Safe Harbor Equine and Livestock Sanctuary in Cottontown, TN, has both a primary farm and an extensive equine foster program.
The primary farm houses a menagerie of animals, including 10 horses, two pigs, a barn cat and an emu. And with the help of 29 offsite foster families, the all-volunteer organization’s lifesaving capabilities are almost tripled.
According to Sariah Hopkins, volunteer executive director, Safe Harbor used to post ads for fosters on Craigslist, Facebook and other online outlets, but as the program matured and word spread, ads became unnecessary. “It is very common for adopters to also ask about fostering after they adopt from us, and about 30% of our fosters are also adopters,” Hopkins says.
Potential foster families complete an online foster home application, followed by reference checks and a phone interview. Finally, fosters make a site visit to meet Safe Harbor staff and horses in person.
Approved fosters are placed into one of the following foster tiers:
1) Intake Foster Homes: Take horses directly from seizure or other intake process and keep them for a quarantine period while vetting is completed.
2) Rehabilitation/Medical Risk Foster Homes: Rehabilitate emaciated horses through re-feeding or care for injured horses. These fosters typically have large-animal vet tech licensure or prior rehab experience.
3) Sanctuary Foster Homes: Foster older horses (over 30 years of age) or horses with a permanent disability—none of whom are available for adoption.
4) General Foster Homes: Foster right up to the adoption process, but require the Safe Harbor adoption team to handle all aspects of marketing and adopting out the animal.
5) Adoption Ambassadors: Foster through the adoption process, including marketing and adopting out the animal from their home. Adoption Ambassadors have a high level of responsibility, including administrative access to the organization’s social media, and they account for the highest adoption rate of all five types of fosters.
Qualities of Great Foster Homes
Hopkins says it’s important to focus on the quality of fosters, not the number.
At one point the agency had more than 50 fosters, but some of them did not follow procedure or communicate effectively. “Trust your gut—Do you enjoy talking to the potential foster, and are they energetic? If yes, then they are probably a good Adoption Ambassador.”
Hopkins also recommends checking out prospective Adoption Ambassador's social media channels. “You want to know what their online etiquette is before you hand over the reins and let them be the voice of your organization online.”