By Pat Matuszak

Your best friend may not call your cell or message you on social media. They may be completely non-talkative, though their feelings are as clear to you as your own. When no one else understands you, they seem to get you and sit by your side sympathetically, even if they have just chewed a hole in your slipper. Of course, we’re talking about a pet friend rather than a human one.

Dog and cat sleeping togetherStudies show that 90 percent of pet owners consider their critters a part of the family and would be distressed to be separated from them for a long period of time.1 Other studies have also shown that pets can be an important part of our support system when we go through any life-changing situation or medical difficulty.2

Where does this put you when you are considering residential treatment for substance addiction? Will worrying about your fur baby be too stressful for you to concentrate on getting well?

Most facilities are not equipped to house your pet with you, even though some include in-house animal therapy as part of their treatment. Some allow visitation, but you may find that there is a period when your pet will need to be cared for by capable hands other than your own. The first choice is usually friends or family who know and love your little buddy. However, people in your network may not have the space or time that your pet needs, and that can leave you wondering what to do.

What resources do you already have?

The great news is that there are options. Start with the resources you already have. A trainer or veterinarian who knows you and your pet well may have suggestions about boarding and training facilities where your pet will get great care, learn new skills, have enriching play and may even communicate with you on FaceTime or via a photo journal from their caregivers.

Your vet or trainer may also have local connections to pet lovers who care for other people’s fur babies as foster parents. These angels of the pet community care for others’ pets just like foster families do for children and other dependent family members in need. Your treatment facility may also have a list of fosters to give you.

Look into fostering communities

Sometimes fosters are folks who favor a specific breed of dog or cat, so you can check with the local poodle or Persian cat community, for example. If you have exotic pets, check into niche communities in your area that specialize in your particular animal as they may have members who foster. For equine pets, a local stable or 4-H club can put you in contact with eager youngsters who love to ride in lessons and don’t have a horse or pony of their own.

4-H clubs also have groups that specialize in various breeds of animals, dogs and cats included, and these members and their parents train pets and groom them for local shows. They may be willing to take your pets on as foster members while you concentrate on your health for a while.

National groups are available

One amazing nationwide group that specializes in fostering is called PACT for Animals. They never charge for fostering when the pet owner needs medical treatment. This wonderful group was started to help military service people who were being deployed and sometimes had no one to care for their pets while away. They expanded to medical patients in 2012.

On their website, they describe their standard of care:

“PACT carefully screens every case to find the perfect match of foster home and foster pet. Foster families are in constant contact with the military/hospitalized owners providing regular updates, including photos, messages and videos of their beloved pets. For many people in a hospital bed, on deployment, or in another crisis situation, these emails are a comfort for their raw nerves, and the best thing they see all week!”3

Other groups that provide foster care through their networks include ASPCA, Harley’s Hopeful Fund and Red Rover.4,5 While each of these groups has specific instructions and services they are able to provide, experts recommend that you send along a list of your pets’ medical needs and special diet restrictions. Send along a few notes about pet behavior as well. If your dog gets overly excited when he sees a squirrel or a mailman, that’s a good caution to include with his information.6

It’s normal to want your family to be as healthy as possible, including your fur baby. When your pet’s care is handled, your mind is free to focus on your recovery journey. And as you recover, you may find that you’ve become an even better pet parent. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?


1 Pierce, Jessica, Ph.D. “Are Pets Really Family?” Psychology Today, October 7, 2017.

2 Nauert, Rick, Ph.D. “Pets Can Help People Manage Mental Health.” Psych Central, February 12, 2018.

3 Editors, PACT for Animals Mission Statement. PACT, 2018.

4 Editors, Harley’s Hopeful Fund. HHF, 2018.

5 Editors, Red Rover. 2018.

6 McCafferty, Kathleen. “6 Tips for Pet Care When You’re Away on Vacation.” Dog Tag Art, 2018.