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Unprofessional Animal Rescues: Red Flags and Responsible Support

Updated: Oct 6

Animal rescues play a crucial role in providing shelter, care, and ultimately finding loving homes for animals that are neglected or in need. However, not all rescues operate ethically and professionally. In fact, the rescue community is facing a crisis of unprofessional, unethical and at times, outright dangerous rescue practices. It is getting harder and harder to find a rescue that engages in ethical behaviors. In this blog, we will discuss the red flags to watch out for when considering an animal rescue, how to choose which rescues to financially support, and the key things to know before adopting from or financially supporting any rescue.

Unprofessional Animal Rescues:

Lack of Transparency: One major red flag to look out for is a lack of transparency. Unprofessional rescues may not provide detailed information about their operations, finances, or the animals they rescue. It is important to choose a rescue that is open and forthcoming about their processes. There are many instances where animals may have had previous bites on record, have been aggressive, attacked or even killed other animals, or have serious medical issues and concerns and are then adopted out to unsuspecting families. As a professional in the field, I have witnessed several of these cases. These often end tragically. I’ve seen rescues pretty much outsourcing euthanasia cases to adopters to maintain a no-kill status. This is unfair, heartbreaking, and completely reprehensible.

Reselling Puppies/Puppy Brokers: Something we are seeing more commonly now are rescues that will go to backyard breeders, the Amish, puppy mills and auctions and buy puppies from them to resell. This then simply feels as though they are supporting those who are creating the very problem! Take caution when you notice that rescues have lots of purebred or designer puppies that are seemingly healthy. This very well may be because these rescues are acting as puppy brokers - buying and then reselling the puppies for a higher cost. This only keeps the bad breeders breeding more because there are always buyers!

Poor Animal Care: Rescues should always prioritize the well-being of the animals in their care. Signs of unprofessionalism include inadequate living conditions, lack of proper veterinary care, not medicating animals that need it, making veterinary decisions without vet oversight, improper nutrition and more. Pay attention to the overall cleanliness and hygiene of the rescue facility. Strong odors, wet floors, paint peeling and poor building maintenance are safety issues. Dogs struggling with consistent diarrhea or that are not putting weight on sufficiently are huge red flags for improper care. Lack of enrichment and training falls under poor animal care too as these things are invaluable to dogs that are in a kennel. Any rescue that would refuse offers to help with training and enrichment from someone knowledgeable is a huge red flag that they do not have the animal’s best interest in mind. Rescues that pull more animals in than they can handle are completely unethical. Having more than you can handle in rescue is glorified hoarding. Often many of these things are driven by the human ego.

Untrained Staff and Volunteers: A professional animal rescue should have knowledgeable and trained staff and volunteers. Look for rescues that invest in proper modern training programs and certifications for their personnel. If they are not providing their staff with continuing education, this is a huge issue often ending in spreading misinformation at the expense of the animals they are supposed to be saving. Unprofessional rescues often lack the necessary expertise to handle and care for animals appropriately. They may rely on outdated methods of training as well as unsound medical care. Sadly, in the US rescues are not regulated appropriately and anyone with very little to no knowledge or experience at all can start and operate a rescue. This is greatly problematic, especially if they do not possess basic medical or behavioral knowledge. Warehousing Dangerous Animals: Some rescues do engage in the practice of warehousing dangerous animals, which poses risks to both the animals, staff, volunteers, and potential adopters. To maintain a no-kill status these rescues tend to house unadoptable or even dangerous animals. They may call themselves sanctuaries. They prioritize housing unadoptable animals which is a cruel practice. For social animals such as dogs, keeping them kenneled for life without ever having the potential to be adopted is a fate much worse than euthanasia. Housing a dog with multiple bite histories, who has been deemed dangerous and unadoptable, in a kennel for life, is such a dishonorable and deplorable thing to do. It is crucial to only support rescues that prioritize responsible adoption practices, that have a focus on community safety as well as stress the well-being of the animals in their care. Simply put, a rescue that willingly harbors a dog that is unadoptable in a small kennel is not doing that dog any favors – sadly there are local rescues that do just that.

Social Media Wars & Poor Responses to Reviews: This is more personal and a bit of a long story, but so important. It pertains to this topic, and it is a story that needs to be told. More recently I found myself involved in something that I never anticipated. A rescue that I had fostered for in the past asked that the dog I was fostering be moved to a closer location to them for more exposure. I was hurt, as they did not feature him almost the entire time that he was with me, nor did they even ask about him. I made all his appointments and was reimbursed for a couple things, but never asked to be reimbursed for everything. I spent over a thousand dollars on this dog. What preceded their request was an email I sent to a possible adopter. I went into detail about the dog, his quirks, everything I knew about him and more. Two days later I was asked to give the dog back to them (after these adopters backed out). I may be a lot of things, but blind is not one. I knew this was because they were mad and thinking I chased off a good adopter. Many people (nearly all) at this rescue never even met the dog I shared my home with all that time. I cried a lot about this, but I complied. I spent 8 months with this strange little dog, got him on good food, got him neutered, healed his severe skin issues and was able to finally put weight on him. I had taught him sit, down, touch, recall (whistle and without) stay and more. He struggled with reactivity, but we were working on changing this. He was definitely a project dog – but he was doing well and I was so proud of how far he had come. After they got the dog back, a couple months later, they put him back on social media – changing his name and crediting the new foster with his health and apparent new training accomplishments. I was not aware of this, as I was so hurt by this rescue that I stopped following long before. My mother made me aware only after she responded saying she thought Rachel did a lot of the work. My mother, who is a saint of a woman, was ridiculed and attacked – and told she was ‘on drugs’ by volunteers and an actual BOARD MEMBER of this rescue. They verbally attacked my own mother. I immediately asked her to please remove her posts – I was trying to protect my mother as I knew these people were awful to anyone who disagrees with them. My mother didn’t deserve that. She told me that it just made her so mad because she knew how much I did and how much that dog meant to me. Things got out of hand as people that were aware of my work with him jumped in, each getting attacked. I was sent a screenshot where one of their volunteers accused me of wanting to “destroy” that dog. The very dog I loved with all my heart for 8 months. I’d have kept him if he didn’t attack my own dog at random, but he did and he did it often and unprovoked. He’d bitten me, and even tried to attack the vet once, biting her boot. I still loved that dog and wanted the best for him. That was one of the single most painful things I had ever read about myself. I have dedicated my entire life to helping dogs live better lives, from working as a vet tech, working in investigations, and working training and behavior. I’ve been in dogs for 2 decades. My heart was shattered reading those words. I still feel horrible and I am reduced to tears thinking that someone would be so careless with their words – someone that doesn’t know me. She just met me one time when she took that dog away from me. She insisted that I meet her somewhere. She didn’t even have the decency to have a crate or blanket in the car for him. She shoved him in the back seat, and I watched him look out the window, seeking me, as she drove off. That was my last memory of the dog I spent so many months with – a dog I shared holidays with – a dog that I honestly loved. This dog wasn’t a product to me, something to be sold off to the highest bidder. This was a life that had some special needs. After a while the rescue deleted any responses in support of me (which included all the horrible things their own people were saying) and then went on shut off comments and to blame me for people’s frustration with their very own behavior. It was another jab and one that stung. I had done nothing to warrant such. You know what I did do? I loved a dog that had some issues – one that they knew nothing about. I cared enough to pour my own resources into a dog they weren’t marketing, that they didn’t show interest in and that they simply just did not provide for. I will forever be haunted by the look in his eyes as that woman drove away with him. Rescues that present themselves like this are literally the worst of the worst. One look at their reviews and how their own staff, volunteers and board members speak to those who have had bad experiences or simply don’t agree with them is telling. They are literally bullies and do not know how to handle someone disagreeing with them. They lack decency. This specific rescue hasn’t just engaged in this particular behavior. They've participated in every single behavior above in this list, but one. Always be wary of what you see online when they respond to people. If they are careless bullies, they are just not worth supporting in any way. Any help just encourages their ego, vile treatment of others, and their own poor behavior choices.

Choosing Rescues to Support Financially:

Research and Due Diligence: Before donating to an animal rescue, thoroughly research their reputation, financial transparency, and track record. Look for rescues that are registered, have positive reviews from adopters, and provide regular updates on their activities. Again, search their responses to reviews that aren’t positive. If they engage in name-calling, attacking or ridiculing others in an unprofessional manner, they are not worth your hard-earned dollars, even if you just want to help the animals. Do not be guilted into feeling like you must help awful people. You don’t have to do that.

Support Local Rescues: Consider supporting local animal rescues that are deeply rooted in the community. Many local rescues often have a stronger understanding of the local animal welfare issues and can have a greater impact on the lives of animals in need. It is important to look at the work they are doing though. If they are taking in more than they should, constantly transporting or importing dogs in, or not providing for animals appropriately, then find another local rescue or shelter to support.

Collaboration and Partnerships: Rescues that actively collaborate with other reputable organizations, such as veterinary clinics, animal control agencies, other rescue groups and local credentialed trainers demonstrate a commitment to working together for the greater good. Consider supporting rescues that foster these vital partnerships and always make sure that who they are collaborating with are responsible as well. If those they collaborate with support unethical practices, whether it is with training methods or clinics that provide subpar care, this is something to question. I personally would not want to donate my money to any rescue that sends dogs off to board & trains with uncredentialed and unqualified trainers. Often uneducated, these trainers then engage in outdated or harsh methods that are heavy on punishment, somehow convincing the rescue that this is necessary. I've seen rescues justify cruel practices, actually convinced it'll save a dog from euthanasia (a common myth in the training world is that harsh trainers save lives of risky dogs - but data and studies indicate otherwise). I've seen these places charge thousands of dollars to rescues, and the rescues then raise money to pay them. I just can't imagine giving my money to help dogs, only to have those very dogs subjected to being tied to a wall by a slip lead while wearing a shock and prong collar. Shutting dogs down isn't training.

Top Things to Know Before Adopting:

Adoption Process: Understand the adoption process of the rescue you are considering. This may include filling out an application, home visits, and reference checks. Rescues with thorough adoption processes prioritize the well-being of their animals and ensure a suitable match between the adoptive family and the animal. That said, there are some that do have ridiculous standards that may not even have a basis in reality. I was once denied adoption myself – which was mind blowing. The reason? At the time I did not have a large fully fenced yard for a 13-year-old partially blind small dog. Rescues and shelters alike should be willing to ask questions of their adopters, have an actual conversation and conduct the process like an interview, being fair and understanding that sometimes the perfect home and a great owner may not have things like a fully fenced yard. That application was denied without them even knowing who I was, what I did or what I could provide for that dog. There was zero questions asked. It was disgraceful and I hope that the poor old lady dog found her forever home eventually.

Medical History and Behavior: Ask for detailed medical records, including vaccinations, spay/neuter history, and absolutely any known health issues or medications the dog may need. Additionally, inquire about the animal's behavior and temperament to ensure compatibility with your lifestyle and family members. Ask if they conduct behavior evaluations and ask for that information to be included in the record if they do. Be wary if they refuse to tell you anything -or- if they create or embellish a history that may not be accurate. Rescues should never make up or assign a history to an animal, including stating a dog is a bait dog or has been abused, without concrete evidence of such.

Long-term Commitment: Adopting an animal is a long-term commitment. Consider the financial, time, and emotional responsibilities involved in providing a loving and stable home for your new companion. It is important to be prepared for the challenges and joys that come with pet ownership. I know that adopting Lochlan was a huge commitment for me given his breed mix – some of which was a surprise! This is something to consider as well. Make sure you have knowledge of different breeds and breed traits. While some dogs do not display breed traits, some do – it is important to be prepared! Responsible rescues will help you find a good match for your lifestyle.

Choosing the right animal rescue to support financially and adopting from a reputable rescue are essential to ensure the well-being of animals, safety of the people and the community and the success of the adoption process. By recognizing the red flags associated with unprofessional rescues, pulling any support from rescues that are involved in terrible practices and following responsible adoption processes, we can contribute to a more ethical and compassionate animal rescue community. The rescue community is in a crisis currently as so many are run carelessly. Human egos in rescue are sadly becoming more important than the well-being of the very animals that they claim to love and care for. Let’s work to change that by absolutely not supporting rescues that engage in poor practices!

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