Features September 2013 Issue

Types of Dog Adoption Organizations

and How Each Can Go All Wrong

[Updated December 3, 2018]

Public Animal Control Shelter

TYPICAL: These facilities are charged first with public safety and law enforcement; adoptions are sometimes an afterthought. They are commonly (under)funded by the local government, or may be private businesses that contract with local governments. Frequently, there is little or no adopter screening, information about the animals, veterinary care given, or adoption follow-up. You can find a great dog here, but identifying him is up to you.

AT BEST: Cheap. Local. Not picky about you.

WORST CASE: Employees may be political appointees, the lowest scorers on civil service exams, or prisoners from the county lockup, few of whom have any genuine interest in the animals; volunteer programs for animal lovers who want to help are nonexistent or minimal. No useful information about the dogs. High rates of communicable disease and parasites. Depressing. Death threat encourages rash adoption choices. No support or follow-up. Not picky about you.

Traditional Local Non-Profit Private Shelter

TYPICAL: This is a brick-and-mortar facility that may be small or quite large and includes paid staff as well as (usually) volunteers. In many places the animal control contract is held by a non-profit shelter, leading to at least partly conflicting missions within the same walls. Others are limited admission shelters that pick and choose which animals they will accept from the public. There are wide variations within this category on every dimension: adoption policies, evaluation of the animals, adopter screening, contracts, fiscal practices. Some are lean and focused on animal care and adoptions, some are top-heavy with executive salaries and high fundraising costs.

AT BEST: Local. Adoptions are a priority. Usually some evaluation is made of the dogs available for adoption. There is usually some effort to make good matches.

WORST CASE: Kenneled dogs do not reveal their true temperaments. Reliance on “tests” for temperament that are inaccurate and misleading, especially in larger facilities. Dogs may be kept caged for months or years, and if/when adopted, exhibit serious behavioral issues. Can be especially rigid about adopter criteria.

Breed-Specific / Other Specialty Rescue Group

TYPICAL: Usually composed entirely of volunteers with a special interest in a given breed or profile of dog. Rarely have paid staff; most keep dogs in foster homes rather than kennels. Only the largest have a brick-and-mortar presence. Usually (but not always) registered charitable non-profits with federal 501(c)3 designations. May be local, regional, or national (the latter is most common for rare breeds). Sourcing practices, screening procedures, follow-up, dog evaluations, health care and behavior interventions, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability, and level of expertise range from the very highest standards to completely hopeless.

AT BEST: Expertise in a narrow area. Foster-based rehab and evaluation. Generally better at making matches. They have the breed/type of dog you are looking for. Generally fiscally lean.

WORST CASE: Can be slightly insane about screening adopters. Adoption fees can be excessively high. Risk of breed-blindness. Trendy street dogs imported from the Third World (on the theory that there is a shortage of feral dogs for adoption in the US) could give you rabies (imported dogs have tested positive for rabies). Some self-styled “breed rescues” are nothing more than the scratch ‘n’ dent warehouse for a puppymiller – a profitable way to move out the defective, unsellable puppies and the superannuated breeding stock – as is, no warranty, because it is an adoption not a sale – by appealing to the credulity of people who want to “rescue, not buy.” Bonus, the puppymillers can use this rescue shell game to avoid state regulations that apply to breeders, and use tax-deductible donations to maintain their own families and dogs.

Large, High-Profile “Sanctuary” or “Shelter” with a National Presence

TYPICAL: Some of these expert marketers raise millions of dollars in donations via direct mail, spam blitzes, and even television ads, almost all of which is churned back into more fundraising, high executive salaries, and “consulting” fees for various cronies. They typically care for and place many fewer dogs annually than an average local shelter that operates on a fraction of the funds raised.

AT BEST: Your dog will come with a Hollywood-ready backstory.

WORST CASE: You are an integral cog in the executive salary-consultant fee-direct mail-industrial complex.

Local Rescue Group

TYPICAL: Local rescues may have a relationship with one or more local shelters from which they pull dogs that are in danger of being killed, or dogs that require special care before adoption. They may accept dogs from private owners.

AT BEST: The best are as good as the best breed rescue groups. They add value to the dogs they rescue with training and vetting while each lives in a foster home, and can tell you quite a lot about the dog. They are there to support you in your dog ownership.

WORST CASE: The “group” is no group at all, but incorporated for the express purpose of swindling kind-hearted animal lovers. At near-worst, they can fail to balance intakes and adoptions and become de facto animal hoarders, operating in a constant state of emergent crisis. This is most common when the group has one powerful and emotionally unstable poobah and no accountability to an independent board of directors. Another version involves crazy dog ladies fighting with one another. Tunnel vision leads to bad economic and animal welfare decisions. Driven by sentiment and panic/urgency they may bite off more than they can chew, or disintegrate due to personality clashes and internal politics.

For information on adoption costs, see this article from Dogster.com.

Comments (4)

What a narrow minded view of a public animal control shelter. I sure hope readers do not take what WDJ wrote to heart. Shame on you. My local, county run, open intake shelter is staffed with extremely hard working, animal-loving individuals who strive for optimal environment for their animals and volunteers, providing enrichment, and positive, reward-based training protocols for their animals, even the cats. Hard working volunteers who spend countless hours promoting, exercising, training and fostering the many animals that arrive on a daily basis. Staffers who put their heart and soul, and extra hours into helping local, homeless animals. I am so very proud to call Multnomah County Animal Shelter my local, open intake shelter!

Posted by: Lisa W | September 10, 2013 11:40 AM    Report this comment

I agree. I adopted a wonderful Min Pin from someone who fostered her for a 4 month period for a rescue group. These groups do care about animals. We had a home study, filled out all kinds of paperwork and all of it was to ensure that the dog went to a good home. We were told that we were the fifth couple that was interviewed to adopt the dog. She was even put through an obedience course and was very well behaved when we got her.

Your article should have not been written in such a general manner. There may be a few groups as you described, but the majority of them take great care of the dogs to prepare them to be re-homed.

Posted by: Unknown | September 9, 2013 7:37 AM    Report this comment

Well said Rhonda S. I agree with you completely. The worst case scenarios for Local Rescue Groups was very poorly written, overly dramatic and quite possibly written by an agenda driven 3rd grader. Not good for for a magazine of your stature WDJ.

Posted by: fumbly | August 24, 2013 5:06 PM    Report this comment

My name is Rhonda Smith and I am the founder/President of PAWS OF MY HEART RESCUE, INC. We are a reputable rescue and I am really upset by the statement in your article relating to Local Rescue Group - "The "group" is no group at all, but incorporated for the express purpose of swindling kind-hearted animal lovers." First, we HAVE to be incorporated in order to obtain a State License. The portion that states we "swindle kind-hearted animal lovers" was extremely offensive and counter productive to all of our hard work in saving the lives of dogs that would other wise die. We have always published our financials on our website, most recently, a copy of our checkbook register so that everyone can see exactly what happens to every penny that is donated and every penny that is paid out of our account. I understand you were commenting on the "Worse" of rescues but you should have added in the "At Best" section that there are reputable rescues out here that are here solely for the animals and don't ever benefit in any way from doing rescue work. This includes not getting paid for mileage (which is allowed) and other expenses that we take on ourselves, including paying vet bills when there haven't been enough donations for a sick dog. Another statement you made "Can be slightly insane about screening adopters" was quiet ignorant. The screening process in some organizations, including ours, was put in place for several reasons. #1 To match a dog with an appropriate family. We would not adopt a very active dog out to a family who was not able to give the dog the exercise that they need to burn that extra energy in a productive manner. This situation would more than likely end with a family that is unhappy with the pet in which case the dog would end up back in the system. Neither would we adopt a dog that has a history of fear biting to a family with young children, putting them at risk. And some will still ask to adopt them even after they are given all the information. It is our job to screen potential adopters so that the best interest of the dog is taken in account as well as the potential family. #2 Finding safe homes. We complete vet reference checks to make sure the potential adopter does in fact have their current pets vaccinated, spayed and/or neutered. Also, we check to make sure they haven't had multiple pets in the past that have been hit by cars, or sustained other injuries that was a result of an unsafe environment. We do not rescue dogs to turn around and place them in dangerous situations/homes. #3 Pet/Family compatibility. We do home inspections to make sure the dog has no issues with the new environment, current pets or family members. We want to make sure that everyone in the family is on board with the adoption, that the rescued dog will be compatible with the current pets in the home, and the home itself is compatible with the rescued dog. All of these screenings are in place to keep the dog from being returned to the system, being stressed or injured in his/her new home. If you consider that insane screening, then we are insane about placing dogs in happy, healthy homes where they will be loved forever. These homes do exist and we find them. We owe it to the dogs. We absolutely love Whole Dog Journal, but this article could have been written better to serve it's purpose without giving reputable rescue organizations a bad wrap.

Posted by: Rhonda S | August 21, 2013 9:17 PM    Report this comment

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