By Jason Allen

DALLAS – FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – With Texas business and schools back open, not as many people are opening their homes to new pets.

The number of shelter animals staying in foster homes has dropped back down to pre-pandemic levels.

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It’s leading to low capacity in shelters again, and not putting as many animals into a program credited with improving adoptability.

When the shutdown started in March 2020, interest in fostering animals surged. With work and school all happening from home, people had more time to devote to a part-time or permanent new pet.

Dallas Animal Services had 205 dogs staying with foster families in March 2020. In March 2021 it dropped back down to 35.

Fort Worth Animal Care and Control estimated as many as 600 dogs and cats were in foster homes at the height of the shutdown. Now it’s closer to 150.

“We saw the increase for a few months after we put out a plea for fosters,” said Jessica Brown, the superintendent in Fort Worth.

The city was able to empty an entire kennel and take care of long needed repainting.

“It definitely helped our capacity and allowed us to care for the animals we still had here,” she said.

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Fostering can last for a night, a weekend or even long term until the animal is adopted. Because it gives the animal a break from the loud, high stress atmosphere of the shelter, studies have shown it can reduce cortisol levels, benefitting the animal’s health.

Fosters are also able to learn more about each specific animal, which shelters can use to improve the chance someone will take a look at it while window shopping.

“Even if it’s a dog the person probably wouldn’t stop and look at, they’re going to stop and read that report card and say ‘Oh, maybe this dog might fit the bill,” said Kristen Morrison, who started fostering dogs five years ago.

It can also be a way to see if an animal is the right fit for a household, before committing long term.

“I even suggest that with some of my potential adopters, why don’t you do an overnight with it first to see how you like it in your home,” said Bree Petty, who is currently keeping four kittens in Fort Worth.

While foster animals can stay with someone for several days or weeks, they can also be out for short visits lasting just a few hours.

Morrison said she had one like that a couple years ago with an older dog who had been in the shelter for 242 days. He was in the car while she went to get an oil change, and the mechanic spotted him, and decided to adopt him.

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“You never know,” she said.