What is an Animal Rescue?

Rescue v. \’res-(.)kyü\
to free from confinement, danger, or evil.

We hear the words so often. Animal Rescue.
We hear the words so often that it’s easy to overlook their importance.
To an animal in need, though, the words literally mean: life.

Animal Rescues are dedicated to saving abandoned, unwanted or stray animals, and finding loving permanent homes for them. Many Rescues obtain their animals from their local animal shelters, most of which euthanize due to space restrictions. Today, the line between a “Shelter” and a “Rescue” is often blurred. Some shelters have a no-kill policy. Some Rescues have a shelter. In general, however, there are a few key differences that set an Animal Rescue apart.

  • Rescue groups are mostly non-profit organizations funded by donations. Animal shelters are usually funded by local government.
  • Rescues are typically run by volunteers.
  • Rescues often rely on foster-based housing to care for animals instead of a campus with kennels. Volunteers house and care for animals in need until they can be placed in a permanent home.
  • Rescues typically operate with a no-kill approach. They leverage volunteer hours, fundraisers, and donations to keep an animal healthy and housed. Animal shelters often have a “grace period” for strays, sick, or overly aggressive animals. If animals have not been adopted by the end of the grace period, they are humanely euthanized to make space for other incoming animals.

To accomplish their mission of saving and caring for animals in need, Animal Rescues use various strategies.

Spay/Neuter Programs

One of the key programs many Rescues run is a spay/neuter program. Due to lack of spaying and neutering, there is a severe overpopulation of companion animals, leading to more unwanted stray animals and, ultimately, more animals ending up in shelters or being euthanized. Animal Rescues often host low-cost spay/neuter events, or operate a TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) program where wild dogs and cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, and released back into their colony.

Breed-Specific Rescue

Many people are looking to adopt a specific breed of animal, either for temperament, nostalgic reasons, or specific purposes (to guard a house, work on a ranch, or be an “apartment-friendly animal”). There is no shortage of purebred dogs in shelters—in fact, according to the Humane Society, 25% of dogs in shelters are purebred—but finding the exact dog a person wants in a shelter can be time-consuming. For this reason, some Animal Rescues choose to associate with a specific breed, making it easy for owners looking for a certain dog to find them. Other Rescues only take in “Bully breeds”—which often have a harder time being placed because of misconceptions. Many animals in large shelters are very fearful—which is often interpreted as aggression. This behavior is normally a sure ticket for being unadoptable and ultimately euthanized. Animal rescues will overlook this fearfulness and work with trainers and behaviorists to correct any issues and give the animal a better chance at being adopted.

Medical Care Rescue

Some Rescues are dedicated to the care of animals with specific medical conditions like FIV/FEL positive cats, blind animals, or other physical impediments that would cause them to be overlooked for adoption at a shelter. They will take animals with severe skin diseases, upper respiratory infections, heartworm disease, broken limbs, or severe malnutrition. These animals are typically at the highest risk of being euthanized in a state-run shelter. Through fundraising efforts, special events, and private donations, these Rescues are able to give animals the medical care they need and nurse them back to health.

Forever Homes

The ultimate goal of most Animal Rescues is to place animals that would have been euthanized in a permanent home with a family that will care for them. By the time an animal has found its way to a Rescue, it has often had a rough life. Some were abused. Some were left alone when an owner moved. Others were given to a shelter when the cost of owning them becomes too much to bear. To make sure they never have to worry about being abandoned, abused, or given away again, Rescues work hard to place them in the right home.

In order to adopt an animal from a rescue group, an application, interview and even home visit are required ensuring the animal is adopted into safe, responsible and loving homes. Veterinary references are also often required, and if potential pet parents already have a cat or dog, some rescues will require a preliminary introduction of the current pets with the rescued animal to make sure they are compatible. Many times an adoption contract must be signed, stating the adopter will provide the Rescue with annual veterinary reports and updated vaccinations, as well as oversee the administration of monthly heartworm prevention and commit to keeping the pet indoors as a family pet. Adoption fees can be anywhere from $100-$400. These fees cover expenses incurred while in the Rescue’s care, and also help to ensure the commitment of the new adopter.

Over the years, awareness of the severity of abandoned animals in the US has become more and more apparent. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that between 6 and 8 million cats and dogs enter shelters each year, with 3 to 4 million being euthanized. This has spawned many new Rescues and more community involvement with helping animals in need. Not only are Animal Rescues giving cats and dogs a second chance, they are also dedicated to educating new pet owners on the importance of adopting a rescue animal and responsible ownership practices.