If you think you want a pet, but you're not sure you can handle the responsibility of the long-term commitment, there's a solution that that could help humans and animals.
The Early Show's resident veterinarian, Dr. Debbye Turner, says people can be foster parents for homeless animals just as they can for neglected, abused or abandoned children.
The Sebastians, of Burr Ridge, Ill., know that well. True animal lovers, they have two horses, three dogs, two cats, even a momma rabbit and her baby.
When they were asked to provide a temporary home for a shelter puppy that was too young to be adopted, they couldn't say no.
It was a lot of work, but they loved it, and officially became a foster family for a local shelter.
Now, they say, they can't imagine life with them.
Shelters have used foster programs for quite a while, Turner points out. But Hurricane Katrina caused a surge in fostering's popularity, when many Americans took in the pets of homeless victims of the storm.
And the trend doesn't seem to be fading.
"I think fostering is the future in animal welfare," says PetFinder.com founder Betsy Saul, who estimates that half of the nation's 5,000 shelters have foster programs.
"Fostering," she says, "is a way that you can make a commitment that means life or death for a pet. And it allows those of us that are too busy or too overwhelmed ... to be able to make that difference and yet not take on the commitment of the 18 years of adopting a cat or seven years of adopting a dog."
"By fostering," says Darlene Duggan, who runs the foster program of the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago, "we can reach into a subset of the population that possibly wouldn't come to the shelter. "We foster animals for one of two reasons, usually. The first is that they are underage or underweight. ... The second reason we foster is for illness or injury. It's a lot better situation for them if we can get them into a foster home where their cared for 24 hours, around the clock, than sitting in a shelter (being looked after)."
Duggan depends on the Sebastians and 100 other families. By far, though, the Sebastians are her stars. They're on foster puppy No. 91!
To become a foster parent for an animal, Turner says, simply contact your local shelter. It doesn't cost you anything except for the basic care: food, upkeep, toys, etc. The shelter covers medical costs.
You keep the animals until they're ready to be adopted. For young ones, that means until they're weaned and socialized; for sick ones, it means until they're well and ready to go into a regular home.
But beware, Turner says: You'll get attached and want to adopt them -- the perfect happy ending!
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