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Finding a Reputable Shelter or Rescue

Dhicon_thumb By DogHeirs Team | October 16, 2011 | Comments (2)

If you are thinking about adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue, you may not realize that organizations that adopt out dogs can vary widely in their values and practices. Here are some tips to help you evaluate a shelter or rescue when considering adoption.

Do you know the difference between a a humane society, shelter, rescue organization, a pound and a “no-kill” shelter? If you don't read our article so you will know the difference. It is a helpful first step in finding a pet adoption organization in your area.

Asking questions at the start of your search will help both you and the organization determine if there is a dog that will match well to your lifestyle and family. In addition, make sure you review their adoption policies carefully before committing to adopting an animal.

What to look for in a Shelter or Rescue:

  1. Health Checks, Veterinary Care, Spay/Neuter Policy and Safety Identification
  2. Good shelters and rescues will do comprehensive physical exams on all the animals that they receive. They will make sure animals have had a thorough medical check by a licensed veterinarian to ensure the animals are up-to-date on all required vaccines and shots (e.g. rabies, distemper) and that the animals are parasite and heartworm free. If veterinary care is required, the animals should receive the necessary care and treatment. But if care is not able to be given, the adopter should be fully informed of the dog's state of health prior to adoption. The shelter or rescue should be able to provide medical records upon adoption to the adopter.

    Animal ShelterA reputable rescue spays or neuters all pets before placement, or adopts out only if a Spay/Neuter contract is carried out prior to adoption (with a refundable deposit if the adoption doesn't proceed). The rescue should follow up to ensure spay/neutering was carried out, if they adopt out prior to the procedure being done.

    A good rescue should also ensure the pets have microchips or tattoos for identification. Adopters should be able to register the microchip in their name, but tattoos generally are listed with the rescue name so they can be returned if lost. Whenever possible, it is best if the rescue/shelter's name and new guardian's contact information are both registered for the tattoo or microchip.

  3. No Breeding
  4. A rescue or shelter should never, ever breed animals to "support" their rescue. Nor should they offer animals to be used for breeding. They also should not promote adoption of animals with unstable or unknown temperaments. They should spay and neuter animals prior to adopting them out (see above).

  5. Temperment Assessment (Behavioral Evaluations)
  6. A reputable rescue and shelter should do temperament testing to ensure that all animals available for adoption will be safe members of the community. The temperment test will also help in making the optimal placement. Most rescues will need to have cared for the animal for a minimum of two weeks to allow the rescue time to assess the animal’s temperament, likes/dislikes, and how it reacts in various situations and with people and other animals. If a rescue doesn't do this, it could be a reason to look elsewhere.

    You can ask if the animal you are considering has any behavioral issues. A good shelter should fully disclose this information to you.

    You can also ask what they do in cases if an animal is traumatized or distressed. Do they have a rehabilitation or re-training program? The majority should, or can recommend animal trainers to you that deal with troubled animals.

    The rescue will work carefully to match up the right pet with the right forever home based on the pet's needs and personality and the needs, energy and personality of the adopter. Ask if they follow the guidelines of the "Meet Your Match" program developed by the ASPCA. A good rescue will help you make decisions about which animal is a good fit for your home and offer advice and assistance.

    A reputable rescue will not ask you to to take an animal "sight unseen" or give you an animal just arriving in transport. The majority of times they will ask that all family members (and any existing family pets) meet the new animal prior to finalizing adoption.

  7. References
  8. A reputable rescue will be a not-for-profit, and works on adoptions, not sales. They will have friendly and informed relationships with other rescues and shelters in their area and should be recommended as a "good rescue group" by at least two well-recognized, non-affiliated non-profit shelters in their own State or Province. Recommedations from veterinarians, trainers and other professionals are also a plus. Most active rescue groups/shelters are aware of any issues with respect to other rescue groups or shelters. So a good rescue makes an effort to work in harmony with the shelters, humane societies and animal control facilities in their neighborhood.

  9. Adopter's Screening & Evaluation
  10. Rescues and shelters should have an adoption policy and a contract. They should screen every potential adopter with a mandatory home visit (whenever possible) before a pet is placed there. They will also require personal references, and follow up and check references. They should also screen foster care providers as well.

    A reputable rescue always takes its adopted animals back if the placement isn't successful. They will also say "no" to an adopter if the adopter's situation is not optimal for the animal.

    They never place an animal as a surprise to the intended adopter or place an animal as a gift. They will always involve you, the recepient, in the decision to adopt, the application process, the selection of the animal and a home visit.

  11. Legal
  12. A reputable rescue requires a written application form and adoption contract, which, when completed, is kept on file permanently. The adoption contract should include a legal clause to have a pet returned to the rescue if the new adopter no longer wants it.

    If the organization obtains animals from owner-surrenders, they should require a legal written release form from the owner-surrenders, which are kept on file permanently. You may want to ask if the pet you are adopting was an owner-surrender, and if "yes" was this paperwork completed.

  13. Facilities
  14. You should be allowed to tour a shelter or rescue's care facilities. A quick walk through will give you a sense of the overall hygiene and care given in the facility. Animals should have access to water (if you don't see any out, ask what their routine is) and have a living area clean of feces and excessive dirt. The animals need to appear generally well kept, responsive and alert. If the dogs look lethargic, unresponsive or afraid, something may not be right. Also sick animals should be isolated from the healthy ones; a severely sick dog should not be mixed in with other dogs.

    A good rescue and shelter understands the limits of its resources and does not accept more animals than it has legal authority or space/time to care for.

    Finally, a reputable rescue prioritizes rescue animals from its own geographical area whenever possible. If this matters to you, ask where the majority of their rescued animals come from.


Some Adoption Facts:

  • Did you know black pets are usually chosen the last to be adopted and the color of animals most euthanized. This is known as "Black Dog Syndrome".


If you operate, volunteer or know of a reputable rescue, shelter or not-for-profit organization, make sure your organization is listed and recommended on DogHeirs.com.

Copyright 2015 DogHeirs. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments on this Article

Thank you for the recommendation Kari. We'll be sure to invite them.
Northern chatauqua canine rescue, located in Westfield NY 1 hour south of Buffalo. They are a no-kill shelter that works very hard to get their dogs adopted. We got Jasper there and I continue to donate to their shelter and sponser dogs. www.caninerescue.org
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