We posted before about how to find a responsible breeder. Purchasing a responsibly bred puppy or adult dog from a good breeder can be a wonderful way to get a dog, but it’s certainly not the only way. Many responsible shelters and rescue organizations provide wonderful family companions or dog sports prospects.
Unfortunately, rescues and shelters have a serious public image problem in many areas, in part due to irresponsible organizations. Just as not all breeders are ethical or responsible, some rescue organizations also fall short. Organizations who adopt out animals with serious health or behavioral issues without regard to the implications for the adopters or community unfairly tarnish the reputation of all rescues agencies. Here’s how to find a responsible rescue.
Firstly and most importantly, look for a rescue that focuses on making good matches between animals and adopters. Rescues who emotionally blackmail good people into taking problem animals through the use of sob stories, threats (“this dog will die Thursday if no one takes him”), or bending the truth are irresponsible, end of story. Responsible rescues focus on the good qualities of their available animals. Instead of four paragraphs on how Blackie was horribly abused by his previous owners, a responsible rescue may briefly mention that he had a less-than-ideal past, then use those four paragraphs to feature all of Blackie’s wonderful traits and to describe the perfect home for him. If a rescue euthanizes animals after a certain period of time, the responsible rescue may mention that fact in the animal’s bio, but will also include other information that will help that animal meet a good match. As a potential adopter, expect the responsible rescue to ask you about your lifestyle, past pet ownership, and expectations in order to suggest appropriate dogs that would fit your needs.
Responsible rescues don’t make excuses for their animals. This is a hard one, but it’s oh-so-necessary to make good lifelong matches. An irresponsible rescue will often blame the environment, the surrenderers, the phase of the moon… anything to avoid admitting that an animal in their care has serious issues. Responsible rescues evaluate the animal in front of them and are realistic about the placement potential of that animal, even when hard choices need to be made. Instead of relying on staff and volunteers’ impressions about an animal, responsible rescues evaluate dogs using a set behavioral evaluation such as ASPCA’s SAFER, Assess-a-Pet, the Blue Dog Eval, or another formal evaluation. Formal evaluations for all dogs allow rescues to make the best placement decisions by providing more information on a dog’s likes and dislikes, personality, and response to various interactions. Evaluations used to be used only to make euthanasia decisions, but today’s evals focus less on the “adoptability” of a given animal and more on determining what the best home for that animal looks like so that rescues can better match pets with the right adopters.
This does, however, bring us to another point. Responsible rescues do not place every animal. There’s a growing movement for shelters and rescues to become “no kill,” but this phrase can be misleading. Responsible no kill organizations still euthanize animals with health or behavioral issues that make them a poor fit for placement. Not every animal is placeable. Some responsible organizations get around this problem by being very selective about which animals they take into their programs, thus leaving less adoptable animals to be taken in and euthanized by other organizations. However, even selective organizations will occasionally run into animals who are not suitable candidates for placement (either because the animal was a stray with no known history or because the surrendering owner was less than truthful). Responsible rescues care as much about the safety of the adopter and the community as they do about animals, and don’t place dangerous animals (such as animals with bite histories or histories of killing other animals).
Responsible rescues work within their means. There will always be more animals in need, and it’s easy for kind-hearted rescuers to become overwhelmed. A responsible rescue understands that they can do the greatest good by sometimes saying no. Many hoarders began as rescuers who just couldn’t resist the pull to help “one more.” A responsible foster home or shelter only takes in the number of animals they can provide adequete physical and emotional care to. This includes adequete veterinary care (including spaying or neutering every animal before adoption), meeting basic hygiene standards, and basic physical needs. However, it also includes much more.
This is because responsible rescues improve the animals in their care. Dogs who deteriorate physically or behaviorally while in the care of a rescue are not being done any favors. Dogs live in the moment, and a dog who spends months or even years in a small cage at a facility with little or no human interaction is being tortured, plain and simple. This is every bit as abusive as hitting an animal, yet some rescuers still bury their heads in the sand and refuse to see how psychologically inhumane they are being to the dog, who sinks into depression or resorts to stereotypical behavior in response. A responsible rescue cares for both the physical and emotional needs of the animals in their care, providing ongoing enrichment and training to better prepare dogs in their care for success in their new adoptive home. A dog from a responsible rescue or shelter becomes more adoptable the longer he stays with the organization, due to the training and enrichment he receives while in that agency’s care.
Finally, responsible rescues follow up. Expect the responsible rescue to touch base with you and make sure things are going well with your new pet. The responsible rescue supports adopters through behavior counseling, providing resources, and putting a plan in place for adoptions that don’t work out. Most rescues will take back animals who don’t work out in their new homes, and those who are unable to do so provide other resources for their adopters. Just like responsible breeders, responsible rescues often microchip their animals so that they will be notified if the animal ends up abandoned or is found as a stray.
So, how can you find a responsible rescue? Just like with breeders, the first step is to ask around. Ask friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers where they got their dogs, and whether they would recommend the organization their dog came from. Check with vets, trainers, and other dog professionals to see which organizations they consistantly see nice dogs who are matched to appropriate homes coming from. If you’re looking for a specific breed, see whether the breed club runs a rescue (most do, and most responsible breeders are also involved with rescue work within their breed). Check out Petfinder.com for adoptable animals who meet your criteria, then talk to a representative for that organization to get more information on the agency in general and the specifc dog you’re interested in. Ask about the organization’s policies with aggressive animals, whether they place dogs with bite histories, what sort of enrichment they provide (including, for shelters, whether they’re familiar with the Open Paw program), what sort of adopter support they provide, and what their adoption policies are. Expect the rescue to ask you lots of questions too! Go with an organization that gives you a good feeling.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love my adopted dogs. Some of the very best dogs I’ve worked with (both family pets and sports dogs) have been from rescue organizations, and I regularly foster for several area rescues. I truly believe that rescue is a great way to find wonderful life-long companions. There are many reasons why great dogs end up in shelters through no fault of their own (unforeseen life changes, owner’s medical problems, foreclosures, stray animals who were never claimed). The idea that shelter and rescue dogs are “damaged goods” is completely false. Rescue dogs are often just waiting for the chance to slip into a forever home where they can shine!
Have you ever adopted a dog from a shelter? If so, do you think the organization was responsible? Why or why not? If you rescue dogs, how do you ensure that you’re doing right by the dogs and the adopters? Please share your thoughts and comments below!