Our guide to fostering

Section 1: Introduction

Thank you so much for your interest in fostering pets for STAR. By opening your home to foster pets, you’re not only helping to save lives, you’re providing the individual attention and love these dogs desperately need and opening places, so we can help other animals in need.

Our dog foster program is designed to help adult dogs from shelters get a second chance at finding a home — a chance they may not have received at a shelter. Many of the dogs who need foster homes require extra care and attention, which shelters often don’t have the staff or resources to provide. But in a loving foster home, every dog can get the individual attention he or she needs to find a forever family.

Foster homes are asked to provide care for the dogs, as well as transportation to and from veterinary appointments as needed. Care for foster dogs includes feeding according to size and needs, exercise according to energy levels, and lots of play time and positive socialisation.

Although fostering is a lot of work, it is a very rewarding experience. By participating in this program, you are saving lives and helping many different types of dogs find the families they’ve been longing for. Through fostering, we can work together to Save Them All.

Section 2: FAQs

Where do the foster dogs come from?

The dogs who need foster care come to us from two different situations: 1. Returned adoptions – At STAR, we make a lifetime commitment to every animal we rescue. This means that if, for any reason, an adopter can no longer keep a pet he or she adopted from us, we require that the pet comes back to STAR. 2. Where adoptions fall through at the last minute. Sometimes things just don’t work out according to plan, so sometimes we have a dog that is already travelling to the UK but needs a temporary home while we find them new adopters.

What do foster families need to provide?

Foster families need to provide:

•        A healthy and safe environment for their foster dogs

•        Transportation to and from all vet appointments as needed

•        Socialization and cuddle time to help teach dogs positive family and pet relationships

•        Lots of exercise and positive stimulation to help them develop into great dogs

How much time do I need to spend with a foster dog?

As much time as you can. With that said, the amount of time will vary depending on the energy level and needs of the dog you are fostering. It is ideal to spend around two hours a day exercising and playing with your foster dog to ensure that he or she receives adequate socialization and stimulation.

Can I foster dogs even if I have a full-time job?
Yes. The foster application is designed as a survey to help the foster coordinator match you with the best animal for your needs and your current schedule. If you have a full-time job, the foster coordinator will match you with a dog who may be OK alone during the workday. You would then just need to provide ample exercise before or after you go to work.

How long will the dog need to be in foster care?
Ideally, foster dogs stay in their assigned foster homes until they get adopted. We do not have a boarding location in the UK to house animals overnight, so these dogs rely on foster homes as their home between homes.

Will I need to give medicine to my foster dog?
Many of the dogs that we have in our foster program are rescued from shelters and have been exposed to shelter illnesses, including leishmania. While we do our best to ensure that we are aware of all the conditions that a foster dog may have prior to going home, many illnesses have incubation periods, meaning symptoms can arise after you take a dog home. While some dogs do not require any medicine, others may. If your foster dog needs medications, we can show you how to administer them before you take the animal home.

Can I let my foster dog play with my personal pets?

There are a few guidelines that we ask foster families to adhere to regarding their personal pets. While foster dogs playing with other pets is often fine, we advise that you consult with your veterinarian before fostering to ensure that all your personal pets are healthy and up-to-date on all vaccines. Dogs in shelters are very susceptible to illness and can carry or catch different diseases. If, for any reason, your personal pet becomes ill while you are fostering a STAR pet, we cannot provide medical care for your personal pet.

What if I want to adopt my foster dog?

If you want to adopt a foster dog, you will need to complete an adoption application and follow the full adoption process, including paying an adoption fee. If you do decide to adopt your foster dog, please contact the foster coordinator right away because once the dog is up for adoption, we cannot hold him/her for anyone, including the foster parent.

Who will take care of my foster dog if I need to go out of town?

If you have travel plans while you are fostering a dog for STAR, you will need to contact the foster coordinator to find a boarding facility to house your foster dog until you return. Please try to provide at least two week’s notice to ensure that we can find a boarding facility for your dog. If your trip is over a holiday, please provide a minimum of three weeks’ notice. If adequate notice is not given, you may be asked to provide payment for your foster dog’s boarding.

You cannot leave your foster dog with an unauthorized person or pet sitter. We have specific criteria for foster parents, and pet sitters have not undergone that vetting process or signed the release waivers for the foster program.

What if my foster dog bites me?
If any of your foster pets bite you and break skin, causing you to bleed, you need to report the bite to the foster coordinator within 24 hours of when the bite occurred. The law requires that we report all bites. The teeth of the animal, not the nails, must have broken the skin. If you are unsure, then please report the bite anyway.

What if my foster dog is not working out?
You are not required to continue to foster a dog if you feel it’s not working out. However, we may not have an immediate alternate foster home for the dog. As mentioned above, we don’t have our own overnight boarding facility, so we rely on boarding partners and other foster carers. We will work on moving your foster dog out as soon as possible but ask for your understanding and patience. Please call the foster coordinator if this situation arises.

Section 2: Preparing for your foster dog

When you take your foster dog home, he may be frightened or unsure about what’s happening, so it’s important not to overwhelm him. Prepare a special area for the foster dog to help ease his adjustment into a new home environment. Sometimes it is better to confine the foster dog to a small room or area at first, to let him adjust before giving him free rein in your home. This area should be large enough for an appropriately sized crate for the dog and should allow the dog access to his food and water dishes and toys.

We request that all foster dogs be housed indoors only. A garage, backyard or outdoor run is not a suitable accommodation for a foster dog.

During the first couple of weeks, minimise the people and pet introductions to your foster dog, so that she is only meeting immediate family and your personal pets. If you have other pets at home, it is especially important to give your foster dog a space of her own where she can stay while getting used to all the new sounds and smells. Don’t leave your foster dog unattended in your home with your personal pets until you are comfortable that all the animals can interact safely.

Supplies you’ll need

We greatly appreciate any help that you can provide in supplying items for your foster dog. Here’s what you’ll need to help your foster dog make a smooth transition to living in your home:

Dog-proofing your home

Foster dogs come from a shelter environment, and even if they have previously lived in a home, we don’t always know how they will react in a new home. So, before bringing home a new foster dog, you’ll want to survey the area where you are going to keep your foster dog. Remove anything that would be unsafe or undesirable for the dog to chew on, and latch securely any cupboards and doors that the foster dog could get into. People food and chemicals can be very harmful if consumed by dogs, so please store them in a place that the foster dog cannot access.

Never underestimate your foster dog’s abilities. Here are some additional tips for dog-proofing your home:

Section 3: Bringing home your foster dog

Taking care of a foster dog requires a commitment from you to make sure the dog is happy and healthy. Thank you so much for opening your heart and your home to these dogs who desperately need your help. Without you, we could not save as many as we do.

Choosing a foster dog

The foster coordinator will work with you to select a foster dog who meets your specific requirements. We will always do our best to match you with a dog who fits with your lifestyle and schedule.
Together, you and the foster coordinator will decide if the dog is the right fit for you. Be honest: If you aren’t comfortable with anything about the animal you may be fostering, please tell the foster coordinator before you take the animal home.
Please note: Once the animal is placed in a foster home from a shelter, the dog cannot be returned to the shelter if the person fostering the dog decides it’s not working out. STAR does not have a place to house dogs overnight. If you feel you can no longer foster a dog, a new foster home must be found.

Dog introductions

If you have personal pets who are dogs, you’ll want to introduce them to your foster dog one at a time and supervise their interactions at first. It’s a good idea to introduce them outside in a large garden or on a walk, keeping all the dogs on lead and allowing them enough space to get adjusted to one another. If you can, it works best to schedule a time for your personal dogs to meet the foster dog before you take the foster dog home and we’ll accommodate that wherever possible.

In addition, make sure that high-value items (food, chew toys, plush toys, Kongs, or anything else that your dog holds in high regard) are put away whenever the dogs are interacting. You don’t want to allow the possibility of a fight. Those high-value items are best placed in the dogs’ personal areas. Finally, never feed your dogs in the same room as the foster dog; always separate them at feeding time.

Cat introductions

We can’t ensure that a foster dog has been “cat-tested,” so if you have personal pets who are cats, you’ll need to make the introduction to the foster dog carefully and safely. Start by keeping them separated at first. You can either keep your cats in a separate room (equipped with food, water, litter boxes and beds) or confine your foster dog to a room. Over a one- to two-week period, let the dog and cats smell each other through the door, but don’t allow them contact with one another. Exchanging blankets or towels between the dog’s area and the cats’ area will help them get used to each other’s smells.  You can then move to feeding on either side of the closed door so the animals associate the smell of the other with being fed.

After a week or two, do the face-to-face introduction. Keeping your foster dog on lead, allow your cat out in the same area. (If you have more than one cat, introduce one cat at a time.) Do not allow the foster dog to charge or run directly up to the cat. Try to distract the dog as best you can so that the cat has the chance to approach without fear. Watch the body language of each animal closely and don’t continue the interaction if either pet becomes over-stimulated or aggressive. The idea is to keep the interactions positive, safe and controlled.  Finally, never leave your foster dog unsupervised with any cats in your home.

Children and dogs

Since we don’t always know a foster dog’s history or tolerance level for different types of people and activities, please teach your children how to act responsibly and respectfully around your foster dog. We will do our best to place you with an appropriate animal for your home situation, but you should still supervise all interactions between children and your foster dog. Key things to remind your children:

Do not allow young children to walk the foster dog because they may not be strong enough or experienced enough to handle encounters with other dogs or cats who cross their path.

Section 4: Daily care

All foster dogs should initially be fed a diet of dry dog food, unless otherwise specified by the foster coordinator and then suitable wet food introduced. Feed your foster dog twice daily; the amount will be based on the age and weight of your foster dog. Make sure the dog always has access to fresh, clean water.

You can give your foster dog treats of any kind (unless he/she has known allergies, of course); giving treats helps you and your foster dog to bond with each other. Most dogs like to chew on things, so try Greenies, antlers, Nylabones or Dentabones. Keep in mind, though, that not all dogs like to share, so only give these treats when your foster dog is confined to his/her own area.

Daily routine
When you first take your foster dog home, take care not to overwhelm her with too many new experiences all at once. Sometimes, too much stimulation can cause a dog to behave unexpectedly toward a person or animal, which is why it’s a good idea to keep introductions to a minimum during the first couple of weeks after you bring your foster dog home. It’s also important to establish a daily routine of regularly scheduled feedings, potty breaks and walk times. Dogs take comfort in having a routine they can count on.

Also, daily, be aware of your foster dog’s appetite and energy level. If she’s not eating well or seems listless, something may be wrong medically. You might want to record your observations to make it easier to notice any health issues.


It’s possible that your foster dog will not be perfectly house-trained when you take him or her home. Many of the dogs in the foster program have lived in a shelter for a while, often with minimal walks or chances to relieve themselves outside. At the very least, be prepared for an adjustment period until your foster dog gets used to your schedule.

Because a dog has a better chance of being adopted if she is house-trained, please help your foster dog to perfect this skill. Take your foster dog outside to do her business multiple times per day (3-6 times daily, depending on age). Initially, you may need to take her out more frequently to remind her where the door to the outside is and to reassure her that you will take her out for toilet breaks. Most dogs will give cues — such as standing near the door or sniffing the ground and walking in small circles — to indicate that they need to go out. You may need to keep the dog in a crate when you are not available to supervise her indoors.

If your foster dog has an accident inside the house, don’t discipline or punish her. It will only teach her to fear and mistrust you. Clean up all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner. Nature’s Miracle and Simple Solution are examples of two products containing natural enzymes that tackle tough stains and odours and remove them permanently but there are many on the market.

Crate training

Crate training, done in a positive way, can be an effective component of house-training. A crate can be a safe place for your foster dog to have “down time” and can also limit his access to the entire house until he knows the rules. A crate should never be used as a form of punishment and a dog should never be left in a crate for an extended period.

You can prevent problems with crate training by setting your foster dog up for success. He should only associate good things with the crate, so start by putting treats and/or toys in the crate and encouraging him to go in. Some dogs warm up to the crate slowly. If he is afraid to go in, place a treat in the crate as far as he is willing to go. After he takes the treat, place another treat, a little farther back in the crate. Keep going until he is eating treats at the very back, then feed him his next meal in the crate with the door open, so that he can walk in and out at will.

Crate training a fearful dog can take days, so be patient and encouraging. If a crate is properly introduced and used, your foster dog will happily enter and settle down.

A clean and well-groomed dog has a better chance of getting adopted, so bathe your foster dog as needed and brush him regularly if he has longer hair or requires more frequent grooming. Contact the foster coordinator if you feel that your foster dog needs to see a professional groomer. If you are comfortable with it, you can trim his nails but please be careful because you can cause pain and bleeding if you trim the nails too short.

Mental stimulation and exercise

Depending on your foster dog’s age and energy level, he or she should get at least two 30-minute play sessions or walks with you per day. Try a variety of toys (balls, squeaky toys, rope toys, etc.) to see which ones your foster dog prefers. Remember to discourage the dog from playing with your hands, since mouthing won’t be a desirable behaviour to potential adopters.

You can also offer your foster dog a food-dispensing toy for mental stimulation. You hide treats in the toy and the dog must figure out how to get the treats out. Try a TreakStick or Kong product, available online and at pet supply stores.

Safety requirements

Foster dogs must live indoors, not outside. Please do not leave your foster dog outside unsupervised, even if you have a fenced garden. We ask that you always supervise your foster dog when he is outside to ensure that he doesn’t escape or have any negative interactions with other people or animals. Your foster dog is only allowed to be off-lead in an enclosed backyard or somewhere else that is completely fenced in.
When walking or hiking with your foster dog, please always keep her on the lead. This means that your foster dog is not allowed to go to off-lead dog parks or other off-lead dog areas. We do not know how your foster dog will act in these situations, or how other dogs will react to them, and we need to ensure that all animals are always safe. In addition, we don’t know if the other dogs they encounter are vaccinated appropriately or carry diseases, so it is best if your foster dog does not meet any unknown dogs. Having recently come from a shelter setting, a foster dog’s health can be vulnerable.

Also, your foster dog cannot ride in the bed of an open pickup truck. When you’re transporting foster dogs, please keep them inside the vehicle. It is a legal requirement in the UK for dogs to be secured when riding on the back seat. A doggie seat belt, that clips onto existing rear seat belts, can be bought at any pet shop.

Section 5: Helping your foster dog get adopted

When is my foster dog ready to be adopted?

All animals up for adoption need to be spayed or neutered and deemed healthy enough to go to a home by a veterinarian. When you pick up your foster dog, the foster coordinator will go over the medical records for the dog and determine what medical appointments the foster dog needs.

How can I help my foster dog find a great home?
As you get to know your foster dog, we ask that you stay in constant contact with the foster coordinator so that he/she can update the foster animal’s biography online to reflect accurate information about the dog’s preferences and quirks. Some people write their own biography for their foster dogs, which we encourage, though they may be edited. We also welcome any quality photos that you take of your foster dog in your home; we can use the photos to create a kennel card and accompany the online biography. Please send the info about your foster dog and photos to your foster coordinator.

What if I know someone who’s interested in adopting my foster dog?

If someone you know is interested in adopting the dog, please contact the foster coordinator and give her the details. Also, tell the prospective adopter to start the adoption process (filling out an adoption application) as soon as possible. Once the dog is up for adoption, we cannot hold him/her for anyone, but we do want to accommodate referrals from foster parents if we can.

Will it be hard to say goodbye to my foster dog?

Saying goodbye can be the most difficult part of fostering, but keep in mind that many more dogs in shelters need wonderful foster homes like yours. Remember, you are playing a crucial role in helping to save them all.

Section 6: Medical care & emergencies

When you pick up your foster dog, you will be advised of any known medical conditions to treat. If you are fostering a dog who is on medications, please make sure that he/she gets all prescribed doses. Do not end medication early for any reason. If your foster dog has not responded to prescribed medications after five days (or in the time instructed by a veterinarian), please contact the foster coordinator.

Veterinary care

STAR provides all medical care for our foster animals. Because we are ultimately responsible for your foster dog’s well-being, a STAR Trustee must authorise any and all treatment for foster dogs. If your foster dog needs to go to the vet, please notify the foster coordinator by email or phone.

Remember, foster parents will be responsible for payment of any medical care that is clearly non-essential.

Criteria for emergencies

What constitutes a medical emergency in a dog? A good rule of thumb is any situation in which you would call 999 for a person. Here are some specific symptoms that could indicate an emergency

Section 7: Behaviour support

One of your goals as a foster parent is to help prepare your foster dog for living successfully in a home. So, we ask that you help your foster dog to develop good habits and skills using positive reinforcement training, which builds a bond of trust between you and your foster pet. The basic idea is to reward desirable behaviours and ignore unwanted behaviours.

You must not punish a dog for a behaviour that you find undesirable because punishment is ineffective at eliminating the behaviour. If the dog is doing something undesirable, distract him or her before the behaviours occurs. It is also important for every human in the foster home to stick to the rules established for your foster dogs, which will help them to learn faster.

When interacting with your foster dog, refrain from wrestling or engaging in play that encourages the dog to be mouthy and “play bite” on your body. Also, try to refrain from inviting dogs up on the couch or bed. Not all adopters find this habit acceptable.
Some foster dogs will have behavioural issues, which we are aware of at the time of their rescue. Some of these behaviours’ challenges are separation anxiety, destruction of property, fear issues or aggression toward other animals. We will only place dogs with behavioural issues with a person who feels comfortable working with the dog on his/her issues. We will provide that person with all the necessary information so that proper care and training can be given to the foster dog.

If you feel unable to manage any behaviours that your foster dog is exhibiting, please contact the foster coordinator during business hours to discuss the issue. We will guide you and help in every way that we can. If the behaviours are extreme enough to warrant use of a trainer, we will provide one for you. Please understand that we have limited resources, so for basic training and minor behaviours problems, we will personally work with the dog.

Thank you so much for opening up your heart and your home to foster pets.

Together, we can Save Them All.