What is a Rescue?

You may be confused as to the differences between a Shelter and a Non-Profit Rescue. Please read on to learn the major differences between a rescue like DC SIR vs. a shelter.

1. Shelters have a physical facility, whereas Rescues are generally run out of a network of foster homes.

  • While some shelters put animals into foster homes, the majority are housed on-site in kennels. Rescue groups place all their rescues into foster homes, as they do not have a central physical facility.
  • Rescues provide the animal a temporary home through a network of animal foster parents who agree to host the animal in their home and help with rehabilitation, from health or behavior problems, until it is adopted. This is a key difference between rescues and shelters, because foster homes help the animal to retain their social ability and be accustomed to humans and other pets.
  • Rescues take in pets from pounds, shelters, puppy mills, animal welfare situations, and accept surrenders direct from the public. Breed rescue groups (as the name suggests) specialize in particular breeds and are often part of a pure-breed fanciers club.
  • Why can’t I visit the dog(s)? Rescues may receive dozens of applicants for each dog. Because the rescue is composed of volunteers with full-time jobs and families, their foster volunteers simply do not have the time to meet with all interested applicants.
  • This is why there are public events where people can come to a planned central location to meet dogs. For a few final applicants, the Adoption Team may schedule separate meets if a final applicant cannot make an Adoption Event.

2. Shelters are usually run and funded by local government. Rescue groups are funded mainly by donations. Most of the staff are unpaid volunteers, essentially pet lovers with a passion for saving animals.

  • A shelter is a facility that holds pets seized by Animal Control or found wandering in the community. It’s often the first place a lost pet will end up. By law, stray pets must be kept for several days to give their owners a chance to reclaim them. After this period they are either euthanized or adopted out.
  • Generally speaking, animal rescues run on pure donation and goodwill of animal lovers. It is very rare for an animal rescue to receive any help or funding from the government.
  • Rescue groups that call themselves ‘breed rescue’ or ‘foster care groups’ are generally a collaboration of animal-loving volunteers working in their community to provide a safety net for rescue pets.
  • An animal rescue can also be focused on one or two types of animals only. Some are breed and age specific. This means that the people who are fostering the animals really have a passion for and extensive knowledge of the specific breed or age of animal the rescue is focused on.
  • As Rescues are essentially volunteers with their own jobs and lives, you may find that they’re not always available to take your call or respond quickly to your email. However, a benefit of adopting from an independent rescue group is that the animals haven’t been through the stress of kenneling. Instead, their pets have been assessed in a home environment, so they can be more accurately matched to suit your family and lifestyle.

3. Rescues generally don’t have free or discounted vetting. They pay the same full-price you do!

  • Shelters have volunteer vets or employ vets through the state or county they reside in and service. Many shelters also offer vetting services for a cost as they are serving the public.
  • Rescues must rely on donations from fans, followers, and supporters to cover the costs of vetting their animals, but treat all minor and major health issues a dog may have.
  • Animals from rescues are often very healthy, spayed and neutered, and have a complete round of vaccinations. If this is not the case, there is often a full record of what needs to be done so there will be very little guesswork. DC SIR has a health protocol with medical requirements for all dogs and specialty requirements for age.

4. Assessments. No matter how good assessment tests are in a shelter, they can’t match a competent rescue’s in-home assessment.

  • Animal shelters are typically in a hurry to get you to take the pet home because they have very limited space and need new space to house other incoming animals. Shelters can’t tell you the nuances of in-home behavior with all the smells, sight and sounds of typical home living. They have not had the opportunity to observe how a pet behaves in various neighborhood and public settings. This can have negative results, such as surprises or a mismatch, depending on your and the pet’s needs and personality.
  • Another possible issue is that since animals have a short turn-around time in most shelters, the staff and volunteers may not really know enough about the animal to gauge whether it will be a good fit with you.
  • Because a rescue integrates the dog into a home and family life, they learn how a dog will react living in the home as a pet with other pets and experiencing the busy hustle-and-bustle of daily life. There is usually a lot more available information about the animal you may be interested in, including whether the pet will be a good fit for your lifestyle, and there are less likely to be surprises after you bring the pet home; in general, “what you see and hear is what you will get” when you adopt from an animal rescue.
  • You will have a chance to interact with the pet candidate before taking home the animal. This means a more gradual adjustment which is less stressful for the animal and for you.
  • Remember, every dog is different, and what rescues require for one dog may be completely different than what we require for another, e.g., fenced in yard, other animals in the home, ages of family members, etc.

5. Adopting from Rescue may be more time consuming but the goal should be placement of a pet with an appropriate temperament for your home, making the transition best for dog AND human.

  • With a shelter, processing time for adoption is usually shorter and they have fewer requirements as compared to adopting from an animal rescue. (This does not apply to all animal shelters but is a general statement. Please do your research about your specific shelter or call them for information.)
  • Shelter animals are often not on their best behavior because a shelter can be a very scary place for an animal who is not used to being in a confined space with other animals (this also applies even to the most well run shelters). For this reason, you might miss out on a great pet just because the animal is scared out of its wits when you met it. A shelter is typically a very stressful and crowded place both for the animals and the staff or volunteers.
  • The adoption process from a rescue is generally a lot more involved as compared to adopting from a shelter. The adoption can take weeks and could mean multiple visits before being finalized. This is an advantage for someone who really wants to be sure about going home with the right pet or animal companion.
  • One of the reasons why rescues can be stricter when matching an animal to a future pet parent is because they know the animal’s behaviors, needs, wants, and yes, personality. They really want to ensure that whoever is approved to adopt the animal will be its fur-ever pet parent.
  • Adopting can be daunting with a rescue, but this is to ensure the best fit for the rescue that the organization has dedicated finances, time and training. Just because one does not get their first choice dog, does not reflect their suitability as a pet parent, rather, the rescue is looking for the best fit for that particular dog (activity level, fear of loud noises, likes men, needs other dogs, etc.) which may not be present in a highly-qualified home. The wait will all be worth it in the end; after all, you are adopting another family member.

6. Shelters generally take in all sorts of animals (not just pets, depending on local restrictions) and are often full.

  • These facilities are open to the public and you can adopt pets direct from the facility, but be aware that they may not have been screened for health or temperament issues and evaluations are limited to a kenneled environment. Some animals in the shelter have no known history whatsoever.
  • Because most animal shelters take in all sorts of animals, they can have a problem keeping all of them and this often ends with the shelter having to euthanize animals. This is the reason why shelter animals are typically seen as having their days numbered because in many instances, that can really be true.
  • Rescues, on the other hand, typically only euthanize a pet in their care based on serious health issues that can no longer be addressed and reduced quality of life or severe aggression that had not subsided with intense professional help and deem the dog a danger to society.

For more specific information on DC SIR’s adoption process, check out our adoption page.

Use this link to find information to help identify a reputable rescue.

DC SIR is a non-profit, volunteer-run network of foster homes in the Washington, DC area.

DC SIR does not have a shelter facility. To meet our adoptable dogs, interested adopters can attend one of our monthly adoption events.