Discussion: Shelter Pets Designated “RESCUE ONLY”

Something that pops up on my radar frequently is when a facility that kills animals issues a plea on behalf of a pet and features wording such as “NO ADOPTERS, RESCUE ONLY”.  The plea often includes a deadline which may be a matter of hours or possibly days.  The logical assumption is that if the animal does not get pulled by a rescue group before the deadline, he will be killed.

The reasons that shelter staff designate certain animals “NO ADOPTERS, RESCUE ONLY” are often related to an animal’s special needs which may be behavioral or physical in nature.  For example, a dog who was impounded after attacking another dog, a cat suffering from burns received in a fire, or any pet who appears to be suffering from some unknown medical condition.  The shelter may or may not have had the animal evaluated by a professional who may or may not have provided a plan (behavioral modification training or medical care) and an estimate for costs.  That information may or may not be included in the plea but most likely, anyone taking the animal is going to get a second opinion from someone they trust before proceeding with treatment anyway.

It’s important to note that there is no standard agreement between shelters and rescues.  That is, it’s up to each individual shelter director to determine which rescues he/she is willing to work with and which ones he chooses to deny.  Depending on the director, most rescues may be welcome or no rescues may be welcome or only those who have never criticized the killing at the shelter or only groups who have a 501(c)3 status with the IRS and/or some other criteria.  When limiting an animal’s survival options to rescue groups, it doesn’t ordinarily mean ALL rescue groups.   And when compared to the population of the animal loving public, there are relatively very few rescue groups anyway and in all likelihood, some of them will be refused at the director’s discretion.

Taking into consideration that animal rescue groups are typically overburdened in communities with pet killing facilities, the number of groups which may have the resources to immediately respond to a plea for a special needs animal is likely going to be very small.  From those few, the shelter director will deny any groups of his choosing.  If the animal is lucky, there may still be a group left to help him.  If not, it’s the kill room.

Meanwhile though, a compassionate  individual might come across the animal’s plea and determine he has the resources to help.  But that person sees the “NO ADOPTERS” designation and, feeling helpless, turns away from the plea.  In fact, maybe he turns away from all future pleas from this shelter in order to spare himself the pain of seeing animals the shelter has forbidden him to help in favor of killing.

My question is this:  Under what circumstances, if ever, is it acceptable for a shelter to drastically reduce the pool of potential caregivers for an animal, whom the shelter intends to kill, by designating an animal “NO ADOPTERS/RESCUE ONLY”?

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25 Comments

  1. Speaking from my own rescues’ experience, we have taken in several dogs that were “rescue only” from various states and circumstances. The most common are expensive medical conditions that must be addressed. Since rescue groups commonly have money coming in from multiple sources, unlike an individual adopter, they can be better equipped to handle the costs. In my group, if there is an adopter for an ill dog and we feel that they and their vet will handle the issue correctly, my group will retain legal ownership of the dog but let it live with the new family. My group also pays the vet bills if the family is not able to handle it. It is a win win for all concerned as the dog gets the one on one care that those of us with multiple dogs cannot give. The other most common circumstance is as you mentioned, a behavioral issue. This is actually a good thing on the part of a shelter because that means the dog has not been automatically killed for their behavior. Of course, that is only good if a rescue steps up. Medical issues are much easier to keep going as some behavioral issues are more time consuming to resolve than an illness.

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  2. Karen

     /  November 28, 2013

    I see a ton of dogs listed as “Rescue Only” from the Chicago ACC (https://www.facebook.com/pages/CACC-Transfer-Team/226541667442185) and I can only surmise that Chicago ACC is lazy. Read the notes on their page. They won’t go by what a prior owner tells them about the dog. “All animals need to have a complete vet check for any obvious medical issues, almost all need to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and they need to be temperament tested and evaluated for training needs. The shelter does not have the resources to do this for the 1000s of dogs that wind up a this facility and only with all that will they be placed onto the adoption floor. ” The dogs listed on the “Rescue Only” seem pretty damn adoptable to me. The first one on the page at the time I type is an elderly dog who can’t even walk so they are looking for a hospice situation. I get so angry looking at this page I have to close it out and take a break.

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  3. chelbelle64

     /  November 28, 2013

    I network a lot of animals from The state of Georgia. Georgia made a law that states all Pitbull and Pitbull type dogs are only to be pulled by a qualified rescue. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Partners-with-Clayton-County-Animal-Control/339511346067908 is one of these rescues. They do not hold a 501c but demand money for each dog regardless of breed via fundrazer.
    In my opinion, the state of GA needs to repeal this law so more dogs can get out of the shelters alive. The City of Nashville, TN changed their law so now all dogs regardless of breed can be adopted.

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  4. Ona

     /  November 28, 2013

    I don’t know when it would be acceptable to slap a “rescue only” on an animal due to medical issues. Memphis Animal Services will do it in a heartbeat though and for stupid reasons. It could be a FIV+ cat or a dog that needs to have their leg amputated or ringworm. As if a caring person cannot take the animal to a vet themselves.

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  5. Unfortunately caring people don’t necessarily always have a realistic idea of what medical care may cost, and/or they may take the shelter’s word as gospel of what needs to be done. A $500 problem can turn into a $5000 problem very quickly. Still, I’d like to see those animals available to the public somehow but with some assurance that the animal will be treated. I’m not sure how to do that in a high-volume shelter.

    NYC is pretty realistic about the rescue only label – it’s generally reserved for animals with serious medical conditions (and the rescue community knows well that they suck at med evals, so be prepared for anything…) and dogs with high bite risk or serious dog/dog issues that will require a more thorough evaluation and dedication than the shelter is prepared to give them. If they are returned for a bite of any kind their chance of death at the shelter skyrockets.

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  6. Shelters relying on rescues too heavily is all too common. One very well-funded local shelter, which does not explicitly require rescues, releases many of its adoptable dogs to rescues since its cheaper and easier for them then adopting out. This shelter has terrible customer service and an arduous adoption process.

    The net impact is NO net saved lives. The rescues who pull from this shelter, which has resources to find homes themselves, cannot pull animals from other high-kill shelters with far less resources. As a result, the poorly performing high-kill shelter brings in more donations and the money is not put to good use.

    We even have a rescue who is affiliated with a poorly performing no-kill shelter lieing about adoption policies of a poorly funded high-kill shelter. This rescue visits the high kill shelter and posts dogs as “Rescue Only” and will die in 24-72 hours. The rescue refuses to name shelter, says the kill shelter does not adopt to public, and only allows actual rescues to contact them about dogs (even when people want to foster). The shelter does in fact allow the public to adopt, but the rescue does not want the public to adopt because some dogs can leave without being altered and they hate the poor people who live in the area.

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  7. elaine

     /  November 28, 2013

    Isn’t fostering a viable alternative in the “rescues only, no adopters” situation? The shelter/impound still retains ultimate responsibility for the animal, and the fosterer can give the animal one-on-one attention to meet its special needs until it is sufficiently recovered to be adoptable. I know rescues have foster networks, but I don’t see why shelters could not have them also. Some rescue groups might require that a foster have experience with a given breed, or not have certain other pets; there could be a number of reasons why someone able to foster is not affiliated with a rescue. If I were looking to buy a pet from a shelter, I would have more confidence in a fosterer’s assessment of the dog’s behavior and management needs than on the evaluation made in the shelter environment.

    Reply
  8. Larry Norman

     /  November 28, 2013

    People who know nothing about CACC have no right to criticize CACC. Instead of complaining, get out there and do something positive to solve the problem.

    Reply
    • Who here is talking about “CACC”? I’m not even sure what it stands for. Hmm, seems like trolling.

      Reply
      • Karen

         /  November 29, 2013

        Oh, that was me in a comment above (Chicago ACC).

      • Oh so there is at least some basis in reality then. Comforting. But still trolling I believe.

        On Fri, Nov 29, 2013 at 10:17 AM, YesBiscuit!

    • Jennifer

       /  November 29, 2013

      To pull from the CACC-Rescue Only, one needs to complete a Homeward Bound application, have an IL Dept. of Agriculture License and be a 501c3. If a rescue is from out-of-state, why would it need an IL license? It sounds like a lot of hoops to jump through!

      I saw a 7 year old Beagle on the facebook page and the only reason it is on the list is because it is 7 years old and shakes. 7 years old is not old, only middle aged as Beagles live to about 14-15 years old. Shame on CACC for thinking this dog needs to be rescue only! There are many dogs listed as rescue only on this facebook page.

      I rarely pull from shelters for my independent rescue since I am not a 501c3 and most shelters do not allow me to take dogs because of this but I do when the dog is PB and can be pulled for the PB breed rescue I am a volunteer with. When I had the money, I rescued my breed from the dog auctions in MO instead of dealing with shelters.

      Reply
  9. Lisa B

     /  November 29, 2013

    I’m against the use of the “rescue only” qualification, because it’s a statement by shelter management that they would rather kill the pet than than give it every possible chance to get out of the shelter alive. Categorizing a pet as rescue only is part and parcel of the mindset that makes killing the default means to “make space” in pounds and blames the “irresponsible public” for it. So they say “Oh, this pet has a serious issue, but ordinary people are too [stupid, irresponsible, poor, uncaring] to deal with it properly. Better to make him “URGENT CODE RED DIES TOMORROW” and hope that some frazzled, overburdened rescuer who already has too many animals and not enough money will overburden him- or herself even further and take this one off our hands.” Pound management doesn’t give a crap how the pet leaves the shelter or what happens to him once he’s gone, but this way they can pretend they are doing “everything we can.” It’s sick.

    What really infuriates me is when I see pregnant or possibly pregnant dogs listed as rescue only because the reason translates to “We would rather kill this beautiful animal and all of her unborn puppies than take a chance on the possibility that may someone won’t spay/neuter them.” That feeds the lie that “we will never be able to end the killing until all pets are spayed/neutered.”

    Reply
    • I agree with you Lisa. No facility that kills animals should be drastically reducing the potential for an animal to leave alive by turning away people who want to help based on arbitrary criteria such as tax status, you-might-be dumb, or the classic we-don’t-like-you.

      Reply
  10. Shared with rescue friends, hoping they comment here.

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  11. Shelters are quickly becoming obsolete! We need a quick resolution for this issue. Shelters aren’t doing the right thing for animals and we need to find another way to protect them!

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  12. One thing that needs to be taken into account also is state laws regarding shelter animals. For instance, in Kansas, it is illegal to adopt out animals that are known to be “sick” — which includes things like FIV — so good shelters there will transfer to rescues who can then adopt out of state. Also, in Missouri (and Kansas), it is illegal to adopt out an animal that is unaltered (which some exceptions of course) but then creates issues with pregnant animals if the shelter would prefer to not abort the puppies (and puppies being born in shelters is a death-wish for the pups who are liable to contract diseases they can’t be vaccinated for even in well-run shelters).

    Keep in mind that minimizing length of stay is essential for virtually any open-admission shelter — so there are times when animals that will take a long time to be adoptable. So from my experience there are a lot of reasons this makes sense — but here are the times we use it in our shelter:

    1) Dogs with bite histories (or other history) that we think aren’t truly a danger to society and yet the city (for whom we contract) won’t allow us to take on the liability risk.

    2) Pregnant moms. We don’t (intentionally) spay/abort — but puppies being born in the shelter is bad and we can’t necessarily adopt them out. So sometimes we’ll send them to rescue as opposed to using foster care for it.

    3) Mange/ringworm — or other injury/illness — again, we can’t adopt them out and they usually don’t heal well in the shelter. So we make them available for “rescue only” sometimes to minimize LOS with us.

    Keep in mind — just because something is labeled as “rescue only” doesn’t mean that it is either that or death (for all shelters, for many certainly it is) and that doesn’t mean that after treatment that status can’t change. But often times it is best for the animal, and the shelter, if they are moved elsewhere in the short term and there aren’t always foster homes available for them.

    Reply
  13. Leslie

     /  November 30, 2013

    I hate to see that designation, especially for easily treatable conditions like FIV, diabetes or ringworm, or for no reason except the animal is elderly. There have been cats I’ve seen online that I might have been interested in adopting if it were possible. I only adopt special needs pets and I’m more than willing to do whatever is necessary for a sick animal. While I’m not made of money, I have not had to make decisions about the care my pets receive based solely on financial considerations. But apparently some shelters would rather kill pets than let someone like me give them a loving home. I no longer read the details once I see that designation since it’s too frustrating to know that I could help but won’t be allowed to.

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  14. As usual, this gets back to the age-old factor of desire. If shelters wanted to do something for these pets, they would. Here in north Texas, for example, one shelter we work with has an annual budget of $7.1 million and 92 full-time employees. My organization has a budget this year of $110,000 and none of us gets paid. Yet we take a lot of this shelter’s worst “rescue-only” medical cases. Another nearby municipal shelter we work with is in a constant state of “Code Red.” We’re on track to rescue 10% of their total intake for the year. Neither of these shelters has a volunteer program or a foster program. If we can do it with the resources we have, they could do it as well…if they had the desire to do so.

    Reply
    • mikken

       /  December 2, 2013

      Absolutely right, Michael K. If the will were there, the results would be different. But for so many shelters, that sounds too much like work.

      Reply
  15. I fostered a “rescue only” dog, because it had kennel cough. Apparently, the shelter also allows people to adopt a rescue only due to medical if they sign a medical issues waiver but it isn’t advertised. Took $50 to get him well, would have been less if my vet wasn’t out of town when he gotten worse. There seems to be people out there ready to drop off their dog at a shelter rather than take them to a vet for doxy for a kennel cough and others operate as non 501(3)c rescuers who somehow get by and get all of the medical taken cared of. I always thought the shelter did the “rescue only” tag for behavioral issues, was because they were concerned about liability. Sure beats killing them immediately, but not sure that it is the ideal situation.

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  16. Canine Friend

     /  July 27, 2014

    Oh yes let’s allow the Directors to pick and choose who they like and who they don’t which is how they determine who they work with. That’s not working real well for the animals.

    Anytime you give someone a paycheck and power you can have problems and the focus goes right off the animals and becomes all about them.
    LA county ran into this, a lawsuit was filed and won and things changed there, that any licensed Rescue in good standing can pull, no games allowed to be played anymore. That needs to be implemented across the Nation as some Directors would kill an animal before turning it over to a licensed Rescue just because they can!

    If they were doing their job and marketing, and moving the animals like they should they wouldn’t have to choose to kill them as it really is a choice.

    Reply
  17. Canine Friend

     /  July 27, 2014

    I do agree with the Rescue only criteria at times. Some people who believe they know what they’re getting into find out they really don’t and that can be with Puppy Mill dogs or behavior/medical issues with Shelter pets.

    Reply
  18. Michelle

     /  July 10, 2016

    Any one know what is rescue only with a waiver for behavioral issues??

    Reply
  19. Tiffany Van Horn

     /  October 19, 2017

    Legally they cannot do this. I’ve contacted shelters before and demanded a specific answer as to why I cannot pull a dog and only a rescue can, the ultimate answer is it’s a financial issue. They somehow believe the rescues don’t have a financial burden (which they all do) while a private citizen might. The truth is they can’t deny a private party the right to adopt a dog, they may ask for financial information but they can’t deny you. It’s a racket, and one that needs to be exposed in my opinion. YOU CAN take a dog from a shelter as a private person…THis is not to say I don’t appreciate what the rescues do, but there are plenty of private citizens that can also carry the financial burden of a shelter dog if needed.

    Reply

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