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How do you know if a dog rescue is reputable?

By Dawn Shonkwiler of Just One More Dachshund Rescue

Just as there’s no required training or test to become a parent, there’s also no required training or test to become a dog rescue. Think about that for a minute. Anyone at any time can take in some dogs and declare themselves to be a dog rescue.

And just like parents, some rescues are great and others are … not so great.

For example, our local shelter recently took in 70 dogs from another local rescue. At least 14 of the dogs had parvo.

That rescue undoubtedly had good intentions (“let’s save all the sad dogs and find them new homes!”) but that doesn’t mean they’re equipped to handle the job.

When you’re considering adopting a dog from a rescue, you can probably tell right away that the humans involved love animals and want to try to make a difference. What you can’t tell without checking, is how the dogs have been housed, vetted, socialized and trained.

A rescue that isn’t handling those things well isn’t much better than a puppy mill. Sure, they’re doing it for love rather than money, but the condition of the dogs could be the same.

So how do you know if your rescue is reputable? There are a few questions you can ask.

1.       How big is the rescue?

For instance, my rescue is small and that is how I want to keep it. I personally foster 99% of the dogs I bring in and I stay in touch with 99% of my adopters. I don't charge adoption fees but I do ask for a donation from all my adopters.

There’s no “right” answer for how big a rescue should be but it’s a fact you’ll want to know before you adopt a dog. If the rescue is small, you’ll want to pay attention to details about the home where most of the fostering is done. If the rescue is big, you’ll want to know the rescue keeps tabs on foster dogs and their condition and how foster homes are chosen.


2.       On average, how much money is spent per dog?

This number usually includes bloodwork, spay and neuter, vaccines, grooming, food, toys, collars, etc.

My average expense per dog is about $1,000 (but it has been as high as $8,000) because I always do bloodwork on incoming dogs, spay/neuter if needed, and get up to date on vaccines. I don't take the dogs to any low-cost vettting programs (there is nothing wrong with these programs and I think they are a GREAT community resource but I have an amazing vet practice that I consider family. I know when I take my personal dogs or the rescue dogs to them, they are in the BEST hands.)

All the dogs visit my incredibly generous groomer, who gives them at least one spa day (sometimes many more) before they go to their forever home.

Not all rescues are in a position to spend that kind of money but if the average expense per dog is particularly low, that’s a red flag.


3.       Who fosters the dogs?

Is there one primary foster home or are there several? Or dozens?

I like to foster the dogs myself because then I get to know them and I think it makes it easier to find them a forever home.

But a single foster home for all the dogs could be a good thing or a bad one. If the rescue only brings in a few dogs at a time then a one-person foster is great. If the rescue takes in too many dogs for the available space, then it’s a problem.

4.       Where are the rescue dogs kept – in the family home? A shed? A kennel?

You’d be leery of buying a dog from a breeder who kept a warehouse full of dogs for sale out back. Check to be sure your rescue isn’t doing the same thing.

The dogs in my rescue live in a home. My home. They have a huge space that is dedicated to them and since I have this new space for them, the only time they go in crates is if they want to. Some of my crew love their crates but the doors are always open.

They have access to the dog door and yard (when I am home - because they are small and I live in the woods, they are not allowed outside without supervision). They take turns sleeping in the big bed with me.

That isn’t a requirement of course. Different foster homes have different setups. What you want to check is whether the setup seems reasonable for the health and wellbeing of the dogs.


5.       Does the rescue keep in touch with dogs who are adopted?

Again, it’s not a requirement, but it’s a good sign if they do. Ideally, the rescue encourages forever homes to send “pupdates” and it reaches out to adopters to check on things and see how the dogs are doing.

I keep in touch with 99% of my adopters and if you adopt from me and go out of town, bring the pup back and I'll watch him or her while you are out of town.

It’s a good indication of quality when rescues make that offer.


6.       Is the rescue a nonprofit?

Most are but it’s an easy thing to check up on. Go to the IRS website search page at and under “Search By,” select “Organization Name” from the dropdown.

If the rescue isn’t on the list, ask them why. It could just be they’re registered under a different name or it could be that they’re not a nonprofit. If they’re not a nonprofit, you’ll want to know what’s going on.


7.       What happens if they rescue a dog and can’t adopt them out?

Usually, the rescue will keep the dog with a foster indefinitely. The red flags come when they don’t.

Do they hand the dog back to a shelter? If so, what kind of shelter? Here’s why it matters:

Some shelters claim they are "no-kill.” There is no such thing. I recently saw a shelter claim they are no-kill but I saw a dog on their site a few years back and they TRANSFERRED HIM to a shelter that does euthanize.

Well, I ended up adopting him and he was an incredible pup - he became a local celebrity and made it to Dog Bowl two times.

But them claiming they are no-kill and then doing something shady like that -- it’s just wrong.

So it’s one thing for a rescue to take in dogs from a shelter. It’s another thing if they hand them back.

The point of this blog is that, just like if you are getting a dog from a breeder, if you are going to a shelter or a rescue, DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND RESEARCH!

Ask for references, check Facebook reviews and check their IRS status to make sure they are nonprofit. Just be vigilant.

Enjoy your weekend and give your pup a hug!

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