Watch Tip: Fraudulent Animal Rescues

Posted on September 5th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoWatch out for fraudulent animal rescues. While the majority of rescues are trustworthy and perform near-miracles every day, saving neglected, abused, and homeless pets and domestic animals, some are not. Some are “fronts” for puppy and kitten mills. Others are resellers who believe they get higher prices posing as rescues. Some are failed rescues that hoard animals in neglectful conditions.

Before You Adopt, Do Your Homework

Your money is a tool that helps bad rescues continue or great rescues thrive, so think strategically in addition to following your heart. There are many bad rescues in operation today; the pet industry is growing and many seek ways to make what appears to be “easy money” by preying on the soft-hearted. Adopter beware! When you decide to bring a rescue pet into your family, do some research first to ensure that the adoption fee will support those groups that reflect your values–and that you can trust to provide you a healthy adoptable pet with a good temperament. 

First, develop a working list of rescues that you will research:

  • Ask friends, co-workers, and family members about animal rescues and shelters they can recommend.
  • Think about groups you have recently seen showing adoptable pets at pet stores and events in your area. If they impressed you with their professionalism and selection of nice healthy dogs or cats, add them to your list.
  • Look for state or national rescues online that specialize in your breeds of interest. Remember, free transport can often be arranged.
Research their adoption application procedures:
  • Review adoption application forms and practices. Look at their web site or email a request for the form and information which they should be happy to provide. Many require an approved application before allowing you to visit their animals. These key signs indicate a responsible rescue:
    • Does the form collect important lifestyle information and does it collect information about all other lives in the household? Does it require vet and landlord references?
    • Does the rescue require home visits? Does it require the pet sleep indoors at night?
    • If you already have a pet, do they make inquiries and efforts to ensure your pets will accept and be accepted by a new pet in the house?
    • Do they make follow-up calls and offer free advice?
  • If a rescue doesn’t follow up your request by providing forms and related information, or those materials are scanty, error-filled or otherwise questionable, cross the group off your list. It is likely fraudulent or incompetent.
Review the adoption form before meeting adoptable pets:
  • Ask for a copy of the adoption form. Look for these key points which are all key signs of good rescue groups:
    • Does the agreement include a medical information sheet, indicating which shots and tests have been administered etc.?
    • Does the agreement require that the pet be spayed or neutered prior to adoption or after adoption of baby pets? Does the agreement state that the puppy will be reclaimed if proof of spay/neuter is not provided?
    • Does the agreement require you to return your pet to that rescue if you should someday need to rehome your pet?
    • Micro-chipping is often provided. This is a good sign of a reputable rescue.
  • If the agreement does not provide medical information, require sterilization, or accept returns, cross the group off your list. These practices are widely standardized now that the social connection between substandard vetting and neglect/abuse is well understood.
If their adoption application and agreement forms meet standards, start your search. When visiting adoptable animals, keep these expectations in mind. 
  • If the rescue has a facility, it should provide clean and spacious accommodations and their animals should appear to be healthy and socialized. There are no excuses for filth, malnutrition, crowding, unsafe structures, and high incidence of illnesses. Report abusers to law enforcement and state humane officials.
  • The rescue should act as match-makers, guiding and advising you select a dog or cat that fits your lifestyle.
  • The rescue should discuss adopting adult and senior animals, even when they have very-adoptable puppies in their care. For instance, if you are a would-be first-time dog owner with a busy life, a reputable rescue should show you trained adults even if you express desire for a puppy (requiring every kind of training).
  • The rescue should have had adoptions in the previous month or two; ask them.
  • The rescue should have repeat foster homes and regular long-term volunteers.
  • The rescue typically will actively fund-raise to cover medical expenses for ill or injured animals.
  • The rescue should have a good reputation among other rescues. While every rescue might have a disgruntled customer or a misunderstanding with another group, the overall picture of cooperation with other groups should be positive.
Finally, did you know that reputable breeders of dogs and cats sometimes run small rescues or assist other regional rescues that specialize in their breed? If you fall in love with a rescue dog or cat in a breeder’s rescue, and they meet most standards outlined above, don’t hesitate to adopt. This is a practice you definitely want to encourage.
But if the breeder has an abundance of puppies and is encouraging you to “adopt” one instead of an adult “rescue,” you may have discovered a puppy mill. The rescue could just be the “front,” and remember, they are likely charging higher “adoption fees” for those puppies than you might find elsewhere, preying on your good intentions and naivete. Play along; ask to see the breeding parents in their living environment, a request typically accepted by responsible breeders who are usually proud of their operations. But if they refuse to allow access, this is a sure sign of a puppy or kitten mill. (The breeding facility might be located elsewhere but they should allow you to schedule a visit.) End the discussion and leave.

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