Rescue gone wrong

Rescue gone wrong

By Lori Lovely


Erick Pleitez / CC by 2.0

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, “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


Rescue requirements

Shawn, of
Oakland, CA, wrote on 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

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 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 any
explanation. 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 clauses
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

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 end
up 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

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.”


Unregulated rescue

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

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.

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