Fostering a Dog: It's Good for Your Heart and Your Wallet

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  • Smiling man petting dog on sofa
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Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money. It could be a down payment on a home. It could pay off the lion's share of an average college graduate's student loan debt. Or it could buy you a whole lot of cute.

According to the folks at Veterinary Pet Insurance, $20,000 is also the average cost of raising a dog from puppy through, well, the end. Granted, Veterinary Pet Insurance (a subsidiary of insurance-giant Nationwide) is trying to sell you its product, and plenty of people manage to raise a dog for less. But you do have to feed them, cover medical expenses, pay for dog-sitters or walkers if you travel, and buy the occasional bone or tennis ball.

But if you'd like some furry companionship for a lot less, one alternative is to become a dog foster home.

Lots of Love, but Very Little Space

Lillian Madrigal, a public health consultant in Atlanta, knew she wanted a dog in her life but was unsure if her life was ready for a dog. "My roommate and I are pretty puppy-crazy, always looking at adoption websites and wanting to get all of the dogs, but we live in a small apartment with no yard, so we weren't sure if we could commit to keeping a dog long term," said Madrigal.

Fostering a dog through Angels Among Us Pet Rescue let them see if their lives as young professionals were conducive to caring for a pet. They went through a home visit and car check to ensure they were providing a safe space for Truly, their foster-dog-to-be.

Truly, a Wheaton terrier mix, came only with a leash and an "adopt me" vest to be worn during adoption events and walks. "Truly was a small dog so she didn't eat that much food, and we had an old comforter to make a bed for her," said Madrigal who estimates she and her roommate spent about $60 in food, treats and toys. The rescue organization covered veterinary costs.

Aside from subsidizing the cost of a pet, foster programs provide dog-lovers a chance to be sure they're ready to own an animal. "I would highly recommend fostering" said Madrigal. "It's a great way to have a pet, but with a get out of jail free card if you're not ready to make the commitment."

Help Mistreated Animals

Fostering can also fulfill those with an altruistic nature. "We rescued our first two dogs, and I've always had a big place in my heart for animals," said Michelle Schroeder, freelancer and founder of Making Sense of Cents.

Schroeder lives in Missouri, a state reported as one of the worst when it comes to puppy mills. "There are so many animals out there that need a home, and I knew that I wanted to help out," she explained.

Schroeder and her fiancé applied to be a dog foster home through a local organization. They had background checks, a home visit and a compatibility test between Schroeder's dogs and the prospective foster dog before being given an Olde English Bulldogge in need of a loving home.

The dog came with supplies for the first few weeks. Schroeder estimates the two paid a few hundred dollars to help keep the dog healthy.

Those looking to foster without added expense should explore humane societies. The ASPCA "provides our foster caregivers with all the food and supplies they need to take care of their foster animals, and we cover all medical expenses for foster animals, including medication."

Saying Goodbye

Shortly after welcoming a foster dog into their home, Schroeder and her fiancé had an unpleasant surprise. "We found out that our city doesn't allow for fostering pets," she said. "Our next-door neighbor was actually caught fostering a dog as well and had to give it up."

The two have been unable to continue fostering dogs, but hope to move to a city that doesn't have such restrictive laws.

The potential heartache of saying goodbye to pet may cause some to be reluctant to open their homes -- and more importantly hearts -- to a foster pet program. While it may hurt at first, the good karma of saving a dog's life and helping get the dog into a permanent home may help dull the ache.

"It was very hard when we gave her to a new family," Schroeder said. "Luckily, my parents-in-law wanted her, but I was extremely sad and, I could tell that our other two dogs were as well."

While Madrigal and her roommate miss their furry friend, the two were happy to place Truly with a loving couple who had two young girls. "The girls love her so much, and the adoptive family has a big fenced yard for Truly to run around in," she said. "Everything clicked, and we were happy to see her get adopted into such a loving home."

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She's also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers. Popular posts include:

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