Animal loving foster family
Many of our foster families will have pets of the canine and feline variety that represent a significant part of the lives of children and young people everyday. But what about other pets and animals that occupy our foster carers’ homes?
We spoke to North West based National Fostering Agency foster carer Janet. She has fostered two children long-term over the last 13 years, including A*, who left the family home at 18 years-old, and K*, who is still living with Janet and is currently studying for his GCSEs.
Having the facilities to store many pets and animals at any one time has meant that Janet and family have kept six dogs in total, as well as a wide range of farmyard animals including rescue chickens, pigs and hens, which has led to a unique and inspiring story of pet themed foster care.
“Our first placement, A, was just 11 when she came to our home. She had left a family pet Chihuahua at her birth family home. It was her pet and it was a highlight of contact when they brought the dog with them each time to see her’.
‘Coming to our home where we already had dogs was quite therapeutic for her in the sense that she didn’t worry as much about the other dog’.
‘We also had a pair of piglets that we’d rescued and we’ve looked after rabbits when people go away. Because we have all the outdoor facilities including the kennel and cages then we can do that. People used to visit us, not so much to see us, but instead come just to see the pigs!’.
‘While A was also still here for the seven years she was with us, we had a couple of litters of puppies, so she got to experience that and help out’.
‘She wanted to see them being born and I remember going in and waking her and K up’.
‘They got to see all those things that not many people get to experience. This included moments like at 10 days when the puppies open their eyes, and the children are the first people that they get to see. That’s a really special moment as a kid – and then they couldn’t wait to get home from school to go and feed the puppies after that’.
Alleviating concerns over fostering with pets
If you are considering whether to become a foster carer and you have pets of any kind in the home, it is important to remember that during the assessment process, your supervising social worker and local agency fostering support team will work with you to make sure that you, your family, your pets, and any children and young people coming into your home will be completely safe from harm.
As long as there is no history of any pets in your home having harmed children or people in the past, then there should be no problem with bringing a child or young person into your care. Many of our foster carers who have pets describe the immense benefits that having animals in the home can have on a foster child’s wellbeing, as Janet went on to highlight:
“The NFA will ring you up and go over the details of a potential placement that could be part of your home, and having the amount of pets and animals in our home was an initial concern’.
‘The first night K moved in, our border collie sheepdog was in a kennel where it stayed down at the bottom of the garden’.
‘He said ‘Can I go and say goodnight to the dogs?’ and myself and my partner at the time looked at each other and said ‘Yeah, of course you can’’.
‘When he’d be gone for a couple of minutes, we followed him down to see if everything was alright and we stood outside listening to him in deep conversation with the border collie. The things he was telling her – I could cry just telling you now’.
‘We could see right down the run and into the kennel. He had the heat lamp next to her and sat in the basket with her. He has his arms wrapped around her and I can visualise it as I’m talking about it now’.
‘He was promising to love this dog and telling it where they were going to go and what they were going to do together”.
Learning how to grieve
While it would rarely be the primary reason for having pets as a foster family, a child or young person having to come to terms with the death of a family pet can often be their first experience of grieving for a living being that they have grown to love.
This can ultimately help them come to terms with the process of death and the range of emotions that comes with it, so when the unfortunate time comes that a relative passes away, they may feel better able to process their feelings.
“When the border collie passed away about two years ago, K came to the vet with us and I wanted him to hear the vet say that she was really unwell, as he wouldn’t believe that there was anything wrong with her’.
‘As she was being euthanised, K sat snuggled around her as she passed away. We must have been in there for an hour – and I said to my partner at the time that he could have some time alone with her’.
‘As we sat outside in the reception, K said ‘Can I have some alone time with her?’. K then went in and had his time with her. She left a huge gap in all our lives”.
Becoming acquainted with the chickens
If you have more obscure pets or animals in your home or farm and are wondering how foster children might react to them, then Janet’s experience might well reassure you. Children and young people who have been through periods of trauma in their lives can find it hard to feel comfortable in situations unfamiliar to them.
However, as Janet describes, showing them that there is nothing to be scared of and giving them words of encouragement can help them to face their fears and build their self-confidence, while arranging informal initial meetings can help everyone determine whether the placement is right for them before committing.
“On the first day that he arrived to meet us, we said hello and then went to go and look at the chickens as we were about to throw some vegetables out for them to eat. He was initially quite scared of them, but then I picked one up and it sat with us. It snuggled up on his knee and he was stroking it when he said ‘I didn’t know that they were so soft! It was a really good bonding session for the first time that we met”.
Janet also went to to describe how K’s unsettled background involving several moves to different homes had made him feel as though it was inevitable he was going to be moved on again, even at the slightest sign of trouble. It was the moment that he got his first pet dog of his own that his sense of duty and responsibility of care for the animal that in turn made him more settled in his home life.
“We would always tell him that his home was here and that you can’t just run away when things go wrong, but from his perspective that was all that had ever happened to him’.
‘He’d always talked about having a Chihuahua, so we mentioned that if he did well at school for a certain amount of time than we could talk about getting him his own dog’.
‘One night we picked him up and he was laughing and joking, and he said ‘Where are we going?’. ‘We’re going to pick your dog up’, I said. I have a photograph of his face at that moment – it just inflated and he couldn’t believe it’.
‘We got there and then he got to choose which puppy he wanted. He settled on a Miniature Yorkshire Terrier’.
‘When the puppy came home, I said ‘Well you can’t leave now, because there’ll be nobody to feed her or groom her’.
‘It really settled him and grounded him, as he would never ask about whether he was leaving again. In his mind he had a responsibility to be there for the dog”.
Working with dogs
“K wants to be a police dog handler when he’s older and has been talking about it for the last year or so’.
‘He wants his own dog when he gets his own place. He wants a German Shepherd and Siberian Husky cross”.
‘He’s been with us around five years now, and has done a complete 180 from when he arrived – he is absolutely adorable”.
Do you currently have pets and a spare bedroom in your home? You could well make the perfect foster family in which to raise a child or young person within a caring and understanding environment, giving them the foundation to make their own way in life. Talk to a member of our friendly team today by making an enquiry to foster with us.
If you want to read more of our answers to some of the most common fostering myths, then keep an eye on our ‘Shine a Light’ series as we focus on a different topic each month!
*Full names not used for child safeguarding purposes.