I said, showing them a 5 inch thick binder of of pets in foster care.
    "The pet can't have an 'outcome' in the system... it's not in the shelter nor in a permanent home.  We have to keep close tabs on our pets in foster care, working constantly to help our fosters promote them for permanent adoption via events, social media, making sure they're being cared for, healthy and safe, etc so, there's a lot of work involved... especially if you already know you're leaning towards adopting the dog." I explained.

Kitty-Cat Sapphire we fostered and re-homed

They adopted the Pomeranian dog and I never saw them again. 

    And this couple did absolutely nothing wrong.  
    They just didn't understand the complexity and true purpose of our foster program. And how could they with so many conflicting messages out there?!  -In that same shelter we also had a 'foster-to-adopt' program to make things even more confusing to the average visitor. 

    So you see, for transport programs and some shelters, foster failures can create real havoc logistically-speaking! Of course there are cases in which 'failing at fostering' can be a good thing... a very hard-to-adopt-out pit bull that fit right in with his foster family while I was at MDAS was an example of a 'good foster failure' for example.  It was a relief for all of us when they decided to adopt him.

And there are rescue groups that use the ideology of failing at fostering as part of their adoption models. 

    For these rescues, foster failures are welcome! 
    Oftentimes breed-specific rescues operate like this. 
    Personally I do not have much interaction with this type of group but they're part of the solution to the problem of pet overpopulation and are undoubtedly doing their part in finding homes for many pets!
And here's Benny!

    On an end note, as I mentioned at the beginning, Benny is my FIRST foster failure in 13 years of fostering.

    I was fostering him for Mobile Mutts/Ky. Mutts Rescue.  They were very understanding of us deciding to adopt him, although it did create a temporary glitch in the logistics of transport and home of Benny's to-be-foster in upstate IL. for that week. 

    I was a little embarrassed to fall into the category of foster failure after all these years of keeping a healthy degree of 'emotional separation' from my foster pets.  

    That being said, as long as I keep fostering (I will) and only fail at it every decade or so... we'll be alright!

And it felt really good to hug Benny once we knew he was ours, breathe out and say, "You're Mine Boy." 

Written by Jessica Pita, owner of The Paw and Feather Plan LLC and avid animal rescuer


  1. Foster Failure here! I always foster first because not every dog will integrate with my animal family. When it's a good match, then I go ahead and make it permanent. I also know that if my lifestyle or situation changes, there will be options for me to place my "foster failures" with responsible people who will honor my wishes for them.


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