February 28, 2019

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

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

Project Summary

Maddie's Fund® conducted an online survey to gain national baseline data regarding the utilization, structure and policies of cat and dog foster care programs. Foster programs appear to be fairly common practice in US shelter and rescues. However, most foster programs are relatively small with a small number of pets in foster care and a small number of active foster caregivers. The survey discovered a correlation between practices of a foster-centric shelter and having more foster caregivers. The majority of organizations who responded to this survey loved the foster-centric model of animal care, although there was considerably less interest in implementing it.


To explore the use, structure and policies of cat and dog foster care programs in U.S. based animal shelters and rescues; and to collect feedback about the foster-centric model of animal sheltering.


The survey was distributed to a convenience sample, via Maddie's Fund® email list, Adopt-a-Pet newsletter and Best Friends network partners. One representative was allowed per organization. After duplicate responses were removed, 2,159 organizations responded to the survey. The survey was designed to gather information from as many shelter and rescue organizations as possible, regardless of having a foster program or physical shelter.



  • Of 144 organizations without a foster program, the top three reasons for not having foster care were: difficulty in finding foster homes (52%), lack of staff (44%), and concerns about liability (33%).

The following results were based on data from organizations with a physical facility (n=959):

  • During summer months, when presumably a maximum number of pets would be placed in foster care, organizations in this study with physical shelters reportedly had, on average, 21 (Median 7) dogs/puppies in foster care and 59 (Median 25) cats/kittens in foster care.
  • Only 16% of organizations indicated that all of their dogs were available for fostering and only 13% indicated that all cats in their care were available for fostering.
  • 80% (575) of organizations reported having at least one foster coordinator, whether the person was staff or volunteer, full or part time. Among them 41% (237) reported having a full-time paid foster coordinator.
  • Moreover, 59% of the organizations reported that only a few staff members could place an animal into a foster care. Twenty-one percent reported that only 1 person was allowed.


  • See results in Sheltering Organization Policies Regarding Foster Caregivers

Foster-Centric Model

  • Organizations with foster programs (n=976) rated the idea of the foster centric-model very high on a 5-point Likert scale (90% "Love it" or "Somewhat like it"). However, organizations without physical shelters rated the idea significantly higher than organizations with physical shelters.
  • Organizations with physical shelters (n=505) were asked if they would be willing to implement the foster-centric model at their shelter if given the resources to make it possible. The answers were slightly lower than on the question above for this strata (72% "Very interested" or "Somewhat interested").


The majority of foster programs placed a relatively small number of pets in foster care and had a relatively small number of active foster caregivers. The vast majority of respondents love the foster-centric model; however, there's considerably less interest in actually implementing the model at their respective organizations. Based on the data, foster programs exist at most organizations, and have foster programs in times of higher intake, but few see it as a core component of their organizational culture. Future research should focus on how to help shelters to utilize their resources efficiently to place as much animals to foster care as possible.