A black puppy is roaming your neighborhood. He is a Formosan, a local breed, thrown out onto the streets because he is no longer wanted. He is so malnourished that you can count his ribs. There is no water for him to drink and you often see your neighbors swat him away with a broom. You want to scoop him in your arms and nurse him back to health but one question holds you back: “Am I prepared to commit to the care of this puppy?”
This is a story my friends and fellow volunteers hear and experience all too often. With so many street/shelter animals in Taiwan, animal welfare groups such as Taichung PAWS and TUAPA are constantly struggling to find homes for these furry outcasts. Eventually, we locate permanent homes in Taiwan or abroad, but what happens before we find their “Forever families”?
I have interviewed a number of people – founders of animal groups like Taichung PAWS, and one woman in Canada who saves dogs from being tortured and eaten in South Korea. I have also interviewed people who have been foster parents here in Taiwan.
Let me start by answering the simplest question: What is a foster family?
A foster family is a caring temporary home for the animal until she finds her forever family. They provide the basic needs – shelter, food, water, affection and exercise – to prepare that pet for her future family. Taking an animal off the streets or out of the shelter is definitely not as easy as it sounds as these animals need to be properly trained and socialized.
What is expected from a foster family?
The main things are a clean home with plenty of water and food; that the animal is being trained properly – learning to adjust inside the house/apartment; exercise, commitment and compassion. Some of these animals are very troubled or sick and need extra care and/or discipline. These pets also need to learn to socialize with not only other animals but with people.
What do I, as a foster parent, need to pay for?
Each group is different. Some cover only the medical costs while the foster family covers the food and other expenses. Others may cover all the costs, while some lack funds to cover any. If you are interested in fostering then you need to ask the welfare group about their policies. Fostering is a commitment and sometimes that means a little bit of money.
Are there downsides to fostering?
As with everything in life, there are ups and downs – in this case the issue of letting go. People become attached and face the decision of adopting the pet as one of their own or giving up the animal. Also, some pets may be troubled and need extra care or discipline and this can mean more time and money.
Do foster families need to sign any paperwork?
Animal welfare groups will ask foster families to sign contracts stating the policies of the group and the needs of the pet. They also screen potential families to ensure the safety of the pet. There have been many cases where the pets were given to negligent and/or abusive families and had to be taken away only to be re-homed. This is traumatic for everyone, especially the pet, and these situations must be avoided. These contracts and screenings ensure a safe, clean and loving environment for the pet.
How do I become a foster parent?
There are many animal welfare groups in Taiwan – Taichung PAWS and TUAPA are a couple in Taichung. TUAPA has an adoption event at the park on Gong Yi Road every Sunday. You can also go to www.taichungpaws.org or email email@example.com.
If you decide that you want to foster, please ask yourself these questions before making the decision: Do you have the time? Can you afford it? Are you able to let go when it comes time for the pet to join their forever family? Are you able to keep a clean and loving environment? If the pet gets sick or hurt are you able to do what it takes to heal it?
Being a foster parent is a challenge and is not as easy as it sounds, but it is one of the most rewarding lessons in life. You are helping a sentient creature find love and happiness, and everyone deserves that chance!
I would like to extend special thanks to Douglas Jarvie and Caroline Tugwell (founders of Taichung PAWS), Falyn Jarvis, Victoria Tompkins and Jacqueline van de Leygraaf for their input.