Foster an Animal

Fostering an animal (or a few!) is one of the most rewarding experiences a human can have. Not only do you get to relish in the love and joy animals bring to your home — you’re also given the chance to enrich the lives of animals and help to prepare them for forever homes.

Giving a shelter animal temporary reprieve in your home provides relief from shelter life and can help that dog or cat become more adoptable. You also gain valuable insight into the animal’s behavior, attributes, and preferences — enabling us to find the most suitable future home. Most important, when you foster, you free up space in our shelter, enabling us to rescue more animals that might otherwise be euthanized.

Before stepping up to foster, please consider the following guidelines:

  • It’s important that the foster animal be allowed in your home. If you rent, landlord approval is required before taking the animal into foster.
  • Are the people who share your home with you in favor of bringing an animal into the living environment? All household members must be on board with the decision to foster.
  • Having an extra room in the house is very helpful, especially for puppy or kitten fosters, or in cases where a foster animal must be kept separate from other animals.
  • Flexibility is an important part of fostering. Make sure your schedule allows time for play, socializing, potential vet visits, event appearances, and adoption meetings.

To become a foster you will need to:

  • Be 18 years of age or older, and possess a driver’s license or state I.D. If you are under the age of 18, live with your parents, and would like to foster, please encourage your parent or guardian to complete the foster process.
  • Fill out and submit our online Foster Application (see Foster Application tab). This is a requirement for all people interested in becoming a foster, even if you are already a volunteer. 
  •  Sign up for and attend a Volunteer Orientation (see Orientation tab). All prospective fosters must attend a volunteer orientation. Orientations are held on the FIRST Monday of each month at 4 pm and the FIRST Saturday of each month at 9:30 am. Please arrive promptly with a photo ID. 
  • When your application has been approved, an SCSPCA representative will be in touch with you. If you are not contacted via email by a representative within one week of attending orientation, please give us a call.
  • Keep your eye on your email! Foster opportunities are generally announced through e-blast. However, if you are interested in foster opportunities such as “Slumber Parties” you may come to the shelter at 5pm any evening to speak with staff about bringing a dog home for the night. 

If you have questions or would like to learn more about foster opportunities, send us an email or call us at 831-465-5000.

Now that you’ve filled out and submitted our foster application, it’s time to sign up for an orientation!

Orientations are held twice a month, the FIRST Monday (4pm) and Saturday (9:30am) of each month at our Capitola Mall Adoption Center and Gift Shop in the Target wing. The duration of the orientation is about 30 to 45 minutes.

Please note that orientations fill up quickly so scheduling yourself as far in advance as possible is helpful in ensuring a spot is open on your desired date. If the orientation date you desire is full, you must register for an alternate date . We can only accommodate a set number of attendees.

We place animals in foster homes for a variety of reasons and not all of our dogs and cats are available for this program.

Learn more about the various foster options available to you! 

Adoption Ambassador Fostering

The Adoption Ambassador program is foster care taken to the next level. This proactive home-to-home adoption program reaches people out in the community who may not otherwise visit the shelter, significantly reduces adoption returns, and frees up shelter resources to help more animals.

Santa Cruz is an ideal location for an Adoption Ambassador program as our many pet-friendly cafes, restaurants, parks, beaches, and community events provide perfect venues for showcasing adoptable dogs.

With support, training, and guidance from the Santa Cruz SPCA, YOU, the foster parent, will learn to network, advocate, and adopt out your foster animal from start to finish. The SCSPCA will provide a list of “hot spots.” an “Adopt Me” harness, business cards for your pooch, and a daily promotion plan, which will include a blend of strategic outings and posts on social media (using photos, video, and the #AdoptMyFoster hashtag). The average stay for a dog in the Adoption Ambassador program is less than three weeks, and sometimes just a few days.

As an Adoption Ambassador you should:

  • Be prepared to take your foster dog out into the community to promote them. If you have a pet-friendly workplace, you can even bring your foster to work with you to showcase to co-workers and clients.
  • Be prepared to post your foster dog’s photos and videos on your social media outlets.
  • Attend an Adoption Ambassador workshop, where you will receive training and resources to be a successful ambassador (check our events section for upcoming adoption ambassador worshop dates).
  • Reside within Santa Cruz County.
  • Be willing to abide by foster guidelines.

The Santa Cruz SPCA will provide Adoption Ambassador foster families with whatever supplies are needed (i.e. adoption vests, food, bedding, crate). If you are not a current foster but would like to become one, visit the Becoming a Foster tab.

Long-Term Fostering


A long-term foster situation is a wonderful option for cats and dogs that have been at the shelter for six months or more or are having a hard time adjusting to shelter life. These animals may be fearful of humans or un-socialized with other animals and are generally in need of a quiet, patient environment where their social skills can be cultivated. They might also be special needs animals that require an experienced foster home to help them develop into more adoptable animals. In these cases, foster parents commit to a certain time frame and must be willing to show their animals to potential adopters from their home or a specified location.

Puppy/Kitten Fostering


Every spring and at odd times throughout the year, we receive litters of recently born or very young puppies and kittens that are not old enough to be adopted. Puppy/Kitten foster commitments usually range from 1–7 weeks; every situation is different. Although often only the babies need fostering, sometimes we also have a nursing mother who needs a place to fulfill her motherly duties.

Being a puppy/kitten foster is a big job — and a wonderful experience! We find that baby animals do extremely well in foster homes with children who are all too willing to help socialize them. The ultimate goal is to place the puppies or kittens in a healthy, safe, and social environment until they are of adoptable age. Puppies or kittens must be housed indoors and have little to no outdoor exposure. Experience with puppies or kittens is preferred but not required, and the Santa Cruz SPCA provides all necessary supplies.

Pregnancy Fostering

Pregnancy fosters are extremely vital around puppy and kitten season, and they truly save lives. The Santa Cruz SPCA is inundated with desperate pleas for help from other shelters that have very pregnant dogs and cats needing rescue. If rescue doesn’t arrive, these innocent expecting mothers are often euthanized or their pregnancies terminated (no matter how far along they are) due to lack of space and resources. To be able to provide this life-saving rescue, we must have foster homes lined up. Birthing at a shelter is a death sentence for babies that have extremely low immunity.

Pregnancy fosters commit to caring for the mother until and during birth, and then caring for mother and babies together until the little ones reach the adoptable age of eight weeks old. At this point, mother and babies return to the shelter to be adopted.

This is a very time-consuming foster option and requires experience with birthing mothers. It’s also one of the most rewarding foster experiences. We provide all necessary supplies and maintain regular correspondence with you.

Please inquire with our staff if you’re interested in becoming a pregnancy foster. If a Pregnancy foster is not needed when you inquire, we’ll keep your application in our system and notify you when one is available.

Recovery Fostering

Research shows that cats and dogs recovering from an ailment heal much more quickly in a quiet home environment than they do in a bustling shelter.

Recovery fosters are usually limited-time commitments for ill or injured animals. Sometimes an animal has a contagious illness, such as kennel cough or URI (important to keep in mind if you have other pets in your home). Other times, it’s anything from a bad burn to a broken bone that requires restricted activity or extensive treatment/care. We equip recovery fosters with everything they need to care for the animal, such as a crate, medication/instructions, food, and other essential supplies. Once healing or treatment is complete, the animal returns to the shelter to be put up for adoption.

Slumber Party Fostering


Slumber parties are one of our most popular foster options! You can take almost any of our adult dogs for one night of fun, games, and cuddles. Slumber parties begin at the end of our day (5-6 pm), when you may come to the shelter and select an adult dog to come home with you overnight. Your animal guest returns to the shelter at opening time (11 am). It’s important that these dogs be treated as indoor pets and sleep inside the home. You are welcome to take them out and about, to the beach or around town wearing an “adopt-me” vest, but it is imperative that they remain on-leash at all times.

We encourage our slumber party fosters to do a short write-up about their experience with their doggy guest, highlighting positive and negative behaviors, attributes, tendencies, talent, and/or /tricks. With this information, you help us learn a little more about each of our animals, since often their histories are unknown. Slumber parties are especially needed during holidays and on days when the shelter is closed (Mondays). Cats and puppies are not available for this foster option.

How do I become a foster?

Becoming a foster starts with filling out our online application (see Foster Application tab). Shortly after you’ve completed this application, you will receive an email from an SCSPCA foster representative welcoming you to the foster program, providing you with our foster care handbook, and inviting you to attend a volunteer orientation. You will then register for, and attend, a volunteer orientation in order to learn more about our organization as well as the foster program and current opportunities. After both an application is submitted/approved and an orientation attended, your information will be added to our foster list and you will become eligible for fostering animals!

Once I’ve become a foster, how do I go about fostering my first animal(s)?

Depending on the type of fostering you are interested in, you will be notified via email about current foster opportunities. If you see a foster opportunity that interests you, please call our foster team to talk over the details. If you are interested in “Slumber Party” fostering, you are welcome to come to the shelter to select an overnight guest between 5-6pm any day of the week. Slumber Party foster animals must be returned to the shelter the next day at 11am.

How long will I need to care for my foster animal(s)?

Every foster situation is a bit different and can vary in length. Before you take on a foster, we will do our best to make sure you are aware of the expected time period.

What supplies do I need to provide and what will the SCSPCA provide?

We will do our best to provide you with all of the materials you may need for the complete foster period. This includes food, bedding, potty pads, crate/x-pen enclosure, bowls, and anything else you may need. Replenishments of any supplies can be picked up at the shelter when/if needed. We do not supply toys for puppies as we can’t guarantee the complete sterilization of any shelter item. However, you are welcome to purchase toys if you like. We ask that you don’t provide puppies with edible chew toys, such as raw hides, greenies, or bones, as they are a choking hazard and can often lead to stomach upset.

What should I do if my foster animal becomes ill?

If your foster animal(s) begin to show concerning behavior or symptoms, please contact us immediately to discuss the next steps. We ask that you do not take them to a vet without authorization unless you find yourself dealing with an immediate and life-threatening situation. We can treat many common maladies from within the shelter, and if the problem requires vet attention, we will make an appointment with our contracted vet.

What if I find myself unable to complete my foster care commitment?

While we hope you will do everything you can to honor your commitment, we know that things happen and life can change quickly. We ask that you notify us as soon as you are aware that you can no longer keep your foster animals so that we can get to work on finding another person to take over.

How can I help generate adoption interest in my foster and can I choose the home(s)?

You are very welcome to talk to family and friends about your foster animal, and if they are fully vaccinated, we encourage you to take them out and about wearing “Adopt Me” gear. You may share pictures of your foster animal on your social media outlets, but please avoid advertising them on classified websites like Craigslist. We ask that you avoid promising or guaranteeing adoption to anyone. We have important adoption procedures and an application process that is specially designed to ensure proper placement. We ask that you refer any adoption interest to our adoption staff.

Can I take my foster animal outside or away from home?

While we ask that your foster animal’s main environment be inside your home, fully vaccinated adult dogs enjoy time outdoors and are often adopted sooner if they are taken out into the community. All foster animals must be leashed at all times. Due to outdoor risks, all foster cats must be indoor-only. Foster animals must remain inside the county of Santa Cruz unless authorized by SCSPCA foster staff.

Foster puppies and kittens are un-vaccinated and extremely susceptible to serious illness found in the outdoor environment, especially where other animals have been. They are also known to ingest things that can be harmful and even deadly. For this reason, we ask that puppies and/or kittens are kept indoors and that they stay in your own home.

Can I socialize my foster with other animals?

As long as your foster animal is social, you are welcome to introduce them to other social animals. Please avoid taking your foster animal to off-leash dog parks or off-leash dog beaches, and use caution in unknown situations.

Because puppies and kittens are un-vaccinated and susceptible to diseases that even healthy adult animals can carry, we ask that you do not socialize them with other pets. If you currently have another dog or cat in the home that is up to date on all vaccinations, the risk is far less. While we hope the puppies and/or kittens are separated from other animals for the most part, some interaction with your own animals is ok.

Can I adopt one of my foster puppies at the end of the foster period?

If after the foster period you are interested in adopting your foster, you are more than welcome to move toward adoption. You would be asked to fill out an adoption application and complete any other procedures needed.

Since I am a foster, is there a discount to the adoption fee?

While we are extremely thankful to you as a foster for providing this vital and life-saving volunteer service for us, adoption fees cannot be waived or discounted. We do not generate profit from adoption fees, they merely help to recoup what is spent on preparing the animal for adoption (exam, vaccines, spay/neuter, micro-chip, deworm, etc.)

Can I keep my foster animal at my home once the foster period is over and adopt them out from there?

We understand that the significant amount of time spent caring for your foster animal often creates a strong bond and emotional attachment, making it difficult to bring them back to the shelter when it’s time. We do offer an Adoption Ambassador (see Foster Options tab) program that specially trains fosters to have the ability to adopt their foster animal out from their own home. However, if you have not trained for this special program, it’s imperative that your foster animal(s) return to the SCSPCA at the designated time and are adopted out from the shelter.

Can I name my foster animal?

Most adult foster animals already have names that they should keep while they are still owned by the SCSPCA. However, puppy and kitten foster families are often encouraged to name their “yet-to-be-named” foster animals! It is helpful to name them all using the same first letter or name them in a theme (for example: fish types, candy types, flower types etc.).

 Main Shelter Location

2685 Chanticleer Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95065
(P) 831-465-5000
(F) 831-479-8530

Hours of Operation

Tues - Sun: 11am to 6pm

The Santa Cruz SPCA is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the welfare of animals. We receive no government funding, and depend soley on financial support from our friends. Our organization is not affiliated with any other SPCA or Humane Society.

Tax ID: 94-6171565

© 2017 Santa Cruz SPCA

Mall Adoption Center & Gift Shop

1855 41st Ave. (Near Target Wing)
Capitola, CA 95010
(P) 831-477-7886

Hours of Operation

Wed - Sun: 11am - 5:30pm