They Did It: Tips For a Thriving On-Deck Foster System
The on-deck system used in places like Southern Pines Animal Shelter and Burbank Animal Shelter reduces chaos, lessens the burden on staff and gets animals into foster homes as quickly as possible.
How? Foster families are trained ahead of time and their ongoing availability is tracked—which means no last-minute flurries of emails, texts and calls when help is needed.
(Interested in the details of getting an on-deck foster program started? Check out this how-to resource from an all-virtual foster program in Los Angeles.)
Southern Pines in Hattiesburg, MS has 39 foster homes signed up through its Foster Kitten Waitlist and 38 fosters signed up for its Foster First Responder program. The First Responder program focuses on emergency, short-term fosters for the most vulnerable animals, including neonatal kittens. These foster parents receive targeted medical training and commit to providing foster care for 48 hours while a foster placement is secured.
"Since we have a committed group already waiting for kittens specifically, we can focus the efforts of our Foster First Responders on puppies and adult animals most in need before kitten season is in full swing."
The program relieves stress on foster coordinators and shelter staff overall, and Southern Pines director Ginny Sims noted it also keeps volunteers engaged and excited about fostering opportunities. “When their name comes up on the waitlist, they are ready and eager to pick up their new fosters." she explained. "These programs are truly so valuable to saving our most vulnerable population!”
Burbank Animal Shelter in Burbank, CA currently has 78 on-deck fosters, and shelter superintendent Brenda Castaneda said that without the on-deck program her staff wouldn’t be able to care for unweaned kittens. “The system allows us to easily place kittens into a foster home and organize their medical care. We’re able to run reports when needed, provide statistics for the program, costs, etc., which is helpful when we go to apply for grants,” she said.
Southern Pines has a closed Facebook foster group with about 1,200 members. There the shelter posts needy, at-risk animals daily as they arrive or as their status changes. The shelter also recently decided to use staff for face-to-face recruitment at the local farmer’s market, various festivals, and school clubs.
Along with a strong social media presence, Burbank places flyers at strategic locations such as libraries and off-site events. The shelter’s foster program is advertised to target city employees and career technical education animal care class students. Those interested fill out an online application.
Care and Prep
All Southern Pines foster parents meet a coordinator before taking an animal, and an in-depth discussion includes any concerns foster may have. Foster families all receive a training manual, but if a foster animal has more complex medical needs—such as fluids or injections—personal training is provided. Southern Pines offers helpful resources in its Facebook foster group. When fosters sign up through the Kitten Foster Waitlist Google Form, they can mark what types of kitten fosters they prefer, like bottle feeders or moms with litters.
At Burbank, orientations are held once a month, all year long, and more training is provided for those who want to foster bottle feeders. Foster coordinators/trainers are always available for any issues or questions that foster parents may have. Volunteer coordinators are long-time, experienced volunteers who maintain lists of who has been trained, which foster parents are good with younger kittens, etc.
To deal with time constraints and get even more foster parents signed up, orientations can also be done online. This resource explains how.
The foster Facebook group, Instagram, phone calls, and emails are all lines of communication for Southern Pines. For active current fosters there is a foster medical emergency phone line that operates 24/7.
Preferred methods of communication for Burbank are email, texts and phone calls. The shelter’s medical staff also provides feedback on how the foster parent is caring for the kitten; coordinators take the feedback and reach out to fosters if additional training seems to be needed. If serious issues arise (lack of communication, foster parent is not bringing the kittens in regularly for vaccines, etc.) the foster parent’s status may change.
Southern Pines also created a video to help community members know what to do if they find homeless kittens.
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