September 24, 2020

Protecting the Rescues from the Rescuers

When I started working for the Ottawa Humane Society 20 years ago, there were only a handful of local rescue groups. Since then, in Ottawa and across North America, the number has risen exponentially. Most do wonderful work and are essential parts in the animal welfare services structure in their communities. Unfortunately, a small minority are not.

The minority fail animals for a variety of reasons. The most common is a good group that, with good intentions, overextends itself well beyond its capacity to care for the animals it takes in.  The result is too many animals not receiving the care they need. Less common, though very real, are those groups with misguided or poorly thought-out plans that result in animal suffering — most often through neglect of serious medical conditions.

Sadly, a very small minority misrepresent themselves as legitimate responsible charitable rescues when they are, in fact, money-making operations. In the U.S. there has been an increasing concern that puppy mills are registering themselves as rescue charities, both to reduce their income tax bills and as cover for their heinous activities.

So, we are all left to sort out the ethical, legitimate rescues from the questionable to criminal ones. The OHS has a relatively extensive screening regime for rescues who we partner with, and we are grateful to be working with many dedicated groups. But the public has to decide on their own whether they wish to adopt from a particular group, and maybe even more concerning, whether they will surrender a beloved pet to its care.

Here are a few questions you should ask any group that you are considering:

  1. Are all animals medically and behaviourally assessed after you receive them? If not, why not?

    A legitimate rescue will ensure all its animals are assessed by a veterinarian or veterinary technician.

  2. What is your standard adoption process?

    A legitimate rescue will have a standard procedure that is followed for every adoption and may include an application, a home visit and in the case of a dog, a meet and greet with him and all members of the adoptive family. It will turn down potential adopters if they are not the right match for the animal.

  3. Do you accept animals back that you’ve previously adopted out even if they have developed medical or behavioural problems?

    A legitimate rescue will have return policies in their contract that the animal may be returned to them should the adopter find themselves unwilling or unable to keep the pet. They are prepared to accept every returned animal no matter the circumstance.

  4. Where do you acquire your animals from and how can you be sure she doesn’t have an owner looking for her?

    Legitimate rescues require reasonable proof of ownership before accepting an animal into their care. They will not accept “stray” animals without looking for their rightful owners.

  5. Do you spay/neuter animals prior to adoption? Do you provide medical care to address all known medical conditions prior to adoption?

    A legitimate rescue will have a vet alter every animal that enters their care at their own cost. There will be protocols for animals that are too young or sick and the rescue will arrange for these animals to be altered when the vet deems it to be safe. It will provide necessary medical interventions and disclose any conditions to an adopter.

  6. Do you have a written mission statement, written policies and a strategic plan? May I have a copy? Do you have a board of directors and a charitable number?

    I would not be too concerned if the group was missing one or two of these items, but beware if they have none. At least ask yourself why they don’t.

Like so many aspects of animal welfare the best tool we have to protect animals is an educated public. So ask questions and encourage others to do the same.  

Bruce Roney
President & CEO