The Goal is Goodbye: Defining Success When You Foster a Shelter Pet


Foster care is a crucial part of the animal rescue world. Lexington Humane Society (LHS) relies on a network of faithful foster parents to help provide care for animals with a variety of different needs. When you become a foster parent, you make a lasting impact, helping LHS care for and find forever homes for some of the most vulnerable animals in our care each year. Each foster parent and animal are unique in their needs, and each journey in foster care tells a different story. Most of these stories conclude with a foster parent saying goodbye, and the animal going on to be adopted by someone else. The goals of fostering are to ultimately provide foster pets with what they need in order to be successful in a new forever home.  There are so many ways that foster parents provide help to these animals, and many different definitions of success.  

Physical Strength and Readiness:

Some animals in need of foster care at LHS are too young for adoption and may stay with a foster family until they are old enough to return to the Adoption Center.  They may need to gain independence or be weaned from mother’s milk or formula before they can be adopted. 

Some animals may be recovering from a Second Chances Program surgical procedure and may require some extra rest, medication administration, or monitoring.  These animals benefit from the special care of their foster parents and may reach full physical healing more quickly than they may in an environment where they have less access to individualized care. 

Defining Success: A foster parent dedicates their time with the goal of physically rehabilitating an animal that is not yet fit to be placed in a permanent home. With the help, guidance, and resources that LHS provides, fosters nurture the animal, and when they gain enough physical strength, they often return to LHS to be available to potential adopters. 

Unconditional Love

Other animals at LHS may be long-term shelter residents or senior dogs and cats that simply need a break from the stressful Adoption Center environment for a while. They can greatly benefit from the warmth, comfort, and unconditional love of a foster parent while they wait to be adopted by their forever family. Fosters sometimes work with these kinds of animals on training that can set them up for success in their future new homes. Other animals that may have suffered abuse or neglect need extra socialization and practice building their trust in people to become confident family pets. In these cases, foster families provide an invaluable resource to help facilitate healthy growth and adoptability in these Adoption Center residents. 

Defining Success: Long-term residents, senior pets, and animals with less confidence and social skills are placed with a foster parent and doted upon for a temporary period to rebuild their readiness for future forever homes. Foster parents who take in these kinds of animals can feel confident that the work they are doing is important and they are setting these animals up for a lifetime of success by teaching them what it means to receive unconditional love. 

Providing Valuable Information 

Those who foster an animal can provide lots of useful information that LHS may not otherwise know. They can more readily learn about an animal’s personality and how they interact with other dogs, cats, or children. They can offer insight into the way the animal behaves in a house, apartment, vehicle, or yard. They learn how the animal responds around food, with training, and can document quirks that make that animal unique. They can gather enough information to paint a broad picture on what the animal will need to thrive, and they can help form a detailed profile for the animal that will help with placing the pet in the most fitting home! In addition to this, foster parents are great at taking candid pictures of their animals in a relaxed or happy state.  All of these things work together to help facilitate the animal being adopted by their perfect match.    

Defining Success: Foster parents take in an animal and aim to learn as much as they can. They document this information and help advise LHS on what kind of home they will need or see the most benefit from. This equips LHS with the most accurate information that we will give to future adopters, which can help ensure that adoption is a positive experience for both the pet and their new parent. 

Finding and Screening Potential Adopters

Lexington Humane Society encourages foster parents to network their foster animals in the hopes of finding the perfect forever home without the animal having to return to the shelter. Foster parents provide an extremely valuable perspective about their foster pets and can help to boost that animal’s exposure while in their care. Oftentimes, the perfect future home may be found through a foster parent’s own family and friends, which can allow them to remain in touch with the animal they so lovingly cared for. Personally helping a foster dog or cat find a new home can be a very special and individualized experience for everyone involved!

Defining Success: Foster parents work to socialize and introduce their animals to a variety of people and potential adopters when appropriate. If a possible match is interested, this can be a good time to familiarize the animal and potential new pet parent. It can be an excellent way for that pet to build bonds with its potential new family members. Foster parents can provide valuable insight for the potential adopter, and when that animal is ready to be officially adopted through LHS and go to that new home, the foster parent is often able to see and be a part of the celebration, watching that new pet grow into their new home, knowing that they played the biggest part in a successful happy ending!

The Goal is Goodbye

It happens every day that an animal in need goes into a foster home and it turns into their forever home! When this happens, we call it a “foster failure.” Of course, this isn’t a true failure at all! We LOVE to see pets find their forever families through our foster program. When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. Yes, you can adopt your foster pet if they are a good fit!

However, when you foster an animal, it’s usually a temporary situation, with the goal of saying goodbye. Sometimes this can prove to be difficult, because foster parents can and do become attached to those they have had in their care, and family and friends may not always understand a foster parent’s decision not to adopt. This is okay! 

It is important for foster families and their supportive circles to recognize the important work they are doing by giving the pet in their care the chance to live in their home temporarily. It may be hard to give them back or find them a new home, but when you open your life to an animal that needs to be fostered, you are helping to save that pet’s life. When that pet moves on, you have the opportunity to help another! By allowing a foster pet to be adopted into their new forever home, you have a part in making someone else’s family complete. You have made that happy ending possible, and while closing that chapter can be bittersweet, the joy and comfort you have provided to the pet and its new family can be deeply rewarding. 

When asked for advice, this is what a few LHS foster parents have said when it comes to parting with an animal at the end of their foster journey: 

You just have to know that you helped the animal so much by preparing them for a full life of love in a new wonderful home.” -Lori Tincher

“Fostering isn’t an obligation to adopt, but you can love fully and let go for someone else to love, making room for another love to come into your life. Or you can love them forever. The hardest part of this decision is telling yourself it’s a hard decision. You will know and whatever you decide, you’re right!” -Timothy Anderson-Williams

“I always have to remind myself, of course, they are going to look happy in our homes. We are foster parents, we know we have warm loving homes to offer. That doesn’t mean another home can’t also provide love and spoil them rotten. No one should ever make you feel guilty or tell you to keep your foster pet because they “look so happy with you”. That means you are doing a great job as a foster parent and showing them what life has in store for their future.” -Casey Woods

“Every time a foster is adopted, you save 2 – the one who just found a permanent home and then the one you foster next.” -Karen Pulliam

A great foster parent can save many lives by caring for and rehabilitating animals who might not as readily find homes without this kind of help. LHS is grateful to all of its wonderful foster care parents who do such vital work caring for so many animals, and writing such successful stories for all of the pets that go to new homes, happy, healthy, and ready for their new lives.   

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent for Lexington Humane Society, visit for more information or click here to complete the foster care application online!

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