Foster Program


Thank you for considering opening your heart and home to our shelter’s homeless animals. Your generosity will provide young and old, injured and sick, abused and undersocialized animals a chance to grow or heal before finding their forever homes. In addition, fostering animals creates space in the shelter to accommodate other homeless animals.


Our next Foster orientation for the public will be January 27, 2018 from 2:00 - 4:00. This orientation is catered to people with a primary interest in fostering and is a fast-track version of the training. Registration is required to reserve a seat.


Fostering animals can be a wonderful experience for you and your family; you can feel good knowing you have helped save an animal's life. Your act of kindness is repaid in rewards that are beyond words.

  • At the orientation, you will sign and return the Foster Care Application.
  • Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter staff approves all foster parent applications and all foster animal/foster parent matches.

Click to download our Foster Care Handbook and Foster Care Policies and Procedures

Typically foster homes provide care for:

  • Animals too young and/or immature to be adopted
  • Animals that require more socialization than available at the shelter
  • Older or senior animals that will be more comfortable in a home environment
  • Injured animals and/or those recovering from surgery
  • Neglected or abused animals that need tender loving care
  • Animals suffering from “shelter stress” in need of a calming home environment
  • Animals with colds or with special medical needs
  • Abandoned mothers with litters under 8 weeks of age
  • Any animal when the shelter becomes too crowded

How do Foster Parents Help?

  • Foster parents feed, groom, socialize, train, and medicate (when necessary) the animal during its stay in the foster home
  • Foster parents work with the shelter to find homes for their foster animal when the animal is healthy and ready to be available for adoption. 
  • Foster parents can adopt their foster animal, and are given first choice.  We highly encourage serial foster parenting. It’s addictive!
  • Foster parents follow shelter adoption guidelines at all times, and shelter staff has final approval of all adoptions.  

Foster Volunteer Qualifications:

  • Foster parents must be able to provide a safe, loving and stable environment for the foster animal.
  • Experience with animal behavioral or medical issues is a plus, but is not necessary.
  • Foster parents must be patient, as well as be willing to nurse any injury and/or illness with the understanding that some animals may not recover from their injuries or illness.
  • Foster parents must be able to transport their foster animal to and from the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter during business hours, should the need arise.

Important Rules and Reminders:
Foster parents must abide by the following rules:

  • No off-leash dog park visits with foster dogs.
  • Foster dogs must be on leash at all times when outdoors unless in your own secured, fenced yard.
  • Foster cats must be kept indoors at all times.
  • Any aggressive behavior must be immediately communicated to shelter staff.
  • All vet visits must be pre-approved by Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter staff.
  • Foster parents must respond within 24 hours to communications from Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter staff.
  • Shelter staff may remove a foster animal from a foster home for any reason.

Foster Care Volunteer Orientations

  • Foster Care Workshops are free and attending an orientation session does not obligate you to foster an animal.
  • Foster care orientations are held at Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter Live Oak location: 2200 7th Ave., Santa Cruz, CA.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long are animals in foster homes?
It completely depends on the animal and the situation. Every foster is unique. The average stay in a foster home is about 2 months. However, most animals with great photos and stories on the web may stay only a few weeks. Others, recovering from an injury, certain breeds and senior animals, may stay much longer.

Can I adopt my foster animal?
YES! As long as foster parents meet the shelter requirements necessary for adoption, foster parents have first choice to adopt their foster animal.

How are foster animals promoted?
Photos and stories of all adoptable animals in foster homes are posted on our website, on and at the shelter where the public can view them. Foster animals are also promoted at special events throughout the year. Foster parents may participate in various shelter programs and events to increase the visibility of their foster animal to potential adopters. Foster parents can also help promote their foster animal to their family, friends, colleagues and the general public through a variety of means including flyers, emails and even just by walking your foster animal in local neighborhoods with an “Adopt Me” vest.

What is the process for adopting a foster animal?
The process is very similar to adopting an animal from the shelter. The steps are briefly outlined below:

  • Potential adopters are required to submit an adoption application for review before they can physically meet a foster animal.
  • Suitable applicants may be contacted for additional screening.
  • Once approved, meet and greets with the foster animal and foster parents will be scheduled with qualified applicants.
  • After the meet and greet (and if the applicant is still interested in the animal), foster parents will make a recommendation to shelter staff regarding the adoption. The foster animal stays with the foster parent until they hear from the shelter staff.
  • Adoption is approved or rejected by shelter staff. Final approval of all adoptions is at the sole discretion of the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter staff.
  • Once approved, the adopter pays adoption fees to the shelter. Foster animals cannot go to a potential adopter’s home until the adoption is official and approved by shelter staff. The foster animal then goes to its new forever home.

Foster parents should stay in contact with shelter staff for assistance with the adoption process.

I live in a condo, townhome, or apartment, can I foster animals?
Yes, you can still foster an animal living in a small environment. Many of our animals need one-on-one socialization, so a small space can be beneficial. However, it’s important that you select an appropriate animal for your lifestyle and are willing to commit to providing your foster animal with the needed physical and mental stimulation. And of course, you still need landlord approval and must abide by any restrictions.

What if I have children?
Fostering is a wonderful family experience and can build a foundation of philanthropy in your children. It’s important to select an animal that is “age” appropriate with your children, and as a general rule, children under 16 years old should NOT be left alone and unsupervised with any animal. You must also be diligent about providing guidance, instructions and rules to your children about caring for an orphaned animal.

I don’t have a yard, or it’s not fenced, can I foster dogs?
Yes!  A yard is a nice-to-have for those early morning, or late night potty breaks and for a game of ball, but is not a requirement. Moreover, foster dogs are not allowed to be left unattended in a yard. The reality is that dogs don’t exercise themselves when left outside. Unfortunately many of the dogs we see at the shelter were “yard-dogs” and developed behavior issues like fence running, barking, or digging because they were left alone in a backyard. Dogs need focused physical activity, mental stimulation and socialization, and the best way to do this is by walking or running your foster dog on leash.

If I have my own animals, can I foster animals?
Yes, but keep in mind that it’s always a health risk to expose your animal to other animals whether it’s walking at parks, vet waiting rooms or other common animal areas. The health risk is minimal if your animals are current on their vaccinations, maintain healthy diet and lifestyle, and are not elderly or very young.

If you or someone in your household is immune-compromised, consult your doctor before fostering since working or living with animals exposes humans to zoonotic diseases.

What supplies are needed to foster?
Foster parents provide space, basic training, exercise and love for the animal. The shelter appreciates whenever the foster home can provide supplies for the animal.  If this is not possible, the shelter will provide you with all the other supplies and equipment needed throughout your foster experience.

Do I have to crate‐train my foster dog?
No, but it is one of the most efficient and effective ways to house train a puppy or re-train an adult dog. Some dogs do not like crates, and most dogs need to be transitioned or “trained” to use a crate, so it’s up to the foster parent to decide whether to crate or not. Putting the dog in a crate while you are gone will give you peace of mind knowing that they are in a safe place, away from harm, and not doing any damage to your belongings or themselves. For many dogs, a crate can also represent a safe and comfortable place to call their own and provides them with a sense of security. Dogs actually like having a “den” to cuddle up in. Crating should never be used as punishment.

Do I need to have prior medical knowledge or expertise?
No, but you may be asked to dispense medicine to your foster animal so you will have to be comfortable following veterinarian’s instructions if fostering a sick or injured animal.

What if my foster animal becomes sick?
All veterinary costs are paid by Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter and through the 2nd Chance Funds of the nonprofit FOWAS. If a foster animal becomes sick, foster volunteers will be given contact information and instructions.

How much time each day is needed to foster?
Commitment and responsibilities depend on the individual animal and situation. It’s essential that foster parents understand that shelter animals may be stressed and moving an animal from the shelter to the foster home is also very stressful and emotional. Foster parents must be willing to be patient and commit to the animal because our goal is to keep them in a stable and consistent environment.

Animals in foster care because they are too young to thrive in a shelter environment can be available for adoption at 8 weeks of age, if healthy.

Many of the dogs at the shelter are “adolescent” dogs between the age of 6 months and 2 years. They typically have a lot of energy and require vigorous daily exercise. This means at least a 30-45 minute brisk walk/run in the morning and again in the afternoon, with plenty of play time in between. Older dogs may only need a morning and evening stroll.

If additional health problems develop, daily time commitments may be extended. For example, foster parents may have to transport their foster animals to the vet during regular business hours.

Can I take my foster dog to an off‐leash dog park for exercise and socialization?
No. You are not allowed to take any foster dog from the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter to an off-leash dog park. While these parks can be fun for some dogs, there are far too many unknowns for it to be a safe and healthy experience for a foster dog. Diseases are easily transmitted and the temperaments of visiting dogs are unknown, thus creating a huge liability to the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter. Also, taking a leashed dog to a dog park can create barrier frustration and aggression in dogs.

Can my foster cats/kittens go outside?
No. Cats and kittens in foster care are not allowed to be outside. Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter believes that a healthy cat is an indoor cat. Indoor cats enjoy longer, safer and healthier lives than those that are outside. There are simply too many risks associated with allowing cats to roam outdoors. To learn more see The Indoor Pets Initiative 

How can I help my foster animal become more adoptable?
There are two ways to make a foster animal more adoptable. First and foremost is marketing. If no one knows about your foster animal, or how wonderful she is, then it will be next to impossible to find her a forever home. In addition to supplying great photos and a bio and updating these regularly, giving a foster animal additional exposure by telling friends and family about her will help create a “network effect” and will speed up the process of finding a forever home. Simple steps like taking a foster dog on walks in local parks, outdoor shopping areas and other high traffic areas will help find potential adopters. Social media outlets like Facebook also work well.

In the case of dogs in foster, our orphaned animals benefit greatly from the exercise (with the exception of those with some medical conditions), basic positive reinforcement training, special love and attention you give them. While marketing provides you with applicants, it’s always the animal that “closes the deal.” Providing a foster dog with basic training and manners will increase their adoptability. Shy dogs will benefit from your patience, routine, and slowly exposing them to new people to build their confidence. Rambunctious adolescents who learn good manners will help show off their trainability and long term potential. And while puppies and kittens are adorable, they need a lot of love, attention and hand-holding from humans to develop properly and feel secure.

Am I responsible for finding my foster animal its forever home??
No, but we do need your help. Once a qualified applicant is identified, you will be asked to schedule a meet and greet with your foster animal and the potential adopter. Your quick response and then final input on the potential adopter is critical to finding a great match.

Many times a foster parent will find a perfect match through their own network of friends, family and colleagues. The shelter greatly welcomes these referrals! If you think you have found a perfect forever home for your foster animal, remember they still must go through the application process and be approved by the shelter staff.

Can I return my foster animal to the shelter if I am unable to foster any longer?
Yes, we will always take an animal into our shelter. We prefer that foster parents continue to foster until the animal is ready to be placed for adoption or until we find a permanent home for their foster animal. It’s extremely stressful for an animal to be returned to the shelter environment. However, we understand that situations change and it may become necessary to discontinue fostering an animal.

We request that a foster parent provides as much notice as possible (minimum 2-4 weeks) so that we can find an alternative foster home. Of course, in an emergency a foster parent may always bring their animal back to the shelter.

What if I go on vacation or have a business trip?
Once you become a foster, you will start seeing email foster requests. Only respond to a request if it fits your home and schedule. If you know you will be traveling, don't take on a long term foster. We ask that foster parents always keep shelter staff aware of any temporary foster sitting situations.

Are foster animals ever euthanized?
Much energy, love, time and vet care is devoted to our foster animals, and the shelter is committed to finding homes for ALL the adoptable animals within its care. We are an open admission shelter and there will be some animals that won't be adoptable. Some animals are in foster care because they’re seriously ill or injured. If, after medical attention, these animals are too young or too weak to heal and are suffering, then the shelter staff will humanely euthanize these animals.

Fortunately, most animals in foster care heal beautifully. On rare occasions, an animal in foster care may start to exhibit potentially dangerous behavior that was unknown or suppressed when the animal was at the shelter. The shelter may determine that this animal is too dangerous and will humanely euthanize the animal or seek an alternative facility or rescue organization for its care. Your safety, and the safety of the public, is a priority. You must always inform the shelter staff if your foster animal exhibits any aggressive behavior.