As a companion piece to our “how to choose the right breeder post”, here’s the promised follow-up on finding a good rescue*. There are a shit ton of rescues out there. Some are reputable. Some aren’t, even by a long shot. So how does one go about finding the right group, rescue or organization? Here are some (hopefully) helpful things to look out for when looking for a reputable rescue.
1. Reputation matters. Trust us, word gets around in communities about different rescues and their credibility. If one isn’t on the up and up, people in your area will know. What does this mean? Ask around. Ask your veterinarian, other dog owners, local shelters (many have rescues they routinely work with), and local businesses. A valid rescue is known and respected by it’s local community. Even a quick google search can yield good information, ranging from informal reviews from previous adopters to formal complaints on the BBB site. If you either can’t find any information about a group at all, or are only finding disgruntled adopters, it’s probably time to look elsewhere.
2. Although reputation matters, remember that just because a rescue has many followers or “likes” on Facebook does not mean they are legit. It may be that they stumbled into a particularly effective gimmick or went viral due to a particularly heart-tugging sob story. It may also just mean they are savvy enough to manipulate people’s vulnerable soft spots for animals and their desire to save something. Before you fall in love with that puppy in the internet browser window, there are many other things you should consider regarding the legitimacy of that particular rescue.
3. Rescues should have a formal screening and adoption process. Are they asking you lots of questions? Good. Are they asking for references? Even better. Home visits are ideal, but not always possible. Ultimately, rescues should care where their dogs go. If a rescue is willing to just hand over a dog without meeting you, that should raise some red flags. Once you’ve been approved for a dog, they should also have a formal adoption policy and a contract. Part of this contract is that they should always take its adopted dogs back if the placement isn’t successful.
4. A good rescue will take the time to know the animals in their care, and will disclose all information (good and bad) to any potential adopter. Any behavioral evaluation information should also be used to ensure that dogs and potential adopters are a good match. If a rescue is willing to send home a hyperactive Jack Russell with housebound octogenerians, there’s a problem.
4. Credible rescues don’t skimp on the basics of health care. A good rescue will spay/neuter and vaccinate all their animals, probably chip, and provide all records to the adopter. Rescues should also provide basic health check-ups to all animals in their care and disclose any illnesses or injuries to potential adopters.
6. Reputable rescues will never place a dog as a surprise to the intended adopter or place an animal as a gift. They will always involve you, the recipient, in the decision to adopt, the application process, and the selection of the dog itself. Many reputable rescues will also require that all family members meet the potential adoptee, including current dogs to ensure that it will be a good match for everyone. They should be invested in your success, and part of that success is knowing that the dog will be a good fit for everyone in the family.
7. Good rescues are transparent. You should be allowed to tour a rescue’s care facilities if at all possible. A quick walk through will give you a sense of the overall hygiene and care given in the facility. Not all rescues have actual dedicated space, but you should be able to visit the foster home the animal is living in and see how it is currently being raised. If a rescue is not willing to let you visit their animals where they are currently being cared for, this should be a cause for concern. Similarly, if you find that a rescue is dodging your questions or making you feel badly for asking for more information, this is a major red flag. A good rescue has nothing to hide.
8. Good rescues should not not spend their time judging or lambasting shelters. Rescues and shelters often operate on completely different principles (open vs. closed admission, for example) and villainizing the methods of another group does nothing to help the dogs. Since they’re all theoretically on the same side, rescues should spend their time working with shelters to ensure the best possible outcomes for the dogs.
9. Good rescues do not rely on emotional manipulation to find a new home for their animals. If a rescue you are looking at relies on a myriad of sob stories to drive traffic to their website or their tragic tales routinely sound like a bad country song (“We need money because our truck died on the side of the road because a bad man burnt our house down and we have no family and now our dogs are starving, oooooooh”), we suggest looking the other way. Similarly, guilt should never be used as an adoption tactic. Getting a dog from a rescue is your choice, and if you feel like you are being strong-armed or guilted into it, please go find a rescue that is mindful of what a big decision this is and how a rushed or improper match can be detrimental to both you and the dog.
10. Checking on the rescue group’s registration status is an extra precaution you can take if you notice any red flags or if something just seems off. Reputable rescue organizations should want to be registered and licensed on the state level for both tax reasons and credibility. You can do a search on your state’s government website to find out if a rescue organization is in fact licensed.
11. Looking for a specific breed in rescue? Cut out the middleman and go straight to the breed club. Most clubs are very invested in preserving and protecting their breed at all stages and are usually in regular contact with breed-specific groups who can help direct you to the best contacts for breed rescue where you are. Also, if something goes wrong, the breed club of some breeds can make it very very difficult for less than credible rescues they’re associated with, so there’s some recourse.
12. If it looks like a puppy mill, acts like a puppy mill and smells like a puppy mill. It’s probably a puppymill. If they ask to meet you in a parking lot, run. If they tell you the dog has been abused because it’s scared of everything, run. If the rescue “adopts out” a worrying number of the bitches who’ve been pregnant with odd designer dog mixes in their *cough* puppymilling *Cough* rescue, run. If you are uncomfortable with the organization, just walk away. If something doesn’t seem right, go with your gut and take yourself and your checkbook out of there ASAP.
With so many dogs in need, you might find yourself wondering why it matters to find a good rescue. Well, frankly when you get a dog from a less than credible rescue, you are encouraging them to keep operating in their current manner (unethical, irresponsible, etc), and wouldn’t you rather spend your money and time supporting rescues that truly do right by the dogs? We would. If you want to see rescues done the right** way, ask your fellow snobs and do your research.
*Because some people like to point out every exception and tell us what we’ve missed/overlooked, let us be upfront on this one. We are talking about rescues in this post. Not animal shelters or humane societies. Although some of the same general principles may apply, many do not. So please, don’t get into the merits of shelters vs. rescue because that isn’t the point of this post. Got it? Good. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
**Yes, there is more than one right way. Adapt, people.