Assessment of Short-Term Foster Care Programs in Shelter Animals

October 31, 2016

Audience: Executive Leadership, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: Maddie's Fund
Investigator(s): Sheila Segurson and Anastasia Shabelansky
Grant Amount: n/a
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

Maddie's Fund® conducted an online survey of shelter and rescue staff and volunteers to gain national baseline data around the duration, utilization, variation and perceived outcomes of short-term foster care programs for cats and dogs. Respondents reported that short-term foster programs often resulted in adoption and/or short-term caregivers becoming longer term foster caregivers.

Objective(s)

To better understand the duration, utilization, variation and perceived outcomes of short-term foster care programs for cats and dogs

Methods

The survey was distributed to a convenience sample, via Maddie's Fund® email list. The majority of organizational representatives surveyed in this study described their group as very small, private, non-profit, without a municipal contract (76%). Forty-three percent of organizations represented were all-volunteer run, and 57% handled less than 500 animals annually.

Results

  • 87% of organizations surveyed utilized a short-term foster program, allowing people to take a pet home for a short period of time (e.g., less than one week).
  • 44% allow kittens, 52% allow cats, 63% allow puppies, and a large majority, 91%, allow adult dogs to participate in short-term foster care.
  • 78% reported to encourage short-term foster care of any duration; However, only 10% of those surveyed reportedly offered one-night-only foster care; 9% offered two-night; 11% offered three-night; and 23% offered four to seven-night stays as an encouraged option.
  • Organizations most commonly indicated that if their foster caregivers were given the choice, the most popular length of care chosen would be four to seven nights (49%); only 5% of organizations that one night of foster care would be most appealing to foster caregivers; 16% thought two nights would be preferred.
  • Organizations reported that their short-term foster program(s) are most frequently utilized on Saturday (63%), Sunday (35%) or Friday (29%).
  • When respondents were asked to estimate what percentage of potential adopters decided to adopt their short-term foster pet, the most common response was 76%-100% (33% of respondents), followed by the response of 51-75% (24% of respondents). Thirteen percent reported to not have a short-term foster program for potential adopters.
  • When asked to estimate what percentage of short-term foster caregivers become longer-term foster caregivers (if they were new to your organization and not already longer term foster caregivers), the most common response was 26%-50% (33% of respondents), followed by the response of 0-25% (23% of respondents).
  • 28% felt their short-term foster program was either extremely or very effective in recruiting and retaining new foster caregivers; 54% said somewhat or slightly effective.

Conclusions

A high majority or organizations represented in this survey, 87%, reported to already allow people to take a pet home for foster care for a short period of time (e.g., less than one week). To what extent short-term foster care is proactively encouraged and promoted is ambiguous. From those surveyed, short-term foster care was perhaps perceived as having a large effect on adoption, and a lesser, but still positive effect on recruitment and retainment of foster caregivers. Further study of the utilization and extent of short-term foster care programs in high-intake, municipally-contracted shelters is warranted, with the inclusion of foster field trip programs, which are even shorter term than a 1-night foster care sleepover.

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