If you’ve decided you want to give fostering animals in Hong Kong a try (yay! That’s awesome!) but are a little worried about how to provide a good foster home, don’t worry, we talked to Cheryl Chua, a vet at Shatin Animal Hospital, for some expert tips.
Go easy on bringing a new animal home, especially if you have pets of your own already. If your space allows it, pick one room in your home - a guest room, a bathroom - and have food and water bowls, a litter box if you’re fostering a cat or a toilet tray and pad if it’s a dog, and some toys ready in it. When introducing your foster animal to your home, bring the pet carrier into that room, and open it and just let the animal come out at its own pace, then spend some time in there with them while they explore that space.
The animal will then need a few days in just that space, and be introduced to the rest of the home, or the other animals in it, slowly. This will allow the animal to get used to the new smells and sounds first. Remember to spend as much time as you can in that space with your foster animal, so they can get used to you, as well!
Animals are incredibly adaptable, and are likely not bringing with them as much from wherever they were before you fostered them as you might think. Of course, in some cases where the animals were abused, they will be understandably more timid and nervous. In other cases, where the animals were rescues or surrendered cases, they’re probably not suffering from issues so much as they’re in a brand new place and they’re just taking it a step at a time.
“As a foster family, you have to give them time,” Chua says, “every animal deserves a fresh start, and you’re there to give them that fresh start.”
“Puppies and kittens do not have to be limited in terms of food,” Chua explains, “and fresh water should be provided daily.” With animals past the kitten or puppy stage, make sure you ask the centre they’re adopted from how much that animal should be fed.
Dogs need to be toilet trained, and you should talk to the animal centre about whether the dog you’re fostering has been trained. If not, that’s an added responsibility you need to take care of. If they have, taking them out at least twice a day should be your goal. If the dog is urinating or pooping outside their toilet tray right in front of you, punish them immediately. But if you didn’t catch them in the act, punishing them when you find the smelly mess won’t be helpful because they won’t associate the punishment with what they did. However, if they use the toilet tray correctly, rewarding them with treats or playtime immediately will reinforce they did something right. Also, while it may not be very pleasant for you, leave the mess where it is until the dog returns to it to use it as a toilet a few more times, so they know that’s what it’s for.
With cats, even kittens have the instinct to use a litter box, but you have to figure out a good spot for it. Many cats don’t like to go in a spot where people are walking back and forth all the time, so a hallway or the busiest part of your living room is probably not the best spot for a litter box. Instead, find an area that’s quieter, where they’re not likely to be startled by someone suddenly appearing around the corner (cleaning up pee or poop trailing after a startled cat is no fun), and prepare a litter box with about an inch of litter in it. Cats can also be sensitive about the type of litter they use, so just stick with the kind the animal centre used so it’s familiar to the cat. Make sure you clean up after them frequently, and keep the litter as an even layer after every cleanup. A cat will refuse to use a dirty litter box, and will choose another spot (for example, your sofa), if their toilet isn’t clean enough for them. Would you want to use a toilet that’s filthy and gross?
Any animal will need time to settle in, but the following are signs that, if it persists, may indicate illness in an animal: lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, urine or faeces changing colour or texture, change in energy or activity levels, listlessness, lethargy, and glossy eyes. If you notice any of these, call the centre or a vet for advice immediately.
Socialising an animal is a huge part of fostering. It helps that animal get ready for a forever home, and helps people want to adopt that animal. With both cats and dogs, give them lots of space and time to get used to your home and to you at their own pace. They will approach you when they’re ready, but if they don’t, accept that and don’t try to change them. Also, make sure they have a space that’s just their own, so if they need to get away for a bit, they can. A snuggly spot or a cardboard box (especially cats, cats love boxes. YouTube it.) in a quiet corner somewhere is fine.
A great way to socialise dogs is to bring them to a dog-friendly cafe and chill with them. Make sure they’re secure on a leash, and just sit back with a book. Being outdoors, with lots of people passing by but you relaxing with them, will do wonders to help a dog become comfortable around humans.
Each cat needs to be socialised in ways that suit their personality. Some cats love going out for walks just like a dog, but make sure you get a harness, not just a leash, to keep your foster cat safe whilst out and about. Other cats are perfectly happy with a range of cat toys to chase around. Either way, just spend time hanging out with them.
Both dogs and cats have a range of expressions and ways to express themselves, don’t apply human qualities to them and assume you know what it means. For example, shivering doesn’t always mean they’re cold; sometimes it means they’re in pain. So pay attention to your foster pet, and if anything seems out of the ordinary, don’t be afraid to ask for an expert opinion. Contact the animal shelter you’ve fostered them from for advice, or an animal hospital to ask advice from a vet - they’d be happy to help you out. And, most importantly, only foster when you’re ready to, and have fun! You’re saving a life and making a new furry friend at the same time!
Animal Welfare Organisations in Hong Kong you can foster from or volunteer at: