Are Dog Rescue Groups Too Picky?

Dogs at a shelter
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When I was a senior in college in Central Pennsylvania, I adopted my dog, Simmons, the Greatest Dog Ever, at the local animal shelter for $20, with no obligation to neuter him and no landlord’s letter stating that, yes, dogs were allowed in my rental home. I simply showed up and took him home.

Fast-forward one year, however, and my job at a Boulder, Colo., animal shelter involved conducting in-depth adoption interviews to decide if the interested person or family could provide a suitable home for whatever cat, dog or other animal I was trying to find a home for. At that shelter, once the animals were deemed “adoptable,” they were not killed because of overcrowding. So while there was a sense of urgency to placing them, it was not as if their days were actually numbered if I didn’t do so. Still, I definitely experienced that “gut” feeling when it felt like the pet/family pairings might not be a good match, and I often felt happy but a little worried when someone was adopted. Occasionally, dogs were returned days later, but many of our adoptees did indeed become valued lifetime family members.

Over the years, both of those experiences have made me wonder: What’s the best way to ensure that adoptable animals get great homes?

Shelters vs. Rescues

Though vital for animals in need, shelters are just one of many options available to obtain pets. Some are well-funded, have low kill rates and can be selective about who adopts their animals. Others are overrun with kittens or “less desirable” dog breeds (who may be killed because there’s simply not enough room to house them). Many shelters are poorly funded and eager to adopt animals to almost anyone willing to take them. 

This is where a different breed of organization comes in: animal rescues. These are generally private groups that specialize in removing animals (or certain types or breeds of animals) from high-kill shelters and/or taking in owner-surrendered animals. They may also take in pets who require special medical care or have challenging care needs. Some rescues acquire animals locally, while others may “import” them from shelters in other regions of the country where “kill lists” are high and adoption rates are low. These rescues may not necessarily operate out of a kennel or shelter, but instead they typically use volunteer foster families to care for the animals until they are adopted. These types of organizations, along with important spay and neuter initiatives, are credited with reducing the burdens on shelters. 

For instance, more than 150 rescue organizations remove nearly half of the animals entering New York City’s Animal Care and Control System in order to allow them more time to be adopted. Without this vital help, thousands of animals in the Big Apple would be needlessly killed each year.

Differing Standards

By having added time with the animals in safe hands, rescues can be more rigorous in their adoption standards. Their adoption applications often are lengthy, though, and home inspections are usually the norm. Animals are always spayed or neutered. Most require that the adopter return the animal directly to the rescue if the adoption does not work out and also stress the potential lifetime costs of feeding and medical care so that potential adopters are fully aware of what they are committing to ahead of time. All good stuff.

Recently, however, some private rescues have gotten some bad press for being too picky about potential adopters.

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