Foster Love is a non-profit dedicated to developing and sharing new ways to improve living conditions for homeless animals. These are our measurable goals:
To maximize our impact, we operate more like a tech incubator than a traditional animal welfare charity. This is our process:
We're constantly looking for new ideas, and these are the ones we're working on right now. Read more to find out how you can help.
Because of the staggering number of animals without homes, traditional kill shelters are a grim necessity, and no-kill shelters are perpetually full. Municipal shelters are expensive to build and maintain. At larger shelters, behavioral problems develop due to inadequate attention and communicable diseases spread quickly.
Home-based foster programs rely on volunteers who typically lack formal training or specialized animal facilities, At best, this means they cannot care for multiple animals efficiently. At worst, it means they are ill-equipped to handle problems that commonly arise when housing multiple animals. These factors increase the chances of volunteers having negative experiences while fostering, which in turn make them less likely to continue doing so in the future.
The proper tools make it easier for people to provide better care for more animals. Plus, just a few more home-based shelters can help a community as much as an entire municipal facility.
There are people with the time, resources, and inclination to build modest animal care facilities into their homes, but they have never even thought about doing so. If these people were able to realistically visualize every aspect of operating a home-based shelter, from building the facilities to caring for the animals, some would gain the confidence and motivation to establish them.
Success will be measured by:
Create tools that give animal welfare supporters the knowledge and confidence required to build and operate high-quality shelter facilities in their homes.
Develop an application similar to kitchen-design software that allows users to easily design home-based shelter facilities. The designs will follow accepted guidelines, such as those put forth by the Humane Society of the United States and the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. The app will use augmented reality to show what the facilities would look like in their home, both with and without animals. When designs are complete, the app will provide a parts list and installation instructions.
Provide an application that organizes and automates common tasks associated with operating a home-based shelter, such as performing intake checklists, managing medical records, and documenting interactions with prospective adopters. Many such apps already exist, but most are geared toward larger shelter operations. If a suitable app can be identified, pay to provide it at no cost to participants. If not, modify an open-source app.
Note: Portions of this application are shared with the Shelter Society project.
Compile and publish tips and instructions for building home-based shelter facilities. Create a discussion forum to facilitate communication between people interested in building home-based shelters and those who have already done so. Create a city-based directory of skilled animal welfare supporters who are willing to help those who want to build home-based shelters, such as contractors who can assist with construction or experienced shelter workers who can provide training and advice.
Write positive articles about people who have already built well-designed shelters in their homes. Hire photographers to take professional photos of their facilities. For participants who build through this program, write articles about and take photos of the entire process. Frame the articles such that animal sympathizers with the means to build a home shelter would view doing so as an aspirational goal. Submit these articles to online and print publications.
Home-based shelters are a better choice for many people.
Caring comes at a cost. People who work regularly with animals are subject to the same compassion fatigue as nurses, hospice care providers, and social workers. The same empathy that makes people want to help animals also makes witnessing their suffering particularly painful.
The depressing, brutal realities of traditional shelters make them emotionally draining and turnover there is understandably high. In the long run, it would be better for most people to avoid those environments altogether and foster animals from home rather than volunteer at a large shelter and burn out quickly.
Volunteering from home is also more efficient. Animals require frequent attention every day. Compared to traveling to an external facility, caring for animals from home is more convenient. Ultimately, the efficiency of home-based shelters makes them more sustainable. Providing care in a less demanding fashion will be more rewarding and enjoyable, attracting more volunteers as well as resulting in longer commitments and lower attrition rates.
Finally, smaller shelter facilities can be better for animals, too. For all but the most extreme cases, animals fostered in smaller groups will receive more individual attention and develop fewer behavioral problems, which leads to a greater chance of becoming adopted.
The right tools make a big difference.
In practically every field, tool quality separates rookies from professionals, and such is the case in animal care. In professional shelters, people can safely isolate animals with behavioral or medical problems or who are merely having difficulty adjusting to their new environment. Proper enclosures are large enough for animals to be safe and comfortable for extended periods and can be cleaned quickly and easily without removing their inhabitants. Non-porous materials and adequate ventilation help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Light and sound controls help prevent behavioral problems. Dozens of elements like these make it easier to provide care and lead to better outcomes for the animals as well as the humans caring for them.
Furthermore, building a home shelter will change people’s perceptions of themselves, promoting them beyond casual enthusiasts to serious advocates of animal welfare. Taking such bold steps will help them assimilate this role as a part of their identity, thus making them more likely to continue fostering in the future.
The longer people work with professional tools, the more professional they will become. For example, in a typical home, there is no rigid capacity limit and volunteers may be tempted to take on too many animals. However, building formal shelter facilities creates a precise capacity. Over time, working with professional tools will raise volunteers’ standards of care to the point where they won’t want to take on another animal if they don’t have the facilities required to give it proper care – which is better in the long run for the other animals and for the volunteers themselves.
Visualization and self-efficacy create a compulsion to act.
Visualizing ourselves taking an action is crucial to actually following through. If we cannot imagine ourselves completing a goal, it is unlikely that we will take steps toward making it happen.
Each tactic in this project is designed to help people visualize a different part of the process. Articles will introduce the concept of home shelters and show how people similar to themselves have successfully built them. The shelter management app tutorials will show what operating an organized home shelter would be like. And, of course, the design app will show users exactly what facilities would look like in their home.
However, merely using the design app will also educate users by illustrating what goes into a shelter beyond just properly-sized enclosures, like HVAC, wash stations, and drainage. Such education is important because people who love animals want to take good care of them – and would feel bad if they fell short. Fear of failing to provide proper care for an animal is a significant barrier to taking action, and can be overcome with knowledge – which the various elements of this project will provide.
Once people can see themselves building a shelter in their home – and running it well – they will develop a sense of self-efficacy that can lead to action. For example, when people walk past the space in their home where they’ve visualized putting the facilities, they may often imagine the shelter they know they could build and the animals they know they could be saving. At this stage, they face a crossroads: if they do not act, they risk part of their identity by admitting they are not as serious about animal welfare as they previously thought; however, if they do act, they can become a better version of themselves than they had previously imagined. When choosing between sacrificing one’s values and saving animals, many will choose the latter path.
A few people can make a large impact.
This project can make a significant impact even with a relatively low participation rate. Just a few home-based shelters in a community will have the same effect as an entire new shelter. For example, if just one in a million people in the greater Los Angeles area were to create a home shelter capable of housing four animals each, the net effect would be roughly equivalent to building a medium-sized municipal shelter. If one person in each 100,000 in the US were to do the same, it would be like building 250 such shelters – all without draining the resources of existing animal welfare organizations or requiring public funds.
Millions of cats and dogs are euthanized each year in the US alone, yet pet stores continue to sell animals, almost all of which come from large-scale commercial breeders (commonly known as “puppy mills” and “kitten mills”).
Demand for animals from pet stores can be reduced to the point of unprofitability within a generation if children learn early that the proper place to get an animal is from a shelter.
Success will be measured by:
Persuade teachers and youth activity leaders to engage children in memorable exercises that demonstrate the merits of animal adoption.
Create a series of illustrated children’s books starring shelter animals and their rescuers. These books will frame the children in the stories as heroes for saving the lives of the animals by adopting them. These books will primarily serve as templates for children to emulate. Offer books at no cost to schools participating in Rescue Tails activities.
Create high-quality lesson plans that cast animal adoption in a positive light. Language modules will include reading stories as well as participating in creative writing exercises in which students individually or collaboratively write their own stories. Art modules will include illustrating their stories or those written by other students.
Create lesson plans at a variety of grade levels. Older students can create books intended for younger local students to read.
Develop an app that allows teachers to prepare their students’ work for publication. Fully automated software would be needlessly complex and prohibitively expensive to develop and maintain. Instead, the automated portion will guide users to create a nearly finished prototype, but the actual print-ready files will be prepared by Rescue Tails staff. This will provide the additional benefit of giving specialists the opportunity to identify and correct potential mistakes before costly printing errors are made.
To help teachers publicize the activity, the app will also generate press releases and include tips for submitting them to local newspapers for coverage of the students’ participation.
Finally, the app will allow teachers to submit their students’ work for inclusion in the official Rescue Tails series. Depending on the volume and quality of submissions, qualification for publication could be determined by staff or else by the results of public contests between other submissions.
Make published books available for purchase through Amazon. As revenue generation is not the goal of this project, set book price close to printing costs.
Allow participants who wish to use this activity to raise funds to set the price higher and designate another animal welfare organization as the recipient for the profits.
To animals, shelters are like prisons: there they are locked in cages, alone, away from their homes and families. In this unfamiliar environment, even well-adjusted animals start behaving differently.
Some get depressed while others act shy; still others become aggressive – and all of this interferes with the adoption process. A normally friendly, happy dog can miss an opportunity to be adopted into a perfect home if she seems sad and lethargic. On the other hand, if a dog is docile in a shelter, but then turns out to be rambunctious at home, he may cause problems with children or other pets and consequently get returned.
With the ubiquity of smartphones, videos of shelter animals acting normally in a home environment are often available from former owners or volunteer foster parents. If the people visiting shelters saw these animals acting like animals, rather than prisoners, they could make more informed decisions that lead to better outcomes.
Success will be measured by:
Create an easy, consistent way to organize and share animal videos that is compatible with the unique demands of the shelter environment. Persuade foster care providers to share videos of their animals’ normal behavior. Make these videos easily accessible to prospective adopters while they are in the shelter environment with the animals.
Create a mobile app that helps people create collections of videos of animals in their care. The interface will guide users through every step of the process, including shooting new videos, locating and uploading media files, and linking the Waa.la media collections with external profiles, such as those on Adopt-a-Pet and PetFinder.
Create a web application that displays videos of animals. The primary entry point will be short URLs that lead to a particular animal (e.g., http://waa.la/rover ).
The app will load media quickly and with as few other elements as possible. For example, if a single video is available, the interface will simply play that video full-screen. One of the only menu options will be a list of other animals at the same shelter who have videos available.
Create an app that generates printable placards that direct potential adopters to their waa.la videos. These placards are intended to be posted outside enclosures at animal shelters and affixed to any printed profiles distributed at adoption events. These placards will display:
Note: Since few people regularly use QR codes, the primary focus will be on the short URL.
Making the most of current technology is a challenge for small organizations, especially non-profits. Even with a wide array of free and low-cost tools available, integrating them all effectively requires enormous amounts of time and technical expertise.
Without well-designed tools, organization and efficiency suffer. As a result, inaccurate information or slow communication can frustrate potential adopters and volunteers alike, and in the worst cases, can negatively impact animals’ outcomes.
Most rescue and shelter organizations have similar internet technology needs. A common technology platform would reduce development and maintenance costs while improving communication and information quality.
Success will be measured by:
Create a specialized website and collaboration platform for animal shelters and rescue operations. Persuade the leaders of these organizations to use the platform, and provide technical assistance to those migrating to it.
Create a platform that allows users to create customized websites for shelters and rescue groups. The platform will feature a modular design that allows each organization to choose the features they need, including:
Create a communication platform that streamlines and automates common tasks for animal shelters and rescue groups. The platform will include an extensive help system that explains not just how the software operates, but also provides education in the form of advice from experts (e.g., guidelines on medical record-keeping from veterinarians, or best practices for newsletters from e-mail marketing specialists).
Note: PackOffice and ShelterSites are tightly integrated – they are two views of the same underlying data store. ShelterSites is the public view, and has a highly customizable visual design. PackOffice is the internal view and has a more fixed interface.
PackOffice will feature:
Create directory of all animal shelters and rescue groups (regardless of technology platform). Provide open access to all data.
There are not enough loving homes for all the animals who need one. At the same time, many homes are not as loving as they could be.
If people in committed relationships were to resolve longstanding conflicts, not only would they be happier, but children and animals would also benefit from their happier households.
Helping animals can mean working to change the largest factors that affect their lives, even those that are not directly animal-related.
While the ultimate goal of this project is to increase the quantity and quality of home environments available to animals, the project’s success must first be measured by its influence on people, then by the resulting impact on animals.
Among participants, success will be measured by:
The consequent effects on animals will be measured by:
Create a relationship program that induces couples in long-term romantic relationships to engage in activities that improve communication and increase satisfaction with their partners.
This program must...
Research and publish books that describe the Equilibrium system. Publish a long, research-heavy version that explains in detail how the system works, as well as a short version that simply describes how to use the system. As revenue-generation is not the goal, provide electronic versions in multiple formats and sell physical books at or near printing costs. Finally, create animated presentations to illustrate summaries of the key points for those who will not read the books.
Create a community forum that allows participants to share their experiences using the Equilibrium system and provide each other with support throughout the process. Complete anonymity should be encouraged, and experiential data should be structured so that future participants can benefit from the input of earlier participants.
Solving relationship problems may seem like a circuitous way to benefit animals, but it is only one step away:
Happier people have more love to give.
Charitable acts such as fostering children or animals are at the top of Maslow’s pyramid. People are much less open to taking on the responsibility for another’s needs when their own needs are not being met.
Conversely, as people’s needs are met, they become happier and more inclined to act to benefit others.
If successful, this project will have far-reaching impacts beyond animals. Improving animal welfare will be just one of a large number of byproducts of increasing subjective well-being and improving relationships, allowing people to focus more on self-actualization instead of constantly worrying about more basic needs that were not being met by their partners.
Relationships have a profound effect on happiness.
Romantic relationships regularly contribute to every level of our needs. Beyond just sharing meals and sex, partners can make us feel safe, loved, and confident, and if we’re lucky, they can help us achieve our full potential. In fact, satisfaction with one’s partner is typically the highest correlate to subjective well-being. (Generally only serious, immediate health problems affect our happiness more.)
Yet as important as they are, most couples aren’t getting all they can out of their relationships. Many people in fundamentally good relationships have longstanding imbalances that go unresolved, sometimes for decades. These conflicts aren’t serious enough to drive people to counseling, but still keep them from being as happy as they could be with their partners.
If these imbalances were to be identified and corrected, it stands to reason that both partners would be much happier with their lives.
Animals benefit from better human relationships.
Both children and animals benefit from harmonious home environments. After all, adults who spend less time quarreling with their partners have more patience and energy when it’s time to play with, discipline, or even just pay attention to their little ones.
However, many of the benefits come down to the simple economics of single- vs. dual-parent households, and these factors affect animals even more than children. For example, dual-income households typically have more disposable income for proper veterinary care, which as opposed to human healthcare, is widely viewed as optional.
The largest factor, however, is that people in longer-term, stable relationships are more likely to own a home, and this makes an enormous difference in pet ownership. Most rental housing has restrictions on animals, and for those who don’t own a home, housing issues are the number one reason for abandoning a pet. When cohabiting relationships end, living situations usually change, and not for the better. Children’s lives are disrupted, and animals are routinely abandoned altogether. While not every relationship can (or should) be saved, many nevertheless can be, and needless damage can be prevented by improving communication and resolving conflicts.
If you have any questions about Foster Love or any of its projects, please contact us: