Meet Amigo. He moved in about five years ago as one in a long line of my wife Ellen’s foster dogs (130+ & counting). Though many folks use the words rescue & foster interchangeably when it comes to animals, Though dictionaries might agree that Amigo became a rescue dog the minute Ellen determined he was too darned anxious to move in with anyone else, those in the Big World of Dog Care would argue that Amigo never became a rescue dog because he never made his way from our house to a rescue organization.
Foster came into English so early it was Old English, meaning food, nourishment, bringing up. It appears to have come from the Proto-Indo European word, pa, meaning to protect and feed. Pa also appears to be the source of the word food. In English, as early as the 1200s, foster meant to bring up a child with parental care. By the 1300s, foster added the meaning to encourage or help grow. These meanings apply pretty well to Amigo for the last five years (he's now about ten). He’s getting nourishment, both edible and emotional. He’s getting the parenting he hadn’t previously received, & he is definitely receiving encouragement. Though the dictionary doesn’t label fostering as temporary, it is considered temporary in the Big World of Dog Care. A foster dog is being nourished and encouraged by its foster family until a life-long home can be found. This doesn’t always work out (as Amigo & any number of other dogs who stayed with their foster families forever can argue).
On the other hand, the verb rescue came to English from the French word rescorre in the 1200s, meaning to protect, keep safe, free, or deliver. The French word came from Latin, & is related to the word quash, (in simplified terms, rescue means ex-quash). The associated noun showed up in English about a century after the verb. Though it could be informally said that Ellen rescued Amigo from the pound, those in the Big World of Dog Care save the word rescue for the 501c3 non-profit groups that pull critters out of pounds and shelters, house them & promote them to those who might eventually adopt them. Sounds a lot like fostering, but to all those hardworking people shuffling animals around, there’s a big difference.
Any thoughts about rescuing, fostering, or quashing? Leave them in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.