What to Look for in a Reputable Dog Rescue Organization

Adopt-A-Dog's annual just for fun dog show. Credit: Leslie Yager
Adopt-A-Dog's annual just for fun dog show. Credit: Leslie Yager
Written by Leslie Yager

So, you're ready to bring a dog into your home. For many people, pet adoption is the loving option. Describing the family pet as "a rescue" generally meets with approval.  

But what exactly does Rescue mean? 

Allyson Halm, Director of Adopt-A-Dog sanctuary in Armonk, New York who was previously an animal control officer in Greenwich, recommends asking plenty of questions.  

"Ask 'How long have you been doing this?' Look for some type of facility. It should not be based in a back yard," said Halm, adding that reputable rescue groups have affiliations with trainers who work with dogs before they are placed.

"If the rescuer has an electric collar on a dog, that is a red flag," Halm said.

Halm, whose organization operates as a sanctuary with about 30 dogs, from puppies to seniors, says to ask to see paperwork.

"Do not depend on the paperwork trail from the south if it's come up from a southern state," Halm pointed out. "A local vet must have seen, touched and provided care for any dog up from the south."

"Look for an established 501(c)3," Halm added. "And look for a rescue that writes into its contract that they will take the dog back should you not be able to continue to care for the dog."

As for the adoption procedure, Halm's organization requires a minimum of two family visits to their facility. "We do home visits when there are small children or other dogs in the house. We've driven out to Long Island for a home visit. And as far as New Hampshire. "

Halm said it's a red flag if a rescue does not check references. 

"At Adopt-A-Dog, we look for a past veterinary history. We check two references that are not family members. Co-workers, employers, neighbors – and 21 is our minimum age." 

Adopt-A-Dog does not offer online applications. "I want to see the whites of your eyes," Halm said. "We have people fill out the application on premises." 

"Right now, everybody can do whatever they want," Halm said, referring to rescues. "It's a problem. Until there are licensing rules and regulations, it will be down to each rescue group's philosophy. 

According to dog trainer Roman Gottfried, of Roman's K9 Training based in Greenwich, "Just pulling a dog from a shelter is not rescue. Rescuing is the work the foster does, and the extra effort of finding a proper home," said Gottfried, who emphasized the importance of carefully selecting a home that is a good fit. 

"If the organization doesn't work to find the proper home, you set the dog up for failure. That's worse than a puppy store."

"Some people are importing dogs from the south because they make money out of it," said Gottfried. "That's not rescue," Gottfried added, describing the most ideal situation as "home-to-home."  

Gottfried, who often does home visits on behalf of rescue organizations continued, "When I visit a home to do a check I ask myself, 'Would I leave my child there?' If not, then this house is not clear."

"The whole industry has taken a sinister turn," Halm said. "Everybody starts out with the right intentions, but they can become overwhelmed with the commitment and start doing unscrupulous things." 

"The number of rescues is proliferating and some people are profiteering," Halm said. "It's extremely expensive to do everything thoroughly."

Halm is suspicious of transports from the south, though Adopt-A-Dog staff occasionally drive to the south for a litter of puppies.

"Transports and massive adoption events are just no good. It's like an Apple store mentality. Or Black Friday. That is not what the industry needs."

In Westport, Holly Chasin of The Little Pink Shelter has specialized in rescuing dogs from Arkansas for seven years, though she does not bring up a dog until he has been spoken for, and the adopters are interviewed extensively. 

Chasin has established a network of trusted foster families and shelter directors in Arkansas who are in a position to evaluate dogs and vouch for their temperament and personality. 

"My cardinal rules are, first, that the person has to have a real strong pull toward a particular dog. Second, honesty is the best and only policy. Honesty from the shelter director, the foster and the adopter. And I don't use euphemisms, like, "He's really active,' if the truth is 'He's really going to tear up your house,'" Chasin said. 

"My process is so thorough that some people say it's harder than adopting a child," said Chasin who has placed about 1,200 dogs in seven years. 

"In any business there are people who do it badly and you hope it comes back at them," Chasin said of disreputable rescue organizations. "Right now it's a buyer beware situation." 

Little Pink Shelter requires potential adopters fill out an application online, which includes a vet reference, plus two additional references, and Chasin spends at least an hour interviewing each potential adopter. 

Chasin has what she describes as a "26-62 bookend rule" which means anyone younger than 26 must have the support of a parent, and anyone older than 62 must have the support of an adult family member.

Have you had a great experience with a rescue organization? A regrettable experience? Tell us in the comments.

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Deb Bennetts December 12, 2013 at 08:41 AM
Both of our dogs were adopted from rescue groups/shelters: a Bichon and a Toy Poodle, whom we've had them for 13 and 11 years, respectively. There is something special about your relationship with a rescue dog: it sounds strange, but they do "know" that you've saved them and the bond is unique. I highly recommend adopting from a rescue organization!
Charlene December 12, 2013 at 12:25 PM
All my pets have been rescues. I'm not sure if they "know" they were rescues, but I know, and I feel good about it.
Leslie Yager (Editor) December 13, 2013 at 04:26 PM
One last suggestion. Google the name of the rescuer and his/her organization. Today I learned of a friend--a very smart local professional--who paid $400 for a "rescue" dog from an organization that, if she'd searched the owner's name, would yield 1.5 million hits - many about charges of animal cruelty against him.


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