What is a rescue organization?
An animal rescue organization rescues animals from a variety of sources and places them, through adoption, with new owners.
Animal rescue organizations and "rescue dogs" have different meanings and are sometimes confused with one another. An animal rescue organization basically rescues animals from a variety of sources, such as shelters or owners, and places them, through adoption, with new owners. "Rescue dogs", on the other hand, are part of a classification of "service/assistance" dogs. Service/assistance dogs are generally those dogs trained to be of assistance (a) to people with disabilities, or (b) to law enforcement professionals, etc. To make it more confusing, some animal rescue organizations (such as Labrador Retriever Rescue, Inc. - "LRR") have working relationships with local service/assistance dog organizations. For example, LRR, has placed, through adoption, several Labs with local law enforcement officials for use as service dogs. In return, when these dogs "retire" from their service jobs, LRR has placed them into new loving homes.
Canine rescue groups started 10-15 years ago as an alternative to animal shelters. Most canine rescues are for purebred dogs, although there are many who rescue mixed breeds. Canine rescues are run by individuals, rescue networks, and by breed clubs. Did you know that 25% of all dogs in shelters are purebreds?
Animal shelters and rescue groups are very different but work together to save the lives of many animals. Numerous animals up for adoption through rescue groups were rescued from local animal shelters. It is most likely that your local animal shelter has information on most of the rescue groups in your area. When they receive an animal that they think matches a rescue group's criteria, they contact them.
Because of the sheer volume of animals received at animal shelters, they are unable to thoroughly evaluate each animal for personality, temperament, and good/bad qualities. Most of the time, they are also unable to provide comprehensive medical care. One of the primary benefits of a responsible rescue group is that they do have the time and resources to provide these things before the dog is adopted. This allows you to make an informed decision about the animal and find a great new pet.
There are thousands of rescue groups in the United States. Each group has their own philosophy, rules, regulations, adoption procedures, etc. Rescue groups come in all shapes and sizes with some rescuing hundreds of animals a year to some that just rescue a handful. Some groups do not actually provide care for the animals, but instead act as a middleman and make referrals to owners or maintain lists of available animals. Some rescues place their rescued dogs in kennels until they are adopted, while some only rescue as many dogs as they have available volunteer foster homes. You should look for a rescue group whose philosophy you agree with, that closely matches your own.
Choosing a rescue organization can be confusing. Things you should look for in a responsible dog rescue group: the dogs should be healthy and friendly; the adoption process should be thorough and not rushed; the dogs should be spayed or neutered and up to date on all shots (and in this area of the country, tested and treated for heartworm). Because it is emotionally stressful on the animal to move too many times, most rescues are anxious to place their animals in new homes. However, be aware of those groups who are too anxious in adopting out their animals. A responsible rescue group will thoroughly evaluate an animal on personality, temperament, and health issues before they are put up for adoption. The rescue groups goal should be to make an ideal match between human and dog. In order for them to fulfill this goal, they need to determine if the dog is good with kids, cats, other dogs, plays rough, jumps fences, has a high activity level, etc. The rescue group should be able to provide you with an evaluation for each dog.
The larger rescue groups may receive hundreds of adoption applications each month. Keep in mind that many of those applications will not be accepted. Just because someone applies to an adoption program, does not mean that they will automatically get to adopt an animal. Most groups reserve the right to reject or deny any application for whatever reason. It may be that you live in an apartment. It may be because you have small children. It may be because you travel extensively. Most likely, it may simply be that your philosophy on dog care differs from their own. Remember, most of these groups receive far more applications than they have animals available - they can afford to be extra particular about who adopts their animals. Responsible animal rescue groups take their jobs very seriously and because of this, you can expect the adoption process to take some time. The adoption process can include an application, a review of references, telephone interviews, personal interviews and house evaluations. If you are in a rush to get an animal, adopting from a rescue group may not be the best option for you.
Responsible dog rescues will require you to sign an adoption contract before the adoption is finalized. This contract may require you to (among other things): provide annual veterinary exams with appropriate vaccinations; administer monthly heartworm preventative medication. Many rescues continue to stay in touch with the adopters even after the adoption is finalized to make sure that the animal is being well cared for. To help offset the costs of special needs rescues and regular vetting expenses/high quality dog food for all adoptable Labs, the rescue group may also either charge you a fee or request a donation generally anywhere between $100-$275 for the adoption.
Rescued Dogs Make Great Pets!
The internet has become a wonderful place to search for rescue groups in your area. There are many websites that specialize in providing lists of these rescue groups. Petfinder.com, and 1-800-Save-A-Pet list companion animals in need of new homes with a national database of rescues and shelters. AKC.org and TheLabradorClub.org link to rescues specific to the breed. Or you might Google "Labrador Rescue" or "Labrador Adoption" to find numerous Lab rescues across the country.
We also recommend you contact your local shelter/SPCA/Humane Society and inquire about local rescues or a specific breed you may be interested in.