HOW DO I RECOGNIZE A REPUTABLE RESCUE?
While there is no concrete definition of a great rescue group, there are some characteristics of successful ones that will help the public be able to effectively decide who they support.
Typically, the organization will be a 501(c)3 organization. This means you can deduct donations given. You cannot deduct gifts without this status. The IRS has made the process simple. While there are few reasons to not gain the status, this alone doesn’t indicate you’re dealing with a good organization.
Transparency/good customer service
A trustworthy rescue group readily shares information about their operations, experience and the animals in their care. They will share the exact costs of procedures and expenses. To the extent possible, they allow people to visit their facilities (obviously, not possible in a foster-based rescue group). They will post regular updates on the animals in their care and pictures showing a clear progression towards improvement. Reputable rescue groups are concerned with customer service for potential adopters, fosters and volunteers and are responsive to inquiries by returning phone calls and answering emails within a reasonable amount of time (even if just to acknowledge receipt of email and that they’re working on the request). Additionally, transparent rescue groups make their contact information (email address at minimum) easily accessible on their website.
Source of animals
Taking in animals from the streets, the public and local shelters are traditionally acceptable sources of animal intake, based on your organization’s mission, etc. Acquiring pets directly from breeders, dealers, or auctions, however, should be done more cautiously. By purchasing pets from an auction, for example, you may be inadvertently creating demand for dogs for sale, thus perpetuating the problem of puppy mills. If your rescue group acquires pets from bulk sources of pets, make sure you’re considering all of the ramifications, and avoid creating a situation where unscrupulous breeders are making a profit off your kindness.
A conscientious rescue organization ensures that all of the animals in their care receive proper and timely veterinary care, which includes vaccines, spay/neuter, parasite testing and treatment and dental care, among others. Additionally, partnering with a veterinarian (or several), will have the added bonus of offering a reference who can vouch for the care and treatment the rescue group provides for its animals.
In addition to adhering to the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, (which apply to animals in every type of setting, not just traditional shelters), rescue groups must ensure that their charges are receiving proper care – which includes all 5 Freedoms.
1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
4. Freedom to express (most) normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
At a well-run organization, individuals will inform volunteers as well as potential adopters and fosters about each animal’s problem, previous or ongoing treatment, and expectations about the level of care that may be required for a particular animal. At the same time, it’s important to keep a positive spin on the animal’s description. Instead of advertising a cat as “doesn’t get along with others”, another way to phrase it would be “prefers to have you all to herself.”
Follow up and return
A good rescue group will be readily available and responsive when the adopters and fosters come back with questions about their new pet and will offer help for behavior problems. As the goal is to keep pets in their home, it is a good idea to have behavior programs in place to prevent problems before they arise. But if necessary, a reputable rescue group will always take back the animal without question if the adopter wants to return it.
Any rescue group that has its eye on longevity and long-term success might aim to implement the following programs…
So when you see the following, feel even more confident in the group you’re looking at:
Innovative, aggressive adoption program
In many communities, rescue groups unfortunately have a reputation for making it impossible for people to adopt a pet. Not only is this self-defeating in that it takes longer to get a pet into its new home, but it turns off potential adopters and creates more work for rescue groups. Rescue groups should work on creating an adoption process that uses an application to jump start non-judgmental conversations with potential adopters, rather than an application where the “wrong” answer is an automatic deal-breaker. The application process should be an opportunity to build relationships and share information. Also, rescue groups should create initiatives to help animals in the difficult-to-adopt categories (e.g., black cats, pit bull type dogs, seniors, special needs) get into homes.
A robust foster network
The larger the foster network, the more animals a rescue group can take in, so the use of foster can certainly be part of a good rescue organization. Rescue groups should create a manual so that fosters know what they are getting into as well as provide protocols for common situations (medical issues, how to return an animal). Additionally, rescue groups should provide fosters with options and suggestions on how to get their charges adopted. If a foster feels like they have been abandoned, it will do a lot of damage to your rescue group’s reputation. Of course, the lack of fosters does not mean anything negative about an organization.
Volunteer recruitment program
As rescue groups operate almost entirely on a volunteer basis, there is going to be a constant influx and outflow of volunteers. Organizations should have a firm plan in place on which areas are most in need of volunteers (e.g., adoption events, operating a facility, transportation), how to train them and how to retain them.
Know your capacity
It’s easy to get overwhelmed – there are so many animals in need of our help. But we have to remember that we can’t save them all and need to do right by the ones we can save. Knowing when your organization is at or nearing full-capacity and being responsible about not taking in more animals is crucial to your rescue group’s longevity and reputation. Learning how to say no also helps prevent your organization from overextending itself financially and emotionally.
Relationships within the community are going to be some of the most important resources for any rescue. A good rescue is typically building partnerships within their community and beyond.
Every rescue group is always in need of additional funds. Create an event-planning committee for fundraisers, ask some of your staff to research and apply for grants, develop a public relations and advertising plan and think about ways to stretch each dollar as far as possible.
Once a rescue group is well established in the community, they often work with local shelters and rescue groups to address the pressing animal welfare issues in their community.
Rescue groups can help local shelters by reaching out to them and working with them on specific goals. Moreover, rescue groups can help each other just by setting a good example.
It only takes one poor interaction to turn someone off to working with all rescue groups. By remaining professional, your organization can elevate the entire community.
Finally, it’s important not to attack other rescue groups or shelters publicly. This is often a sure sign something is wrong within the organization maligning others.
If all of us in the animal welfare community joined forces, just think what we could accomplish!