The Foster-Centric Model

The majority of pets who enter the shelter system are placed in foster homes within hours or days of arrival and foster pets are adopted directly from their foster homes.
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What is the HASS Foster-Centric Model?

In a foster-centric organization, the majority of pets enter the shelter system and are placed in foster homes within hours or days of arrival. In this model, most foster pets are adopted directly from foster homes. In a foster-centric shelter, Foster Care is prioritized as much as adoption, and its success is the responsibility of the entire organization.

What problem does the Foster-Centric Model solve?

Even in the best circumstances, animal shelters are stressful places for pets. Animals housed in kennels are susceptible to catching contagious illnesses and experiencing kennel stress and behavioral decline. Additionally, housing animals in kennels for weeks or months is expensive and time consuming for staff and volunteers. A foster home is the ultimate, low-stress environment in which to care for shelter pets. Foster care saves lives, eliminates euthanasia due to lack of space and capacity issues, and gets more animals out of the system alive.

The Foster-Centric Model Success: Tinkerbell

Small dog named Tinkerbell with two people up close to the camera
After her previous owner passed away, Tinkerbell was surrendered at Chico Animal Shelter. She received treatment for multiple health issues at the shelter for six months until Shelly Rogers and her husband welcomed her in as their 89th foster dog. Tinkerbell fit in right away in her foster home, and despite being blind, she learned how to navigate her new environment very quickly.
Tinkerbell’s blindness made it all the more important for her to find an advocate in her foster family. The foster-centric model allows potential adopters to find out more about the behaviors and personalities of the pet from the foster family. This helps animals find the home that can best fit their needs. Almost a year after her surrender, Tinkerbell found that home! She was adopted on New Year’s Eve and rang in 2021 with her new family.
Tinkerbell is doing great in her new home, and Shelly has already taken in more foster dogs to fill her newly available space! “For a foster parent to be the advocate for the dog is the most valuable thing,” Shelly said. “If more people fostered, the lives saved would be infinite.”

How Organizations Can Begin

The following is a list of the basic steps for starting or expanding a foster program. For more detailed guidance, follow the steps to starting and expanding foster care that are listed in the Realistic Program Previews on Maddie’s Fund’s Foster Resource Page.


  • Create an organization expectation that  foster care is a priority and all staff take responsibility for its success. (You’ll need help from your leadership with this one!). 
  • Commit to open fostering, which means removing barriers to fostering so the process for participating is as quick and simple as possible. 
  • Make all people in your community feel welcome  to foster pets. 
  • Know how many and what types of pets you’re sending to foster today and how many you want to be sending in the future.
  • Create a list of goals for foster care, a system for foster care data collection and a timeline for achieving them.
  • Create or update your budget for foster care and decide what you need the most. Many foster programs are heavily supported or even managed by volunteers, but having a paid, dedicated foster coordinator or manager will dramatically increase the impact of your program. 
  • Fundraise, or ask the community to donate food and supplies like crates, harnesses, leashes, toys, food, and more.
  • Decide which pets will and will not be eligible for foster care (approximately 90% should be eligible for foster at all times) and what needs to be put in place to support them and their foster caregivers. 
  • Create or update foster-related documents such as the application, agreement, webpage, and manual(s). Give foster caregivers the option to sign up online (Google Form, shelter software, etc.).
  • Create or update your foster training.
    • Include general training as well as “higher education” for experienced fosters.
    • Consider offering training in different formats, such as online and on-the-spot.
    • Include guidance for foster caregivers on marketing pets, meeting with potential adopters and adopting foster pets out from home.
  • Create or update foster Standard Operating Procedures in order to ensure that your logistics are efficient. 
  • Automate the workflow as much as possible (see Technology below).
  • Create a process for getting information and marketing material on pets from their foster homes (Google form, automated emails with questions, etc.)
  • Create or revise your comprehensive foster recruitment plan.

What Is Needed

The following is a list of the basic steps for starting or expanding a foster program. For more detailed guidance, follow the steps to starting and expanding foster care that are listed in the Realistic Program Previews on Maddie’s Fund’s Foster Resource Page.



The following are some tools other organizations have found helpful in automating foster tasks.

  • Track foster data on placements, new fosters, foster turnover, and more.
    • shelter software, Excel, etc.
  • Train fosters.
  • Check pets in and out of foster homes, and track other relevant information for pets in foster and their foster caregivers.
  • Communicate with foster caregivers.
    • Email, texting services such as Remind and GroupMe, social media group, etc.
  • Display pets who need foster caregivers so potential fosters can find them easily.
    • Google Document, Trello, your website, email, etc.
  • Track and automate scheduling and reminders for medical appointments, vaccines and preventives 
    • Shelter software, Acuity Scheduling, FullSlate, etc.
  • Create a central, online location where your foster caregivers can find the information they need such as the foster manual, education on specific topics and information on the adoption process.
    • Your website, social media group, etc.
  • Create a way for foster caregivers to get in touch with foster management after hours and during emergencies
  • Display pets available for adoption from foster online.
    • Shelter software, website,, etc.
  • Complete adoptions directly from foster homes. 
    • Your shelter software, website, etc.

While it may be advantageous to hire one or more full-time staff to manage foster care at your organization, it is possible to manage foster care with volunteers and/or part-time staff. Here’s how to begin:

  • Determine the number of hours required. The number of hours required every week will be dependent on your intake, staff size, community, and how many resources are available in your community. 
  • Decide on your foster management structure. A comprehensive foster organizational chart should be developed that involves staff at all levels and is managed using every available resource- paid staff, reallocated staff, volunteers, etc.
    • Full-time, paid staff
    • Part-time, paid staff
    • Reallocated staff who assist with specific activities
    • Volunteers  –  trained and committed   
    • Volunteers – new or relatively untrained   
  • Create job descriptions for staff and/or volunteers. Post and fill these positions.
  • Train foster managers and other staff and volunteers who are assisting with foster care tasks.

What does success look like?

More Resources to Implement The Foster-centric Model

A behavior foster program is an extension of your general foster care program. Pets who exhibit behavioral challenges in the shelter or other settings often benefit from foster care placement.

Learn to set up a behavior foster program>>

This toolkit was created through a collaboration between Human Animal Support Services project and HeARTs Speak for organizations of every size and budget! Find editable graphics, customizable tools, and hand-picked resources to help you communicate with your community about fostering. 

Grab the HASS x HeARTs Speak Communications Kit: Foster Programs>>

Increase funding to support your mission of supporting more people and pets.

Get the HASS Philanthropy Toolkit>>

Virtual care can enable shelter clinics to create an effective triage process and better support more pets and people.

Grab the Transforming a Shelter Clinic into a Foster Clinic Virtual Care Guide>>


Learn to have clear and effective communication between medical staff and foster caregivers and to help foster caregivers to feel like VIPs.

Grab the Transforming a Shelter Clinic into a Foster Clinic>>

Request Support

Request crowdsourced support from your peers in community-centered sheltering:


The following documents are free for you to download and use as needed.

Key Benefits

Build community engagement
Decrease length of stay in shelter
Grow volunteer support
Improve customer satisfaction
Improve morale within shelter
Increase adoption and/or rescue placement
Increase fundraising
Increase marketing and media engagement
Learn more about animals in your care
Move animals through the shelter system faster
Promote diversity, equity and inclusion
Reduce number of animals housed in shelter
Save money
Support human health and wellness