Do Some Rescues Need to be Rescued?

Pug stare at cameraThe woman on the other end of this morning’s phone call was distraught about her dog and in need of help. This was not unusual. That her dog was behaving aggressively was not unusual, either. When she told me her large purebred dog’s breed, I asked whether she had by chance gotten the dog from a particular local rescue group. Sure enough, she had. It was all I could do not to utter the expletives that came to mind. Why had I suspected that the dog might have come from that rescue? Because over the years, I have had countless calls from owners who adopted from them, and over 90 percent of those dogs had aggression issues.

This gets my hackles up. Having been involved in rescue for over 20 years, I understand what it takes to run one. For years I co-ran a rescue for wolves and wolfdog mixes. Granted, it was a bit different because many of the dogs could not be adopted out. However, before that, I worked for a low-kill rescue organization, as well as volunteering (and then volunteer coordinating) for years at a Los Angeles city shelter. I networked with many groups, got very involved in and helped out others, and understand the ins and outs of rescue. I’ve seen the best and the worst of what can happen. And I’m here to say that the “worst” doesn’t have to be this way.

We all want to save dogs. But the sad truth is that not all dogs are adoptable. If a dog is behaviorally so unsound as to be a potential danger, a rescue has no business adopting that dog into a home with an unsuspecting owner who may (or whose kids may) be injured by that dog. Even if a dog has “workable” aggression issues, the screening process for a qualified home had better be very thorough. Years ago, I visited the home of a disabled woman who had adopted a large breed dog from a rescue that dealt only in that breed. The woman had a “helper” who was a friend that came by daily. However, this well-meaning friend had some mental challenges and was not able to truly take responsibility for helping with the dog. This 90-pound dog very calmly sat down in front of me, took my forearm in his mouth, and stared at me as he began to bite down with increasing pressure. It was strange and unsettling. I was not harmed, but given this and other behaviors I observed, it was obvious this was not the right dog for this home (or possibly any home). Although this was a different rescue group than the aforementioned one, I had also seen quite a few aggressive dogs come through that organization over the years.

Most rescue groups bail dogs out of shelters where they would otherwise be euthanized. This is laudable, but what then? Some have a network of foster homes where a dog can settle in and his behavior can be properly observed. If there are other pets in the home, it may be possible to find out whether the dog gets along with other dogs and even cats. If there are children present, the dog’s behavior around children can be assessed as well. All of this is the best-case scenario. Unfortunately, some groups simply get dogs from shelters and then, with no temperament testing at all, put them up for adoption. Can you guess the effect this might have on the return rate, not to mention the chance of harm to adopters? And what about the dog’s health? How can anything be known if the dog has just come out of a shelter?

The organization I used to work for had an adoption form that some joked was as lengthy and detailed as a college application. And you know what? It was, and that was fine. It automatically screened out those who weren’t committed enough to take the time to fill it out, and it told us a lot about the potential adopters. I’m not suggesting that an overly difficult, long, or judgmental adoption process is the goal. It’s not. But some groups I’ve encountered (rescue groups, not shelters) have absolutely no adoption application at all, nor do they take the time to so much as have an in-depth conversation to judge whether the home might be appropriate. There should be a happy medium.

Then there are home checks. Over the years, I have seen people write on applications that they lived on a ranch with acreage, when in reality they lived in a studio apartment. While I would like to think that most potential adopters are honest, the sad truth is that some people will lie to get what they want. A home check should be a part of every adoption, not only to ensure that the dog will have adequate living conditions, but to see whether anything needs to be fixed or changed before the dog arrives. Owners often miss things like the fact that an unfenced pool area can mean death for a dog who’s never encountered one before, or that the garbage bin that’s sitting against the backyard fence is a great stepping-stone for a dog to jump over and out. Fencing, kids’ toys that could be ingested, and other safety concerns are things that must be surveyed first-hand.  Again, to clarify, I am not talking about city or county shelters here, but rescue organizations that have the time and resources to do this. And the idea is not to judge whether anyone is “good enough” for the dog, but to help them repair what’s repairable in order to make the environment safe for the dog, and if it can’t be made safe, to prevent possible tragedy.

Rescuing dogs is hard. It’s more difficult physically, mentally, and emotionally than non-rescuers will ever know. It can be extremely rewarding, of course, but it can also be heart-wrenching. My hat is off to rescuers everywhere, truly. But if an organization is going to rescue, there needs to be ethics and oversight in place. Simply bailing dogs out of a shelter, putting them directly into homes with no regard to health or temperament, charging way-over-average, exorbitant rates and then boasting about how many dogs you have adopted out is NOT ethical rescue. Does an adoption process have to be overly long and complicated? No, and it shouldn’t. But taking the time and making the effort to place dogs in well-matched, loving homes will ensure that the dogs stay in those homes. And really, shouldn’t that be what it’s all about?
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14 Responses to Do Some Rescues Need to be Rescued?

  1. bronny1 says:

    i was with your article 100% until you said “charge a bundle”. I don’t know a single rescue in NZ that profits from rehoming dogs. The one i volunteer at loses about $200 on EVERY rescue, just on vet bills. that’s before we feed and care for them in other ways and pay for overheads. That is pretty normal here. These places only survive on donations.

    Also, i don’t know of any rescues that don’t do property inspections. The pound (animal control) does not, but they are not a shelter, they are a council run and awful place for dogs to stay until (if) they get picked up by a rescue or direct adoption.

    • wildewmn says:

      It’s good to hear that rescues in NZ all do property inspections, and I wish that was the case here. Unfortunately, there are many in the U.S. that absolutely do not. You’re right about the cost of vet bills, absolutely, and rescues *should* charge a reasonable adoption fee, both because of that and because you want to know that someone can afford to care for an animal. But I have come across a few rescues over the years who charge exorbitant adoption fees way beyond the standard, especially for the “prettier” dogs.

      • bronny1 says:

        oh right….no, charges are all the same here, doesn’t matter what breed/type. I think we charge $250 per dog (maybe a bit more for puppies) now….the female spey alone is about $280, and then there are vaccs etc. We have two dogs with us that we have had for 18months now, big strong lovely couch loving girls – but have not found the right homes for them.

      • wildewmn says:

        Ah. I see. No, we don’t have a one-flat-rate for rescue groups. Your rates sound perfectly reasonable to me, but I have seen rescues charge close to $1000 for especially pretty dogs they had just taken out of the shelter. No waiting period to check health or assess behavior. And unsanitary conditions for the dogs in the meantime. Those are the kinds of rescues I’m talking about here. Things sound much different in NZ. Fingers crossed for your lovely couch potato girls! 🙂

    • BC Rescue says:

      Totally agree with your post.
      I rescued border collies for more than 15 years, one to four at a time. They lived in my home as my pets till placed. I used a lengthy application, always did a home visit because people DO lie. All adopted with a lifetime return clause at a reasonable fee. I didn’t hesitate to refuse applicants.
      Only two dogs were ever returned due to the owner’s situation not the dog’s. Three dogs with temperaments so violent I feared for my own safety were not placed. I’ve struggled with difficult decisions, loved many wonderful dogs and owners. Yes, it is hard when you put your heart into it, but so very rewarding.

  2. Douglas St. Clair says:

    You wrote, “… the sad truth is that not all dogs are adoptable.” I agree with what you are trying to say, and have read this same phrase from other people with extensive practical experience, but I see the problem from a slightly different perspective. The more aggressive the dog is the smaller the pool of people who are able and willing to undertake the task. In a perfect world the solution IMHO would be to work on enlarging the pool of people with the skills to manage difficult dogs which would make more safe adoptions possible for difficult dogs. At the same time a more well educated public would do wonders in general and perhaps prevent uneducated owners from creating difficult dogs. Unless and until this happens I fear what you wrote is all too true.

  3. Puppyluv88 says:

    Many shelters are doing great work. I had to take a break from the volunteer side of it. It’s not the dogs, it’s some of the people who are rude, unprofessional, who I wouldn’t deal with if you paid me to. Most are wonderful people though.
    Then there are the profiteers running a non-profit “business”, driving nice cars, second homes, the latest electronic gadgets, latest fashions, the lifestyle most of us don’t have-living off “donations”, but really running a “business”. Hopefully these are a rarity.
    I applaud all the good, kind, hardworking people out there saving dogs from being literally dumped, and finding good homes for them. Many success stories out there. God bless them! The best of humanity.

    • wildewmn says:

      Absolutely agree with you, Puppyluv88. The good, kind, hardworking people out there doing rescue are the best of the best. No one knows what it takes unless you’ve done it. It takes a piece of your heart and then some. It’s the ones who treat rescue like house-flipping, like a for-tons-of-profit business without care for health, temperament, or the well-being of the dogs or people that I’m talking about.

  4. wildewmn says:

    I’m allowing this comments through in case others are wondering what happened to Jackie’s posts. I have no problem with a difference of opinion. We can all learn from each other. However, I will not tolerate rude and offensive posts, which many of Jackie’s have been. Do not expect to see any further comments from this poster.

  5. Dave S says:

    The good, the bad, and the ugly. When dealing with shelters, rescues, and trainers it is not difficult to ones that fit into each of those categories.
    To be honest, until I got involved as an adopter, shelter volunteer, and rescue foster I couldn’t tell the good from the ugly. The average adopter only sees a pretty website, happy tales, and glowing descriptions of the pets available for adoption.
    We have a shelter that imports dogs from hundreds of miles away for profit while killing a high percentage of the dogs that come into the shelter as strays or owner surrender. There is a rescue that continues to defend their use of an unqualified, abusive rehab. There is a rescue that consistently puts themselves, the dogs in their care, the general public, and the local dog population at risk of disease or injury. Another rescue that does good things but also flips puppies for profit and refuses take responsibility for treatment for ones sold with parvo. There is a local trainer who claims to use positive training techniques and offers his services to rescues. It turns out the only positive aspects of his training is that he is positive that his way is correct and that the go-to tool for all behavior issues is a choke collar (even for fear issues).
    Nine years ago I adopted a dog that had come out of a hoarding situation. Through a strange set of circumstances I got to know the defendant in the animal cruelty case fairly well. It was readily apparent that she was delusional and couldn’t recognize how horrible the conditions were in her home for the dogs and herself. She also had a healthy dose of paranoia. Unfortunately, I see the same degrees of delusion and paranoia in some rescue groups – “We are doing great good and don’t dare to disagree with how we do it”.

    • wildewmn says:

      Great comment, Dave, and very sad as well, especially because those things you mention are not isolated to the area where you live. I’ve come across many of the same things. Some people who have not been involved in the rescue world believe that anyone who says a word against certain rescue practices is just being negative, when the truth is that with some groups, questionable practices go on behind the scenes of the happy facade that is presented to the public. I do think the vast majority of people involved in rescue do so because they truly love and want to help animals, and do it fairly ethically. It is the ones who do all the things you mentioned that are the problem.

  6. Erica says:

    I think these go through review before posting, and if so you can feel absolutely free to not post this comment through at all, I was just wondering if it would be possible to have you change out the current puppy pug picture? That puppy unfortunately has a quite large nose roll and very pinched nostrils for a young dog that will most likely get worse with age, meaning this dog will have a life time of difficult breathing thanks to selfish breeders. Its part of a project to stop normalizing such unhealthy dogs as brachy dogs are already popular, the least that can be done is not using their images, or if you do use photos of members of the breed with longer muzzles and better nostrils so they can breath like a normal dogs. And in the event this came off as shaming, please know I really didn’t mean it that way! It is one of those things you don’t pay attention to until someone points it out.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Erica, I have no problem approving comments that aren’t 100% “positive” so long as they are civil, and yours certainly was. Regarding the photo, I purposely avoided using one of a larger breed because the blog mentioned large-breed rescues and I didn’t want anyone to think oh, she means THAT breed rescue. I also didn’t want to use a breed that many people think might be aggressive, because I didn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes. So, I ended up with a stock photo of a small breed that had a look that might suggest he was asking the title question. I am explaining this so that you and anyone else reading understand how the photo was chosen. I had no idea about the “nose roll” issue and that is sad. I suppose there are many stock photos where dogs are not good specimens of their breed. No doubt I could find many German Shepherd photos that would make me cringe thinking about how that poor dog is going to end up with hind end problems. I’m not going to change out the photo, but I appreciate your comment and by making it, you have alerted readers to the issue. Thank you.

  7. Jody Beskini says:

    Finally, a great article that describes to watch for the good, but to also avoid bad things happening from this “glory seeking age of narcissism). It does NOT belong in rescue but is making things very hard for legitimate rescues. I am all about A) Truth in Disclosure B) Ethical and Respectful Practice C) Discernment/Investigation to make proper foster/placement choices for the benefit of the animals

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