Rescue gone wrong
By Lori Lovely
Animal rescue is a noble calling: selfless work that demands sacrifice, countless hours and a significant budget, often filled with heartache and fewer happy endings than hoped for. Too often, however, those who work in animal rescue come to consider themselves nobility, dictating inflexible rules for adopters and neglecting the best interests of the animals because the rescuers have developed control issues, ego and a sense of power.
“In my experience,” writes Natalie, on http://my.arfie.com/profiles/blogs/bad-animal-rescues-groups, “rescue groups attract people with control issues.” She concedes that many rescue groups are good, the rescuers committed to helping homeless or abused animals. However, she adds, “some rescue groups are run by people who are in it for the power trip. Some rescues have such idiotic adoption requirements that they end up rescuing very few dogs, while hanging on to their dogs for months and in some cases years.” Not only are the animals kept in overcrowded foster homes, she states, in some cases, dogs (and cats) are caged for a year or more – while applications are denied for reasons such as lack of a fenced yard or plans for a possible future move. “I wish these rescues were accountable for how much money they take in and how many dogs they end up placing in permanent homes.”
So-called adoption fees rival purchase prices charged by breeders; adoption contracts compete with mortgage applications in length and provisos. Rules and regulations imposed can preclude approval of prospective adoptions and personal opinions about re-homing can cloud a rescuer’s vision about what constitutes a good home. This, in turn, can lead to a hoarding, not a rescuing situation. The purpose of rescue is to find good homes for the animals, but too often that purpose is obscured.
In the end, the animals suffer because a potential adoptive family is turned away due to complicated processes, exorbitant costs or overbearing, controlling rescues. Stories of rescue gone wrong are many, and exemplify the problem of an unregulated industry.
Shawn, of Oakland, CA, wrote on http://www.yelp.com/biz/fremont-animal-shelter-fremont that his adoption application was denied “because we planned to allow our dogs inside and outside access to the house at their leisure (once they were successfully housebroken).” The rescue group insisted that the dog was not to be allowed outside without a leash and supervision, even in a securely fenced yard. “I suppose we could have lied, but who does that to an animal shelter?”
Instead, since he didn’t meet the group’s standards of a “responsible pet owner,” he went to a local breeder. “Too bad,” he says. “We were looking to take home a pair of dogs. The blood is on their hands.”
Even if a rescue insists on an indoor life for a dog, it usually requires the adoptive home to have a fenced-in yard. One dog lover who applied to a retired greyhound rescue was rejected because his yard wasn’t big enough. “Paid thirty bucks for the application fee, only to get rejected because my backyard was not big enough,” he says. “My back yard is 1,000 square feet, but apparently that was not big enough.” Although he found the dog of his dreams in the rescue, he now says he’ll search the shelters instead of turning to another rescue.
Because most rescuers believe the only suitable life for a dog is as an indoor pet, even very large dogs bred for centuries to live with their flock or herd as livestock guardians are placed as indoor-only pets. One adoptive dog owner ignored a rescue’s rules, placing her herding dog on a farm. “She lives the life of a working dog, not a pampered pet in an urban environment,” she said. “She’s
Sadly, not all dogs get the opportunity to live the life they were born to because many rescuers are unfamiliar with breed characteristics … even if their rescue specializes in that breed. One longtime volunteer foster “mom” for a white German Shepherd rescue denounced an adopter for using a dog to herd farm animals because she believed the only job they were intended to do was as
police dogs, ignoring the word “shepherd” in the name of the breed.
Complaints abound. “‘Rescue groups’” for specific breeds can have very high standards and make you sign a contract saying they can take the dog back if they feel you aren’t being a good owner,” says one person who had a bad experience with a rescue. Contracts between rescue groups and adopters typically include provisions prohibiting the adopter from selling or giving away the pet and a few rescue groups include a clause to maintain co-ownership. Some contracts provide access to the adopter’s property by rescue representatives to conduct inspections at any time, with or without notice.
Almost all of them allow the rescue to take the animal if they deem conditions warrant it.
Denied and lied to
Insisting the dog remain indoors is only one of the typical rules of rescue. They can also be fussy about who lives in the home: children and other pets can become issues that preclude adoption. Sometimes, as Larissa found out, having lost a pet can disqualify an applicant.
Casually considering adding a puppy to her family, she and her husband took their three children to the Apple Fair in Hendricks County, where they fell in love with a pit bull. Because the dog had heartworms, there was no adoption fee. “The lady there was begging us to take her,” Larissa recalls. “I have a great vet, [so] my husband and I decided we would take her.” After taking a
photo of the dog with her children, they instructed her where to pick up “Sweetheart” the following week once the dog had been vaccinated.
However, days later she was informed that the dog was no longer eligible for adoption because of her condition. When she inquired about adopting a different dog, the director of adoptions informed her that by honestly answering a question on the application about an animal that had passed away in her care, she was not considered a responsible pet owner. The rescue did not conduct a home inspection or check her veterinary references.
Larissa explains that the 7-week-old pit/boxer mix puppy had been vaccinated and given a clean bill of health by her vet, but passed away unexpectedly of natural causes. She later found out that one of his littermates died of complications from a weak heart. The director ignored the fact that Larissa had another dog and cat, both healthy, and vet records. Instead, the director informed her that her photo would be circulated to prevent her from adopting from other groups.
It was Larissa’s first – and last – experience with rescue. Describing the director as “god-like” and rude, she was stunned by the attack on her character. “It broke my heart that my little puppy died and now to be accused of this is heart-wrenching.”
Perhaps the most difficult aspect is explaining to her children, who had been promised by the rescue workers that Sweetheart was theirs, why they weren’t getting the dog. “My two-year-old just doesn’t get it at all,” Larissa says, “but my nine-year-old took it the hardest.” Knowing that being honest on the application canceled the adoption, she feels guilty. “Had I lied, Sweetheart
would be here in my home, getting health treatment and I wouldn’t have had to go through the emotional stress of being lied to and emotionally battered and having to tell my kids we aren’t getting the doggy.
“I’m sad that I can’t have Sweetheart,” she continues. “Not many people are going to be willing to pay the money it takes to take care of a sick dog, and I’m offering her a forever home. But to talk to me like I’m a criminal and accuse me of being an irresponsible pet owner isn’t fair. The lady had me in pure tears, I mean the ugly cry. I didn’t think my heart was ready for another dog,
then we were begged to save this dog and now my heart is broken again.”
All she wanted, she says, was a “sweet large-breed dog.” Through with rescues, she is now planning to purchase a dog from a reputable breeder.
Other rigid requirements for adoption include a veterinary reference, but that can be difficult for a first-time pet owner. David wrote on http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100525124841AARm3Xj that he was hoping to adopt a puppy from a rescue: breed didn’t matter. After filling out applications and paying a fee at two rescues, he was denied because he couldn’t provide the mandatory vet reference. “I’m completely put off from contacting any rescue group,” he says, “leaving me to either wait for a pup to arrive at the local shelter or, groan, buy a pup from a pet store.”
No reason at all
When Lisa tried to adopt a Teacup Chihuahua from a rescue in Kokomo, IN, as a companion for her spayed Chihuahua, she was turned down without anyexplanation. No home visit was conducted. She’s not sure if they checked with her veterinarian of 20 years, who has treated numerous animals she took in because they were hurt or abandoned.
In addition to caring for her two dogs and cat, Lisa has a record of paying to treat abused animals, which she then rehomes. She has reunited lost pets and their owners. She has taken
stray cats to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated – all out of her own pocket “I do all this out of the kindness of my heart. I have also brought in pets that friends can’t afford to help them. I am a huge animal lover and would help any animal in need.”
Nevertheless, after answering a detailed questionnaire that asked for “everything but the kitchen sink,” her application was rejected – and she still doesn’t know why. “Why didn’t they
call me to ask me questions or discuss? They don’t even know me.” An invitation to visit her home was refused, leaving her to believe that “they don’t want to adopt out.”
Like so many others, she says she has been forced to turn to breeders. “Rescues promote people to buy from breeders and puppy mills. They interrogate you to death and tell you no. I will never try to adopt from a rescue again! I can buy a puppy somewhere for the same amount of money and not get any interrogation … and not told ‘no’!”
Lisa’s observation is shared by others and raises the question: do rescues really want to find homes for the animals in their care? One person who witnessed rescue from the inside points
out that “rescue work is very emotional so I think there is a strong protective element when it comes to rehoming dogs. Some volunteers have a hard time giving up the pet they have fostered.”
Are contract clause deliberately stringent in order to scare off the majority of applicants? If Larissa had been able to adopt Sweetheart, she would have been required to take
the dog to the rescue for her first vet visit. “We live far away from where they’re located,” she indicates. “I think a fax from our vet should have been sufficient.”
One rescue volunteer defends his industry, although his attitude toward potential adopters supports the grievance many have voiced. “Why on earth would I even consider giving a living
thing to someone who won’t sign a contract? We exist for the benefit and safety of the dogs, not the convenience of every nut who wants a dog. Contracts are written and signed to protect the animals. It is one of the few ways we have to somewhat guarantee that an animal will be safe and well cared for, and not endup euthanized next week after we walk away.”
“Meanwhile,” notes another rejected adoption applicant, “while they hold onto their dogs, hundreds die every day in shelters.”
The other side of the coin that gives rescue a bad name comes from rescuers so desperate to move animals out of their overcrowded living conditions that they deliberately
misrepresent the facts in order to make them more appealing to potential adopters. One Indianapolis “rescue” posted an ad for a Great Pyrenees on Petfinder that indicated the dog got along well with others, despite being told by the previous owner and personally witnessing at their facility his aggression towards other dogs.
Similarly, when Chelsea wanted to adopt a small male dog listed by a rescue on Petfinder, she was told he was “98 percent housebroken.” He would urinate on plastic bags: his
foster “mom” called it a “quirk.” The dog was reportedly good with cats, children and other dogs, neutered and vaccinated. “According to the rescue, nothing was wrong with him.”
Once she got him home, she realized very quickly that he was not housebroken. She took him to her veterinarian for a general exam and found out that he had several retained
deciduous teeth that were causing intraoral problems. He had also developed skin problems from allergies to the “less-than-decent kibble the rescue feeds their dogs. He needed a complete dental work-up, which was estimated at being right around $700. I know they had him for at least two months before he was adopted out – why hadn’t they taken this step themselves? Leaving those teeth
in his jaw would have eventually caused very serious problems.”
Chelsea put the dog on a prey model raw diet, and within a few weeks the weak baby teeth had come out on their own and the plaque build-up was gone. The diet also helped with his skin.
“His coat is now thick and shiny, and he is the epitome of a healthy dog,” she reports.
The “good with cats” claim also proved to be misleading. Chelsea says she had to train the dog to play nicely with her cat. In addition, she says he doesn’t play well with dogs his
size and that because he was “never taught bite inhibition and wants very much so to be as close to your face as possible,” she doesn’t consider him safe with children. “I’ve been working with him for almost a year with this, and it’s not easy to break with easily excited small dogs. As a result, I try to avoid situations with children. The rescue was clearly not honest about any of this.
In all honesty, I felt like they were in a hurry to get rid of him.
“I love my dog very, very much,” she continues, “but if I had been given more information about him from the get-go, I could have avoided the majority of what negative sides of him I’ve
run into and could have become more efficient of an owner far more quickly . Unfortunately, the problems I had with them have been ongoing.”
When her dog started behaving strangely in response to fireworks last July, Chelsea emailed the rescue looking for insight. “I was essentially told that I was a bad owner and she
insinuated that she regretted adopting him out to me. I was given no hints that he would become an entirely different dog around loud noises, and they didn’t give me any useful advice. What advice I was given would have been completely counterproductive, and their main opinion was to have him put on canine Prozac.”
Rescue groups are not regulated so there’s no one ensuring they follow Animal Welfare laws or pay taxes. Since there is no licensing organization to oversee rescues, it’s important to verify the group’s claims and investigate their operation.
One Indianapolis “rescue” claims to be a non-profit group, although the owners admit, when pressed on the issue, that they have yet to file any paperwork to acquire a 501c3 designation.
Registered non-profit groups are listed on Guidestar.org.
An adopter has to be careful that they are getting a dog from a reputable group. Ask questions. Do the rescue workers know the care requirements for the breed? Are the animals given play time outside the cage? Are they kept with other animals of their species? Do they have proper food and shelter? How long, on average, are the animals in foster care before they are rehomed? If you find that they spend years in foster care on a regular basis, walk away. Ask to see the contract before you provide your personal information on an application. Beware the “mandatory donation” in place of an adoption fee.
Many backyard “rescues” are little more than hoarders, keeping too many animals confined in small spaces, dirty conditions, or caged all day. One Indianapolis “rescue” keeps cages of birds and rabbits stacked one on top of another in their garage.
Always make sure that you visit the place where the animals are being housed and if anything seems out of place, walk away. Better yet, report them to an animal welfare agency. Any group who puts their needs or greed before the animals should not be dealt with. There’s nothing noble about neglecting an animal’s physical and emotional needs.