7 Tips for First-Time Pet Foster Parents

Ready to open your heart and home?
Ready to open your heart and home?
vvvita/iStock via Getty Images

As more and more people became cooped up at home due to the spread of COVID-19, animal shelters throughout the country began reporting a higher number of foster applications than usual. Not only is fostering a pet a great way to help your local animal shelter, it's also a way for many people to alleviate some of the loneliness they may feel while social distancing. If you're considering fostering a cat or dog for the first time, here are seven helpful tips to keep in mind.

1. Get to know your local foster pet organization.

Spend some time researching the foster organization you’d like to work with. You want to make sure you've found a safe, reputable organization. Once you've made your choice, the shelter or foster organization will match you with an animal. As much as it’s important for the organization to feel comfortable with you—they’re trusting you to care for one of their adoptable animals, after all—you should feel comfortable checking in with them and asking any questions you may need answered. Most organizations will make themselves available for any emergencies or to answer any questions, and they’ll also typically handle veterinary services.

2. Know that each foster pet is unique.

A silly blue great Dane puppy plays with her pink ball
Every animal is special.
dmussman/iStock via Getty Images

Every animal has its own individual personality. As such, each foster pet will have its own needs. “Animals are in foster programs for a variety of reasons,” Joanne Yohannan, senior vice president of operations at New York's North Shore Animal League America, tells Mental Floss in an email. “They may be recovering from a surgery, pending a procedure, in need of socialization, or may be too young for adoption.” If possible, it’s best to do a “meet and greet” with a prospective pet. This way, you—and the fostering organization—can ensure you’re a good fit. If a meet and greet isn’t possible, let your new animal warm up to you slowly. Staying calm, being patient, and using positive reinforcement will help them adjust to their new home.

3. Give your new foster pet appropriate space.

Try to set up a special area for your new foster pet. Providing a quiet space will help them ease into their new situation gently. If you can, keep them confined to one small room at first. For tiny animals like kittens, you can even start out by having them stay in your bathroom (just make sure you don't leave the toilet lid up) [PDF].

4. Introduce your new foster pet to any animals you already have slowly.

Sleepy cat and dog sniff noses while cuddling
Sniff first, snuggle later.
Courtesy of Michael Bonassar

If you already have a pet, it may be tempting to want them and your new foster to become best buds right away. But don’t rush. Once your new foster pet has gotten used to its designated part of the house, introduce it to any other animals you have slowly. “Try letting them sniff each other through the door,” Carly Gove, volunteer coordinator and marketing assistant at Philadelphia's Morris Animal Refuge, says. Then, if they seem comfortable, after seeing each other, let the animals have supervised play dates. Make sure you keep their initial time together short, using positive reinforcement to reward positive interactions. It’s also important to ensure all animals are appropriately vaccinated—the last thing you want is for one animal to accidentally get the other one sick. Most animals in a foster care program have already been vaccinated. But if you’re fostering a kitten or puppy that’s too young to have been inoculated, you’ll need to keep them isolated. You should also make sure your existing pets are caught up on their vaccines.

5. Make sure you’re stocked up on the essentials.

Most foster organizations will provide you with everything you’ll need to care for your new animal. Make sure you’re prepared with pet food, cat litter, and toys. You’ll also need bedding, a carrier, and it’s a good idea to have a crate, especially if you’re fostering kittens or a dog. If you’re using a dog crate, the enclosure needs to be large enough that the dog can comfortably stand and move around.

6. Consider your future routine.

German Shepherd lying on floor with laptop and books in and gray cat lying on couch
Think ahead to the days when your home will no longer double as your office.
LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re fostering a pet while quarantined, make sure you’re still keeping your usual routine in mind. “Think about what your schedule will be like in one, two, or six months,” Gove says. Fostering a kitten or puppy can be a lot of work, so you need to make sure you can still care for them once you resume your typical, non-social distancing schedule. And it’s a good idea to prepare your foster pet for the day when people start leaving the house more. Puppies in particular can get separation anxiety, so you may want to have them spend some time in separate parts of the house so that they get used to not having a human around 24/7.

7. Remind yourself that your foster pet is a temporary guest.

In theory, fostering a pet is meant to be a temporary situation. But that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. To keep your expectations in check, remind yourself that you’re fulfilling an important role in the animal’s socialization, which will eventually help them find their forever home. “Think of it like you’re giving them a vacation from the shelter, or babysitting,” Gove suggests. And, if you do wind up growing attached to your foster pet, there’s no shame in becoming a “foster failure” and adopting your furry friend. “Sometimes foster parents end up choosing to adopt their foster pet,” Yohannan says, “a real win/win.”

The 10 Best Memorial Day 2020 Sales

iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth
iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth

The Memorial Day sales have started early this year, and it's easy to find yourself drowning in offers for cheap mattresses, appliances, shoes, and grills. To help you cut through the noise and focus on the best deals around, we threw together some of our favorite Memorial Day sales going on right now. Take a look below.

1. Leesa

A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
Leesa

Through May 31, you can save up to $400 on every mattress model Leesa has to offer, from the value-minded Studio by Leesa design to the premium Leesa Legend, which touts a combination of memory foam and micro-coil springs to keep you comfortable in any position you sleep in.

Find it: Leesa

2. Sur La Table

This one is labeled as simply a “summer sale,” but the deals are good only through Memorial Day, so you should get to it quickly. This sale takes up to 20 percent off outdoor grilling and dining essentials, like cast-iron shrimp pans ($32), a stainless steel burger-grilling basket ($16), and, of course, your choice of barbeque sauce to go along with it.

Find it: Sur la Table

3. Wayfair

KitchenAid Stand Mixer on Sale on Wayfair.
Wayfair/KitchenAid

Wayfair is cutting prices on all manner of appliances until May 28. Though you can pretty much find any home appliance imaginable at a low price, the sale is highlighted by $130 off a KitchenAid stand mixer and 62 percent off this eight-in-one GoWise air fryer.

And that’s only part of the brand’s multiple Memorial Day sales, which you can browse here. They’re also taking up to 40 percent off Samsung refrigerators and washing machines, up to 65 percent off living room furniture, and up to 60 percent off mattresses.

Find it: Wayfair

4. Blue Apron

If you sign up for a Blue Apron subscription before May 26, you’ll save $20 on each of your first three box deliveries, totaling $60 in savings. 

Find it: Blue Apron

5. The PBS Store

Score 20 percent off sitewide at Shop.PBS.org when you use the promo code TAKE20. This slashes prices on everything from documentaries like Ken Burns’s The Roosevelt: An Intimate History ($48) and The Civil War ($64) to a Pride & Prejudice tote bag ($27) and this precious heat-changing King Henry VIII mug ($11) that reveals the fates of his many wives when you pour your morning coffee.

Find it: The PBS Store

6. Amazon

eufy robot vacuum.
Amazon/eufy

While Amazon doesn’t have an official Memorial Day sale, the ecommerce giant still has plenty of ever-changing deals to pick from. Right now, you can take $100 off this outdoor grill from Weber, $70 off a eufy robot vacuum, and 22 percent off the ASUS gaming laptop. For more deals, just go to Amazon and have a look around.

7. Backcountry

You can save up to 50 percent on tents, hiking packs, outdoor wear, and more from brands like Patagonia, Marmot, and others during Backcountry's Memorial Day sale.

Find it: Backcountry

8. Entertainment Earth

Funko Pops on Sale on Entertainment Earth.
Entertainment Earth/Funko

From now until June 2, Entertainment Earth is having a buy one, get one half off sale on select Funko Pops. This includes stalwarts like the Star Wars and Batman lines, and more recent additions like the Schitt's Creek Funkos and the pre-orders for the upcoming X-Men movie line.

Find it: Entertainment Earth

9. Moosejaw

With the promo code SUNSCREEN, you can take 20 percent off one full-price item at Moosejaw, along with finding up to 30 percent off select items during the outdoor brand's summer sale. These deals include casual clothing, outdoor wear, trail sneakers, and more. 

Find it: Moosejaw

10. Osprey

Through May 25, you can save 25 percent on select summer items, and 40 percent off products from last season. This can include anything from hiking packs and luggage to outdoorsy socks and hats. So if you're planning on getting acquainted with the great outdoors this summer, now you can do it on the cheap.

Find it: Osprey

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

10 Tips for Watching Backyard Wildlife

Fiona the fox, exploring her territory.
Fiona the fox, exploring her territory.
Courtesy of Kerry Wolfe

Whether you live among acres of sprawling land or look out over a sliver of city sidewalk, if you pay close enough attention, you’re bound to see wildlife right outside your door. So get familiar with your nonhuman neighbors with these 10 tips for backyard wildlife watching. After all, the animals are there—whether you notice them or not.

1. Get curious.

Watching wildlife is a wonderful way to learn about the other inhabitants of your yard. “You can go out and go for a hike and walk to find something, but there’s really a value in sitting quietly in one space and seeing what comes along,” Brian Hess, a wildlife biologist with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, tells Mental Floss. Charismatic creatures like deer and bears are exciting, but there’s no need to wait for something large to come ambling through. Peek between the branches of a shrub and you may find a bird nest tucked within the greenery; move a rock and you’ll likely spot worms wriggling around in the moist earth. Try varying your routine, too, as different animals become more active depending on the time of day.

2. Don’t disturb the wildlife.

A male pheasant walking
Let them strut their stuff in peace.
Courtesy of Kerry Wolfe

Treat wildlife watching as if you’re window shopping in a store stocked with stuff you can’t afford: Basically, look but don’t touch. “My general rule of thumb whenever I’m watching wildlife is if they change their behavior because of my presence, that probably means I’m too close and should back off,” Hess says.

Keeping your distance will help both you and the wildlife stay safe—and make sure any curious pets don’t get too close to wild creatures, either. An animal may attack if it feels threatened, which, as anyone who’s seen Homeward Bound (1993) knows, can lead to some pretty painful encounters. There’s also the risk of zoonotic diseases; though fairly rare, North Americans in particular have to be cautious of rabies.

Avoid feeding wildlife, too (bird feeders are fine—more on that later). Don’t chuck your dog’s uneaten kibble or your dinner scraps out the back door, as teaching wildlife to rely on people for meals can cause unwanted learned behavior and lead to human-animal conflicts.

3. Make your yard wildlife-friendly.

One of the best ways to attract wildlife is to add native plants to your yard. “You can put an oak tree in your yard, watch the life come to it, and help rebuild your local ecosystem,” Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, tells Mental Floss. A perfectly manicured patch of grass or an exotic shrub may look lovely, but it doesn’t create a suitable habitat for many animals. Most insects are specialized feeders, meaning they’ve evolved over millions of years to eat particular plants. Basically, if you want to see more monarchs, you better start planting some milkweed.

Short on yard space? Urban apartment dwellers can stick pots of native plants in window boxes. Adding even a tiny bit of greenery will help city animals who may not have access to as many resources as their rural counterparts.

Finding native plants is fairly simple. Organizations like the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society (and if you’re in California, the California Native Plant Society) have online databases you can browse.

And, if you’re attracting birds, avoid turning your yard into a stage for Windex commercial-level crashes. If your glass is spotless, stick some decals or tempera paint onto your windows to help prevent bird collisions.

4. Maintain your bird feeder.

Though native plants are a great way to attract wildlife, you can also supplement your yard’s offerings with various bird feeders [PDF]. Make sure you regularly clean your feeders, lest the seeds get wet and grow mold. You should also rake away any discarded shells scattered on the ground, which can collect harmful bacteria. If you live in an area with bears, check with your state’s wildlife agency for their seasonal best practices regarding bird feeders, as foraging ursines love to snack on high-fat, high-protein seeds.

5. Provide water.

A red fox drinks from a water bowl in a backyard
Chasing chipmunks really works up a thirst.
Courtesy of Kerry Wolfe

A tub of water in a shady spot away from your house will help your resident critters and thirsty passersby. If you can, put a large rock or brick in the water bowl, and fill the basin so only part of the object is submerged. This will provide insects and other animals with an extra perch to land on, as they may have a tough time sipping water from a steep-sided dog dish. The rock will also give small creatures an extra escape option, should they accidentally fall into the tub and go for an unplanned swim. Make sure you clean the water bowl regularly—standing water can quickly become a soupy mess of dirt, guano, and mosquito eggs.

6. Get excited about insects!

Put away the insecticide and instead embrace your resident creepy-crawlies. You can have a lot of fun identifying the beetles and butterflies that frequent your yard. And about 90 percent of flowering plants depend on pollinators, so not only is that bee bumbling around your garden cute, it’s also playing a vital role in helping your local ecosystem.

While insects are fascinating in their own right, you can also view them as food for larger creatures. They’re a nutritious meal for animals like birds, lizards, frogs, squirrels, bats, opossums, and much more. Caterpillars in particular are a great source of grub for local and migrant bird populations. “If you want chickadees breeding in your yard, you need to have 6000 to 9000 caterpillars or the chickadees can’t rear their young,” Tallamy tells Mental Floss.

7. When looking for wildlife, use your senses.

There’s a reason avid birders get to know their bird calls. “Hearing wildlife is a great way to start to pay attention,” John Rowden, senior director of bird-friendly communities at the Audubon Society, tells Mental Floss. “Learn the sounds, and it will help you identify the animals.” And if your yard suddenly erupts with a cacophony of squirrel alarm calls, there’s a good chance there’s some sort of predator lurking nearby. Identifying the sounds of nocturnal animals like owls and raccoons will help you discern who's been coming after dark.

You may be able to smell some animals, too. Skunks unleash a notoriously stinky spray when warding off threats; foxes and mountain lions mark their territories with their own funky scents; and desert dwellers claim they can often smell javelina before they see them.

8. Look for signs animals have visited.

Squirrel Tracks in Snow on a Wooden Railing
Clear signs of squirrel traffic.
Colin Temple/iStock via Getty Images

You don’t have to see the animals themselves to find hints of their presence. A fallen feather, a muddy print, a well-walked trail etched into the dirt, and a heaping pile of scat are all clues as to who’s been sharing your yard.

9. Get technological.

Sure, watching wildlife is a great excuse to unplug, but embracing tools and technology can help enhance your experience. A pair of binoculars will transform that blurry blot in the sky into a clearly identifiable bird; a trail camera will snap footage of whatever walks through your yard when you’re not looking. Apps like iNaturalist can help you identify various species and share your findings with fellow members of the community.

10. Document your wildlife observations.

Keep a record of the creatures who frequent your yard. This will help you get a sense of their routines and better identify individual animals. You can keep your logs simple—a quick journal entry or a series of photographs is an excellent way to document your resident wildlife. As a bonus, your observations can also help with citizen science projects, such as the Monarch Joint Venture or Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home project.