BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Fostering Pets and Mental Health

Author: Shelby Prokop-Millar

Have you ever wanted an animal companion, whether that be a cat or a dog, but were nervous about the commitment and or expenses of having one? Do you think that an animal companion could positively impact your mental health? If so, then fostering may be the right thing for you! Not only can you potentially improve you own mental health, but you can improve the mental health of a new furry friend in the process.

The concept of fostering is different from adoption, as there is no long-term commitment involved. When one fosters an animal, they temporarily take a pet into their home as the animal awaits adoption. During this period, all of the animals’ expenses, from medicine to food, are covered by the Hamilton Humane Society. All you have to do is provide your new temporary furry companion with a loving home.

There are many reasons for why an animal may need to be fostered out, from medical needs to overpopulation at the Human Society. But some animals just truly do not do well in shelter life, particularly if they have been there for a long period of time or are in their elder years. Much like humans, animals can mentally benefit from companionship.

According to a survey (2,200 participants) done by the American Psychiatric Association in February 2023, 86% of respondents felt that their overall mental health was impacted favourably by their furry companion. Specifically, 69% of respondents believed that their stress levels were lower as a result of their pet. Others found that their pet gave them “unconditional love and support (69%)”, as well as a “calming presence (66%)”.

Cat companionship has been reported to improve well-being through the sound of purring (e.g., felt calming) and physical interactions (e.g., petting and cuddling cats), among others. Physical interactions with companion dogs have also shown to improve well-being.

Sometimes saying goodbye to a foster animal can be difficult, especially if you have become bonded to them. That is okay! If this occurs, you have the choice to adopt your foster companion – this is affectionately known as a “foster failure” in the fostering community.

In the end, fostering may be a great option for those interested in having a companion animal but are not ready to fully commit. Not only could you potentially improve your own mental health, but the mental health of an animal in need as well.

If you are interested in fostering an animal, you can visit the Hamilton Humane Society’s fostering section of their website here:

Other great organizations to check out include: 

Dorset Rescue Kittens (cats)

Full Circle Rescue (dogs)

Fureverable Dog Rescue and Rehab (dogs)

Ladybird Animal Sanctuary (all animals!)

Taffy's Legacy (dogs)

Toronto Cat Rescue (cats)

Urban Tails Animal Rescue (dogs and cats)