Creating a foster guide might seem like an easy thing.  But making it effective for our foster families is something that takes a little bit of planning.  Here’s our perspective on the elements to put in your guide, some good examples of a traditional guide for you to consider, and then our thoughts on how to take it to the next level.

Elements in a typical foster manual:

  • Animal care and health – This should come as no surprise but having some general information on health and wellness in your guide is basic table stakes when it comes to a foster manual.  Particularly things that should cause your foster to reach out and ask for your help.  Common conditions to look for, and animal health 101 items are generally included in these sections.  Check out our examples below from the Seattle Humane Society for great content here.

  • Behavior and training – Next generally comes the behavior and training section.  This is generally where you can highlight common problems and what your requested or even required solution or approach is for your fostered animal.  When should they seek your help?  When should they get additional training (particularly in dogs)?   What are the best practices  for socialization and preventative actions for common behavior problems.  There are a variety of animal behavior and training links on the web and all sorts of new pet owner guidance for those that have never owned a dog or cat before.  Again the Seattle Humane Society examples are good starting points for these types of common items to include.  

  • Promotion & advocacy – Do you have expectations or ideas on how to promote the fostered animal?  What are you looking for the foster family to do to help your organization find the animal a forever home?  In this section you can highlight requirements, expectations and best practices for how the foster family can work on promoting your foster animal to the general public.  This is a good place to explain the safety net of services that your team can provide and how to go about doing things that may be second nature to you (like social media) but may be foreign to someone that hasn’t had to advocate for an animal before.  Here’s a few items to think about:

    • Social Media – While promoting animals on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may be easy for you and your team, consider whether you want your foster homes learning as they go or if you have a pre-established process and format that you want them to use.  Should they post daily, weekly and about what are they posting?  Giving your foster families some tips, tricks and best practices can help them get going.

    • Photography – Explaining to your foster families how and when you want them to send photographs is important to the lines of communication.  Do you have a process whereby the foster families’ photos of the animal are used to update your website or PetFinder profile for the fostered animal?  Do you need/want updated photos from time to time?  What about videos?  Explaining what you’re looking for will help your fosters be prepared and to send in the content you need.  

    • What NOT to do – Sometimes we get so caught up with what TO do that we do not highlight things that we DO NOT want the foster to do.  Do you want your fosters posting your animals to Craigslist for example?  Often people will have the best intentions but won’t have the experience in why their intention is not necesarily a good idea.  Clearly outlining for your fosters what you do not want them to do will help you in the long run.

  • Adoption process – Outlining the foster’s role in the adoption process is another section commonly included in the manual.  After all, they are the current caretaker for the animal and whether you need them to bring an animal to an adoption event,  home visit or to forward applications that they get, specifying how you want them to act is important.  Many organizations will use vests or colorful kerchifs to garner attention to an animal needing a home.  But what should your foster do with potential interested parties?  Give them an application?  Direct them to a website?  Specify for your fosters what role they play in the process and how to handle potential situations throughout the process.

Examples from the Seattle Humane Society:

  • Extensive Foster Cat Manual – This is a 37 page guide that covers all of the details in all of the sections we highlighted above.  It’s like an encyclopedia though instead of a cliff notes guide.

  • Extensive Foster Dog Manual – Similar to the Cat manual, the Foster Dog Manual is 39 pages and covers all of the areas in detail.  

  • Simplified Foster Cat Manual – This word document is 11 pages but serves as a simplified version and breakdown of the more extensive manual above.  It covers the key points but is not as comprehensive.

  • Simplified Foster Dog Manual – The dog version is 9 pages and again covers the major highlights but does not go into extensive detail in every section.  

Best Practices & Considerations:

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s challenge your thinking and help you create a more captivating approach to providing resources to your foster families.  Imagine you are signing up for YOUR foster program to help give an animal a temporary home.  First you do an application, then you attend orientation and then you are handed a 37 page manual to read.  They tell you to show up at adoption events and to send in some photos of your foster animal from time to time.  This is the traditional approach and while it does work, here are some ideas to stir up your thinking and have your foster program be more engaging, supportive and effective.  After all the goal is to get the animals adopted out to the right match as quickly as possible so that foster can be re-purposed with a new animal.  

  • Photography – Not everyone is a great photographer but a photograph can make all of the difference between having the pet adopted and remaining in the shelter or foster for an extended period of time.  But rather than trying to train your fosters on how to take better pictures, why not try a different approach.  On websites like and you can search for and find professional pet photographers who are donating their time and expertise to photographing shelter animals.  These same people can usually be engaged pro bono to shoot animals in foster homes as long as the photos are going towards getting the animal adopted.  Generally the photographer may want to put a watermark on the photos to market their services but you’re getting free, professional photos from an experienced photographer so a little watermark should be the least of your worries.  And if you really want to think bigger ask the photographer to create a feature section on THEIR website for fostered animals.  Many shelters have done this with local TV stations but considering other avenues like a pet photographer website isn’t always top of mind.

  • Video – All of the social media and other avenues of promotion are going video.  Why?  Because it’s far more engaging than a static picture.  You can see personality, hear sound and get more interaction from a video than from a picture.  Yet most animal shelters and animal rescues post static pictures of their animals and rarely have videos showing the true personality of their animal.  Why not get your fosters to help you out here?  They can record fun videos of the animal in their temporary housing and interacting with the family.  By posting these to YouTube you can easily link to the video and display it on your website or in your social media.  This allows potential adopters to really get to know an animal more than in a photo.

  • Video Part 2 – Speaking of video, why not relegate the 37 page foster guide to the bookshelf with the other encyclopedias?  Creating a welcome to fostering video for your foster families help you to engage them, fill them with excitement and passion and impart knowledge to them in a fun way.  They’re more likely to remember you telling them about signs and signals to watch for in animal health changes than if they read it from a static guide.  You could even start a video series of short, 2 min topics to send out to your foster families every few weeks.  Something that gives you an excuse to remain engaged with them.

  • Contests – Human beings by nature are competitive creatures.  We like to measure ourself against our family, friends and peers.  So why not start a foster family peer group so your foster families can compete against each other for fabulous prizes and recognition?  The idea being that your foster families earn points for various activities they do.  Posting a video to Facebook?  100 points.  Updating the animal’s Instagram, 75 points.  Attending an adoption event, 200 points.  You can be creative with holidays and other time based things as well.  Let your imagination go wild.  Your foster families will love the chance to compete and engage and you’ll be raising more awareness to the animals and your organization at the same time.