For those wanting to help overburdened shelters but can’t commit to adopting an animal, fostering may be the answer.

When Gabrielle McMahon and partner Craig Arlidge of Pets Are Best witnessed the misery of local dogs while on a working assignment in Bhutan it heightened their passion for animal care and welfare that influenced their life back in Australia.

They adopted two Bhutan-born stray dogs and brought them home to Australia – no small feat considering Australia’s stritct quarantine laws – and began fostering from Australian Working Dogs Rescue.

“There’s a lot of organisations out there that need foster carers and all are worth their weight in gold,” McMahon says. “But we’re both very active people, we exercise our dogs a lot and working dogs need a lot of exercise – and because of that we thought there would be a lot needing fostering. Instead of fostering a little fluffy thing from another organisation we thought we would take on a working dog.”

Their first foster didn’t work out quite the way they planned, however.

“I’m what is called a foster-fail, when you take a dog into foster care but then think, I can’t let this gorgeous dog go. She had such a wonderful personality, we couldn’t give her up,” McMahon says of her first foster, a Kelpie named Harley.

“I think everyone who fosters eventually keeps at least one of their foster pets,” says Brooke Whitney from the Animal Welfare League Queensland (AWLQ), a shelter that runs a fostering program. “I have two foster failures at home right now.”

The fostering organisations around Brisbane aim to take the strain off shelters and create space for new arrivals, but fostering can also help with rehabilitation. Friends of the Hound is an adoption group where foster carers help transition greyhounds from racing to family life, and in other shelters injured, post-operation or sick animals need a quiet place to recover.

“The animals that we put on foster are usually mothers with litters of puppies and kittens, puppies and kittens that are too young to be desexed, injured animals and animals that don’t handle shelter life very well,” says Whitney. “Fostering is great especially for young animals who need socialisation.”

Most programs have application processes in place to ensure the pets go to foster homes that suit them, and the length of a foster can be anywhere from a week to a few months.

“It depends on the injury or age of the animal, for example a tick bite would take two weeks to heal, but a mother needs to stay with her litter for eight weeks,” says Whitney. “At the AWLQ we provide everything the animals need. Food, bedding, medicine if needed. All the carer needs to do is provide a safe space for the animal to relax and recover.”

“We’re desperate for people to be foster carers,” McMahon says of the Australian Working Dogs Rescue. And with kitten season looming, the AWLQ is also looking for help.

“We have dozens of litters of kittens who are surrendered to us because of unplanned pregnancies,” says Whitney. “These litters put a huge strain on shelters and rehoming centres financially and emotionally.”