Best Friends satellite foster programs take off

Smiling person sitting on a bed with a happy dog
Best Friends teams are building foster programs remotely for shelters all across the country
By Kelli Harmon

Good foster programs can help shelters save the lives of so many more homeless pets. Amazing, right? But what if the staff at a shelter don’t have the experience to start and run a program? Best Friends already gives out grants to support foster programs, but sometimes organizations could use a different kind of assistance.

Carolyn Fitzgerald, Best Friends’ senior manager of lifesaving programs for the East Coast corridor, says, “Beginning a foster program is very intensive and a heavy lift.” When she realized that her team could effectively run a foster program remotely in the early days of the pandemic in New York, she saw an opportunity. Maybe the Best Friends team could help shelters by setting up foster programs for them, no matter where they’re located.

That’s how Best Friends’ work with satellite foster programs began in 2021 with Polk County Animal Services in Florida. The Best Friends team worked virtually to recruit, train and support foster volunteers; set up the technology infrastructure to keep things organized; and provide anything else needed to make the program successful.

Soon, volunteers were taking in kittens from the Polk County shelter (because that’s where the greatest need was), caring for them, driving them to veterinary appointments to be spayed or neutered, and even helping to match them with adopters. In the first year of the program, more than 600 pets went from the shelter to foster homes.

Things went so well that the team started expanding almost right away. Carolyn says, “This is unique because we go in for a set period, and the shelter gets a fully formed program in return.” The idea is to create the program, build it up over six to nine months, and then hand it to the shelter staff to run themselves. It’s one way that we’re helping shelters reach no-kill by 2025.

Best Friends has assisted or is currently assisting shelters through satellite foster programs in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Louisiana. And people are responding. After all, even though every community is different, if you ask animal lovers to take in an adorable kitten or two or a sweet dog for a few weeks in order to save their lives, the answer is usually yes.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.

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