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How To Find A Reputable Dog Rescue

How to find a reputable dog rescue is something we are asked about on a regular basis. When good dogs (and aren’t they all) end up with bad people (so many out there), guess who often pays the ultimate price? Dogs do, with their lives. 

The response to our blog post about why it is okay to get a dog from a breeder has been so popular that we feel rescued dogs should have their well-deserved equal time.

Not all dog rescues are created equally, so it is up to you, the prospective dog parent, to perform due diligence in finding a reputable dog rescue. Here’s how.

The Dark Side of Dog Rescue

Reputable, dedicated caring dog breeders have their work cut out. There are many puppy millers and backyard breeders in the world so reputable breeders must perform due diligence in who gets their puppies. The same holds true for the dog rescue world.

There is a very dark side to dog rescue. There are fake fundraisers, people who steal dogs and try to “re-home” them, rescues who in-fight so much that the dogs suffer because of it, and egos that have no business in the business of dog rescue. Yes, dog rescue is a business.

For the reputable dog rescuers, this means they are screening you as much as you should be screening them. In an article for Victoria Stillwell’s Positively blog, Debby McMullen writes, “Blind breeder hate is another common theme among the fringe component of rescuers. After all, the mistaken impression that all breeders are responsible for shelter dogs’ deaths is rampant, if untrue. More on this subject can be obtained in this article.”

Staunch dog rescuers won’t change their stance any more than staunch dog breeders will change theirs. That’s okay, too. There is a place in the world for both. This writer supports both.

According to a piece in the Washington Post this year, there is an evil underbelly in the dog rescue world. Supposed dog rescuers buy animals from the commercial breeders they scorn. Imagine that: They come together at dog auctions, a place where cameras are banned. On one side, rescuers who bash breeders as heartless and uncaring for animals are actually buying animals from them and saying they are rescued animals. It’s a profit war, folks.

The smaller populations of shelter dogs make it harder for some rescue groups, especially those dedicated to specialty breeds, to find what adopters want. One Golden Retriever rescue group turned to the auctions after seeing 40 percent fewer dogs coming in as of 2016.

You can read the entire Washington Post article on dog auctions and rescue groups to learn more.

Sometimes, the rescue world is not what it seems and other times, it is spot on and those dogs need our help to stay alive. When did we become a world in which death is the answer to not having enough space for you to stay?

It happens every day in this country, and frankly, around the globe. Millions of animals are euthanized because there is simply not enough space for them on this planet, not enough homes to welcome them, and not enough money to provide for them.

Stop the infighting: “I cannot let people think Mary did all the hard work on this transport when I clearly did it.” “Do you know she sits on her butt all day and doesn’t make as many phone calls to shelters as I do?”

The above are actual statements I have been privy to over the years. Why is there so much infighting and “I can do it alone” mantras in some pet rescue circles? Ultimately, people will not want to donate, and who suffers then? The dogs in need take the brunt of it and may pay with their lives.

If you are in rescue and ever harbored ill will or shared cross-words via a post or email about a fellow rescue comrade, think wisely about why you are doing it. The general public is watching and many of us want to help, so make it easy for us. Crazy turns me off no matter who did what to whom.

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How To Find a Reputable Dog Rescue or Dog Shelter

Do Your Homework

Adopting a dog through a reputable dog shelter or rescue is one option. If you go this route, proceed with (pre-) caution.

  1. Is the group a 501c3? A 501c3 means the group has licensing, is in the business of being a nonprofit, is tax exempt because of its charitable nature, and is recognized by the IRS as such.
  2. Find out what the process of screening involves. You will be expected to fill out an application, provide references, and be willing to allow an in-home visit. No one wants the dog to end up back in the shelter or worse.
  3. Ask others online whom you trust about their experience(s) with the shelter or rescue. You are bringing a new life into yours, so you owe it to yourself to be sure he stays with you for keeps.

Ask For Medical Records

Most shelters and rescues I’ve dealt with can tell you what they know about the dog, but they can also tell you about any existing health conditions, too. Additionally, they will have medical records available to you for any procedures or surgeries done while the dog has been under their care.

Read Contracts Thoroughly Before Signing

Any exchange of property (and sadly, a dog is considered property in the eyes of the law), should be accompanied by a signed contract that satisfies both parties. A contract adds credibility to a rescue group, but it also ensures your rights and responsibilities as this dog’s new owner as well.

Ask Questions About the Dog’s History

How did he or she come to the rescue? Where was he found? What were the circumstances? I’ve seen cases of shelter dogs finding new homes and then the original owner comes around, perhaps their dog was lost and now you’ve got him. There are so many unknowns, which is perfectly okay. A reputable rescue will tell you what they know and be transparent when they don’t have much to share.

Know the Rehoming Policy

Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. There is a recidivism rate in the dog rescue world, too. While some rescue groups won’t take a dog back, they will put it in writing what you are to do with the dog if you cannot keep him. A rescue group that gets upset at your inquiry with this question concerns me and it should concern you, too. The dog should stay with you, but life is full of unexpected issues. It is best to be prepared.

Take To Social Media

Gossip lives online, and for sure you should not believe everything you read. There are common factors to take into consideration, though. Do you read a lot of negativity online about the group? Are they fair? Are they reputable?

In preparation for this story, I actually called two veterinary offices of Cocker rescue groups I’ve worked with. I asked if I could speak to someone about the dogs that XYZ group brings in as a potential adopter. The receptionist had no issues with taking a message for someone to call me back.

Meet the Dog if Possible

You found a dog online and he stole your heart. If you can visit him and get to know him better, then go for it. Remember, most dogs in shelters have some sort of history. At the very least, someone caused them to land up there. I tried walking through a dog shelter and made it halfway through before I collapsed into a puddle of tears.

I know I am not alone, hence the popularity of online sites for adopting homeless dogs.  If you can meet him and ask about him, great. Don’t give up on a dog if he shows signs of fear or even pain: You never know what happened. Plenty of amazing stories take place in animal shelters. Consider being one of them if it makes sense for you.

Consider Fostering A Dog

Some of my biggest heroes are dog foster parents. Fostering a dog for a temporary period of time will increase the likelihood that the dog will find a forever home. While in the care of a foster home, abused or abandoned dogs can receive training, be re-socialized and gain a sense of how to better adapt to a host of situations.

By fostering, you also give that dog a chance and you might even wind up being what those in the rescue world affectionally call a ‘foster failure.” In other words, the dog becomes yours because, well, love happens.

Ironically, if you look at this entire list, these same guidelines apply to how to find a reputable dog breeder.

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Dog Rescue Above and Beyond

There are other things reputable dog rescues do, and which may help you in your search for your next furry BFF include:

  • Ensuring the dog is up to date on vaccines/titers, heartworm tested, and has received any and all treatment for any health issues.
  • Comes into your life spayed or neutered to keep unwanted puppies from happening.
  • They check into you as much as you check into them.
  • All federal, local, and state laws for rescue are being met.

Big Red Flag

Be warned and be aware that reputable rescue groups are watching your online behavior as much as you are watching theirs. Do you bash other rescues? Put things in writing that have no place on social media? Personally, I would be fearful as a rescue group to put a dog in need into your hands.

When Not To Rescue A Dog

Guilt. If your rescue friends or family or otherwise, the rescue-only society at large is guilting you into rescuing a dog, this is not a good reason to move forward. You know what is best for you, and any amount of pressure to do what they deem is “the right thing to do” serves no one.

One Facebook friend attempted to cyberbully me when I came out in defense of reputable dog breeders, while explaining I am very pro reputable dog rescues. Anger, vitriol, and ‘my way or the highway’ harms friendships and hurts dogs. So stop it. It’s that easy.

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Why Do People Rescue?

“When I lost my first dog Sam, I knew two things: that I would soon love another dog and second, that my next dog would be a rescue,” says dog mom and dog rescue volunteer Celia-Campbell Smith of Indianapolis, Indiana.

“There are so many wonderful dogs at shelters and rescues across the world that are overlooked. They love just as fiercely (maybe even more so) than a dog you pick from a breeder or a pet store. These dogs have come from the bottom and STILL forgive humans and love them. I needed Angus as much as he needed me, there is no doubt about that. It’s also important to remember that by adopting a rescue you save the life of two dogs. The dog you bring home and the dog that gets the kennel space at the shelter or rescue. Rescue saves lives, it’s as simple as that.” (see photo above for Angus before and after)

My first Cocker was a puppy mill rescue. I believe until laws are tougher and legislation is passed for dogs, it will never change. In a visit to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 2012, imagine my horror in discovering puppies being sold with green beans.

In a recent blog post, dog blogger and rescue advocate, Rachael Ward Johnson of 2 Traveling Dogs, addressed the topic, “Is It Okay To Ask Someone If Their Dog Is a Rescue?” We contributed with our response, and we encourage you to read through her prose and why she no longer asks.

Wigglebutt Warriors is the fundraising arm of this blog and we crusade to save dogs’ lives. Our dog, Dexter, came from a reputable breeder and he, in turn, rescued me from myself. Would I rescue again? Yes. Would I go to a reputable breeder again? Yes. I suppose saying my heart beats dog means living it to the fullest and every day I strive to do just that.

So how can we do both and support both reputable dog breeders and reputable dog rescues? Because there is a place in this world for both. We support keeping dogs out of shelters and rescues in the first place: Getting to the bottom of what landed them there, decreasing unwanted pets through spay and neuter, educating people, breaking the cycle of abuse, and not finding it acceptable to use euthanasia as a means of solving this horrible problem.

If You Don’t Rescue a Dog

There are creative ways to fundraise and help dogs in need if you do not rescue: 10 Ways To Creatively Fundraise for Dogs

Cyber Foster A Dog

Not all of us can afford to give gobs of money to a favorite rescue. I sponsor a dog every month for $10 bucks.  Cats and rabbits and all species in need could use a loving cyber foster parent. If you yourself have sponsored a pet or know someone who has, that $10 bucks makes a big difference. 

“A walk through the kennels, and one realizes these dogs are barking for their lives,” says Terry Humerickhouse of Texas,  summarizing why he has fostered over 150 dogs in his lifetime.

Engage with Dollar-for-Dollar Sponsorships

Some rescues have a matching funds drive, so be aware of them and donate then. For example, once a year, a Cocker rescue group I work with has a matching funds drive.

For every donation made during the matching funds period of time, (usually up to a certain amount), a private donor steps in to match the funds. So if $10,000 gets raised in that time frame, the benefactor bumps it up to $20,000. You can Google “dollar for dollar” or “matching fund drive” sponsorships.

Shop and Tell Your Followers to Shop, Too

 So many websites have a “give back” option. finding out if your favorite rescue (don’t have one yet?) is involved in a “give back,”  everyone wins. You shop, and the store gives a percentage of sales back to the rescue group. One caveat: You need to click through the actual website link for the rescue group to get the credit.

Use Social Media to Hit the Open Highway

 Transport pets from high kill shelters to rescue groups. You can find transport groups on Facebook or by Googling. My good friends, June and Mike Myers, do this for Cocker rescue in Oklahoma. She helps dogs get from point A to point B and on their way to a foster home or a forever home.

Being a volunteer driver means you need to be willing to do things without a pat on the back. The pets who are saved and those wagging tails are rewards, plus knowing you are helping a pet in need.

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Keep This Conversation Flowing: Don’t Stop Now

Where can you find reputable rescues? Google! The sky’s the limit for dogs in need, and although one person can’t save them all, you can be make a huge difference in the life of that dog. Use the tips above to ensure you are working with a reputable dog rescue. Dogs lives do matter!

In conjunction with three other highly respected pet bloggers, we are collaborating on this topic. I am incredibly proud to share the spotlight with each of these ladies.

Please visit the following blogs to continue our educational series. We’d love your feedback and just ask you are respectful, as you would expect, too.

If we work together and stop the people shaming, dogs win. On this happy thought, we can all agree.

Kelsie McKenzie: Mom to Great Pyrenees and foster cat mom: Six Reasons I Support Pyrenees Rescue

Stephanie Seger: Big Dog Mom to Mastiffs: How to Put an End To Dog Rescue: 10 Simple Solutions 

Susan Bewley: Dog mom to Alaskan Malamutes (and other animals, too): Dog Rescue: How It’s Done Right or Wrong

How to find a reputable dog rescue

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  1. I do transport now for 3 wonderful rescue groups.
    They let me know when the dog is adopted and send a pic.

    Yes be aware of rescues, some are wonderful others are in it for hoarding or money. Rescues do need money they rely so much on donations.

    We adopted our Lucy from one we do transport for. Foster 19 days and drove over 100 miles to adopt her. She is now a therapy dog through Therapy Dog International.

  2. Such a wealth of info in this article. Great tips on how to find a reputable rescue group. And you’re right, rescue and breeders can and should work together. There are good and bad ones for each. Anyone considering rescuing a pet should read this article. Being informed and armed with info before you make a decision to rescue is invaluable.

  3. a good site to go to is the AKC website, they have reputable rescues that many breeders will donate to, puppies that dont make show dogs due to height, coloring, snow nose, etc., finished dogs that the breeder is no longer showing, etc. you can find breed specific rescues as well. most reputable show breeders will specify certain requirements for the dogs as well. i know one that requires health insurance.

  4. “The Fallacy of Dog Rescue”?! Really, Carol? I was with you until I read those words. Please, I implore you not to spread labels like that, people will latch onto them like ants on a sticky substance, and mistrust all rescues. Dog Rescue isn’t a fallacy at all – who cares where the pets originally came from?! They need homes, that’s all that matters. There are tons of fabulous rescues out there. Of course there are some bad apples, there are bad apples everywhere in every aspect of life. The resource link you provided by the way, goes virtually nowhere – it goes to a page you have to sign into to see anything but their home page. I can’t stand when rescues trash each other or when people trash rescues or shelters. How about we do a little Root Cause Analysis and trash the people who are responsible for the enormous number of pets that end up in shelters in the first place – now that is something worth trashing! And while we’re at it let’s stop trashing county shelters that aren’t No Kill. The pets that end up there are Innocent, Helpless victims. It’s not like they were given a choice. Animal Control agents don’t give them a form that says “Check here if you prefer to be taken to a No Kill shelter” When you trash municipal shelters and tell people to boycott them, all you do is take away hope for pets in desperate need of finding homes. Shelters are Cost Centers of a community, not Revenue generators. How about trashing local governments who won’t provide enough funding to house all the shelter pets that the huge number of irresponsible or uninformed owners cause a need for (yes, there are some valid reasons for surrendering pets to shelters but far too many aren’t)? Where do you think No Kill shelters and Rescues get their animals from? A huge number of them come from….. wait for it….. Municipal shelters that aren’t no kill! Partnerships between municipal shelters and rescues are vital lifesaving partnerships. And those Auctions? Some do it to prevent the animals from being dumped in the street or entering shelters, not to make money! I don’t agree with giving them an out, I think millers and puppy stores need to be held accountable and their animals continually tracked to prevent dumping those that don’t sell fast enough. I don’t know what rescues you’re talking about, but the ones I know of that have participated in auctions had positive intentions. “Despite popular belief in #AdoptDontShop Circles” !? What does that even mean? Who cares where homeless pets were originally acquired, the fact is they are in a shelter or rescue and they need Homes! I use that hashtag ALL the time when I write about animal rescue topics. Please don’t lump me into some “circle” and don’t trash the use of the hashtag, I really take offense to that! Take a Twitter scroll through posts under that hashtag, do you really see it as an abomination?! You shared some good points here, Carol but these two points really missed the mark. This is the very first time I’ve ever been personally offended by anything on your site, your content is always stellar. I’m so upset right now I need to go offline and take a breather.

    1. Cathy, you are most certainly entitled to your opinion and beliefs, and I stand by every word I wrote. Because I am pro reputable rescue and pro reputable breeder, allow me to respond to each of your comments. As someone who has been involved in dog rescue for a long time, as you have been as well, I feel qualified to address and respond to your comment.

      1. There is a very dark side to some supposed rescues and yes, there is a fallacy to dog rescue. Fallacy, per Merriam Webster, meaning a false or mistaken idea. There is such a fallacy in dog rescue. Not to all rescues, and I never stated that.

      2. The dogs need homes, yes, but the very rescues who bash on reputable breeders are the ones out there paying top dollar to commercial breeders. They can’t have it both ways.

      3. Which link are you referring to? There are several.

      4. Who told anyone to boycott shelters or trash municipal shelters? I know I sure didn’t.

      5. There are MANY bad rescues, bad people in rescue, unscrupulous folks – and I have been privy to many of these situations, sadly. Many, Cathy. I put my reputation where my words are. I am that serious about this.

      6. And you can refer to Stephanie’s link where she addresses “Adopt Dont Shop” in vivid detail. The link is noted in the post. I do not use the hashtag for a variety of reasons. I did not trash the hashtag and if you feel strongly for it, then by all means, use it.

      7. I cannot help that you are offended. I do know the truth stings and that is what I have reported on here. Where there is opinion it is noted.

      I, too, get upset, over how animals are harmed thanks to rotten people. I can relate to needing a breather – sometimes, we all need that.

      1. I’m glad to see the issue of rescue operations discussed. I would never want to trash these organizations and folks who are working to help get dogs into homes. But some procedures are questionable and there seems to be no way to find out exactly what is happening. I’m wondering especially about these huge numbers of dogs transported to other states. Yet I talk to people in those states where the dogs are going, they tell me there are plenty unwanted dogs already in their state? And if someone local wants a certain dog they are told “ you can’t have it’s already spoken for in another state”. Also if shelters in my city are sending hundreds of dogs to Colorado and Kansas every week, they are going to run out of these perfect fur ever homes . This is a very expensive process. I fostered some puppies and I was told I could follow their progress on Facebook but I could never find out what happened to them. It seems we need to find a way to keep folks from constantly having puppies and those people are treated with kid gloves by rescues “oh it’s okay, we’ll take care of your careless over populations of dogs “. It sounds like someone is making some money or something is happening to such huge number of dogs being “transported “
        For rescue.
        I’m am not against shelters which euthanize-some dogs are put in a home where they are on a chain or in a cage their entire life or frightened and abused.
        Thanks so much.

    2. Cathy – I really wish all rescues were good. Being an area where puppy mills are rampant and a state that it is illegal for vets to report animal abuse, it encourages rescues not to be honest. Many of the puppy mills have closed auctions, where pet stores, farms, and rescues can ‘buy puppies’. It is dishonest, but part of the problem. Some are even calling themselves rescues when they are actually just a glorified pet stores since they aren’t registered as a rescue. I know dog brokering has become a big business here, where someone can sell the puppies to various people without the puppy mills name going public. These rescues then advertise the puppies and sell them for $500 – $1000+.

      I also think people deserve to know where the puppies are coming from that they rescue. If they are adopting a puppy mill puppy, that can come with thousands in now and future vet bills. While it may not be a big deal for some families, many living paycheck to paycheck can’t afford the burden or pet insurance. It is why it is important for people to have as much information as possible to give their dog the best life possible.

      That being said, there are also many awesome rescues. Some of the ones I personally support are smaller rescues with lots of volunteers, fosters, and they go above and beyond to make sure puppies have the best home possible. They are also very transparent about where their puppies come from – saying an owner surrender, local shelter, city of origination (some come from Georgia), etc.

    3. Cathy Armato, I have to ask you what article did you just read? You make no valid points nor any justification to what is presented in this article. Abomination? Really, Cathy? This article never used this word! You need to look up the word fallacy and understand its meaning. I don’t think if you understood the intention of the word; otherwise you wouldn’t have questioned the use of the word in the context it was used. If anyone should be offended, it should be the author. Fortunately, Ive come to realize she is the real deal in real life as she is online. She supports rescue as well as breeders. She always shows both sides of an issue. Maybe reread this article before you pass judgement as so many people do these days before they have facts to support their argument.

      1. I know full well what the word fallacy means Beverly & I don’t appreciate your smart-ass remark. I made some very valid points, you obviously didn’t catch them. I’m tired of people criticizing the concept of Adopt Don’t Shop, the use of #AdoptDontShop, and rescues. Sure some rescues have issues, just as many groups everywhere in every field have issues. My main issue is with external comments & links referenced here.

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