January 17, 2018 by Dr. Steven Rogelberg

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Have you ever considered empowering teams of volunteers to work with foster caregivers to help foster pets find homes? Dr. Steven Rogelberg and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are working with Maddie's Fund to implement foster teams at animal shelters and rescue groups in the U.S.

What are foster teams?

Foster teams are groups of volunteers who work together to help foster dogs and cats find homes. A team might be a group of friends or a group of strangers. A team might include a primary foster caregiver, a backup foster caregiver, a pet transporter who takes the pet to vet visits, a photographer, a social media volunteer, etc. Teams work together to coordinate and implement all aspects of the care, marketing and adoption of foster pets. Foster teams make fostering easier, transforming the experience from a solo journey to a group effort.

A shelter might have teams that are specially trained to help certain types of pets such as ringworm cats or excitable dogs. Be creative and encourage competition - think about rewarding foster teams with the most creative social media posts or the most pets adopted.

What are the benefits of foster teams?

For volunteers, foster teams make foster programs easier to implement and manage because the workload is divided. The teams are versatile; there are multiple job roles, which can be performed by one person (the standard foster caregiving model) or several different people. Volunteers are empowered to select jobs based on skill and interest; they will spend more time doing tasks that interest them and less time doing the tasks that don't interest them. This model will also ensure uniformed training for all tasks associated with fostering in your program.

For shelters and rescues, although there may extra work to implement teams initially, it is worth the time and effort. After training is completed, foster teams manage themselves from when the pet leaves the shelter to adoption and follow-up. The autonomy of a foster team will leave your organization with more time for other projects and increase the number of animals who can be placed in foster homes.

Why foster teams?

A foster caregiver initially came to us with this idea when she realized that she loved providing foster care, but wasn't very good at taking pictures or posting her foster dog on social media. She suggested that a team of people would help her to find homes for her foster pets more quickly and efficiently.

The shelter environment can be a stressful place for pets. These same stressed pets often thrive in a foster home environment. However, foster caregivers are not always easy to recruit and keep. Foster teams are a viable solution to this problem. If we divide the work it takes to find a home for a foster pet-we can engage more people and make the work easier. Foster teams can be utilized by rescues and shelters who already have foster programs and for those who don't.

Why foster teams will help

Research suggests that the foster team concept is likely to be successful. Teams provide individual team members with more flexibility that they would have when working alone and often result in team members viewing their work in a more positive light. In addition, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that the foster team concept is attractive to some potential foster caregivers, especially lapsed or former foster caregivers. Read more about the project here.

Foster teams might be a great way to bring more of your community into your organization and involve them in your lifesaving efforts.