Fantastic foster families - saving lives across New Zealand
These special people tend to the sick and injured, in desperate need of a chance to experience life in a real home.
They are selfless and caring, and without them SPCA could not function. They are our wonderful foster parents and they are saving lives across New Zealand.
Opening their heart and home
It’s 2pm on a Friday afternoon and Albie and Anne Shepherd are booked in to visit the vet at the SPCA Auckland Centre with their foster cat. They have had Tintin, a gorgeous white cat, for a few weeks. Tintin was found on the streets with injuries to her ears and tail, and had to undergo surgery at SPCA.
She’s spent time at Albie and Anne’s house recovering in their ‘foster room’ and relishing cuddles from their grandkids. It’s good news from the vet – Tintin has completely recovered from her injuries and can now go on to find her forever home.
Albie and Anne say their fond goodbyes and will pick up another animal in desperate need of TLC. They will, once again, make room in their hearts to help heal an animal’s broken one. Albie and Anne have been volunteering as ‘foster parents’ for almost a decade now. They regularly open their home to dogs, rabbits and, most frequently, cats and kittens.
They began when Albie first started volunteering in the canine area at the Auckland Centre, Anne tells us.
“One day, the foster team were worried because they had lots of cats and kittens looking for a foster home and were short on people who could take them. We instantly knew we had to help.”
They haven’t looked back since, and have had hundreds of animals recover in their home. Some of these animals became ‘foster fails’ – when the foster parent falls in love with the pet and adopts him/her into their home to stay and remain as a permanent part of the family.
“It’s been quite a whirlwind adventure, but one that we are so pleased we started. We are so glad to help animals who need us during their most vulnerable time,” says Anne.
Why fostering is so important
Each year, SPCA helps over 45,000 animals at centres all over New Zealand. Often, they’ve come from turbulent beginnings – found injured, abandoned, or neglected by the very people responsible for caring for them.
They are burdened by the mental or physical trauma of their past and need time to recover. While SPCA centres have dedicated staff and volunteers to care for animals, there is only limited room, and a shelter environment is not a suitable long-term solution. They need a home environment in which to recover. This is where foster families step in.
Animals who spend time with a foster family are not yet ready to be adopted by their forever family, and first need to rebuild their health, mental wellbeing and/or their confidence. SPCA is lucky enough to have over 800 foster parents volunteering around the country, of which Albie and Anne are just two.
Foster families help animals with a range of needs. A litter of stray kittens may need to gain weight over the course of a couple of weeks before they can be desexed. A horse, goat or cow may have been subject to neglect from their previous owner and may need time to grow their confidence and enjoy luscious pastures while SPCA inspectors take their owner to court.
A dog may have only ever experienced life on the streets or being chained in a backyard with no human interaction, so will need to slowly learn how to live in a normal family home. Each foster animal’s story is different, and they may need to spend time with a foster family for a period of time ranging from two weeks to several months. SPCA provides foster families with all the food, supplies and vet care needed.
All animals need some love
The species that has the highest numbers needing help is cats, and during the summer (breeding season), SPCA centres can be full to the brim with cats and kittens needing care.
Andi Cossar in Wellington is a helping hand in times of need. She has been fostering for almost 12 years and takes on ‘medical’ foster cats – those who are very sick and may have contagious diseases.
“I have multiple dedicated rooms in my house where they can have their own space and get the love and care they deserve, regardless of their health issues. I can have up to 12 cats at a time!” Andi tells us.
“These poor cats come to you so sick and weak and worn out. Then after lots of love and care, it is so fulfilling to see them grow into these beautiful little beings full of life and happiness.”
While cat foster parents are more common, many foster parents help other species. When Ingrid Moore relocated to a rural Canterbury home, she realised that she had enough grazing for SPCA animals that needed extra care.
“I called the local centre and soon after was asked if I could take on some horses. The next thing I knew they were trucked down to me and I was fostering!” Ingrid and her family have been welcoming farm animals and giving them the round-the-clock care they need to recover for more than 18 months now. Vicki Owen in Hawke’s Bay has been fostering dogs for three years.
She volunteered at her local SPCA for many years and often saw dogs stressed at being in a shelter environment, so offered to foster them on her farm and show them a real home.
“I volunteer every Sunday at the centre so I see them quite regularly. Staff will message me if they think a dog will benefit from experiencing life at our home,” Vicki says. She recently took in a huntaway, who needed lots of space to explore and consistent training. After time spent with Vicki and her family, he has now found a wonderful life as a working farm dog.
What you need to become a foster parent
- Time – on average, an animal will be staying with you between three to six weeks, but this can differ depending on the type of animal you foster and each individual animal’s circumstances
- A spare room (required for cats, but also useful for dogs) – a safe and secure space away from other animals; this could be a spare room, bathroom or laundry
- Written consent from your landlord, if you don’t own your home
- Care – most animals will require medication throughout their stay (training on how to medicate an animal is provided)
- Transport – you will need your own transport 24/7 to bring foster animals to and from the centre or to an afterhours vet, should your foster animal need emergency veterinary treatment in the middle of the night; some animals might need more than one visit to the vet
- Availability for vet appointments – you must be able to bring the foster animal to vet appointments on weekdays (this is not required for large farm animals as vet appointments take place at the foster home)
- Attend a foster information session at the centre before you start fostering
- Your love and patience!
From dawn till dusk
So what is a typical day like for a foster family? Albie and Anne tell us that every morning starts the same – food glorious food! After their foster animals have had breakfast, they administer any medication needed and spend time ensuring everyone is OK.
“The day then runs as usual – we like to get our foster animals used to the routine of a normal household. This involves plenty of cuddles and company, but also some downtime throughout the day, relaxing in their surroundings,” Anne says.
Ingrid’s day starts early, prepping supplies for everyone on the farm.
“My day starts at 7am with feed time. After checking each horse, I begin my daily farm chores. Later, I return to the paddocks and feed them everything they need, clean out their feet, and give them a brush down before rugging them up for the night."
Consistency is key, and foster parents closely monitor the animal’s wellbeing while in their care; normal dayto-day activities are important. Vicki undertakes daily training with all her foster dogs.
“It is so important that they have proper guidance in how to behave, as well as enrichment. We integrate them with everyday life in the family so they feel at home,” she explains.
Although not a requirement of fostering, many foster parents have animals of their own who can help socialise their foster animals.
“We have an older dog who just adores kittens, so we get them used to his company, and it helps us better understand how they might be with a dog in their forever home,” Albie says.
High's and lows
While fostering can be an emotional roller coaster at times, it is all worthwhile.
“It can be bittersweet knowing I have to say goodbye, because you can’t help but bond with these beautiful animals,” says Ingrid.
However, most foster parents will agree – in the end, there is nothing quite like knowing you are transforming a life.
“Fostering is my way of being able to make a difference for those animals who need us,” says Andi.