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by Cheryl Minnier
Email: cminnier@epix.net

Anyone can start a pure breed rescue, and many people do. However few new rescues are still around six months later. What does it take to be successful in rescue? First you have to define successful. Set goals and refer to them frequently. Do you want to cover one town, one county, one state or more! Will you take only one breed or will you concentrate on a group of dogs such as Northern breeds, terriers, toys? Will you take only purebreds or will you accept any dog which closely resembles your breed.

The novice should stick to a manageable task. One breed is preferred in a small geographic location, as is limiting yourself to purebreds. If you become well organized and successful, then it is okay to change your goals and branch out. Remember, burnout is fatal in rescue, for both you and the dogs you are trying to save. Set your limits and STICK to them!

Once you have set your goals, you need to take care of legalities. A good step before beginning is to incorporate. It can be expensive, depending on which state you live in, but a "not for profit" organization is by far the safest route to follow. You can try to do this yourself, but an attorney makes the process much quicker.

At this point, if you are starting out on your own, you may want to consider recruiting others to help. They can share in the expenses and the decision making. Finding other people that share your passion for your breed is not always easy, but local breed, obedience or all breed clubs may prove a good starting point.

Some rescues are an outgrowth of a national or local breed club. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this. Some breed people tend to view rescue workers with suspicion. They assume you will condemn them for breeding or take all the "good" homes. Remember, alienating people doesnít help anyone. Learning to see both sides of the issue will, in the long run, be much more productive. Some breeders will not want you around because it is a reminder of what they are doing wrong. EDUCATION RATHER THAN CONDEMNATION WILL GET YOU MUCH FURTHER.

National clubs can provide access to insurance at reasonable rates, advertising and promotion, and for some breeds, financial support. Local clubs can provide foster homes and people who are very knowledgeable in your breed. They can also provide referrals if relationships are cordial.

On the other hand there may understandably be different priorities between you. That may get in the way when it comes to the tough decisions about money that all rescues need to make. If you will be affiliated with a local club make sure there are policies - in writing - that address such things as funds and fundraising, decision making regarding accepting, placing and euthanizing dogs, individual responsibilities and so on. This will go a long way toward preventing misunderstandings in the future.

If you will be separate from local and national clubs, start out on the right foot. Introduce yourself and your organization. Offer support to the club when it comes to promotions and education. If you end up with a surplus of adoptive homes you may be able to provide assistance to club members in placing older dogs. This is a source of considerable debate, but I believe it assists breeders in taking responsibility for their puppies rather than discourages it. Breeders looking to rescue for help in placing dogs should ALWAYS be financially responsible for their dogs and willing to provide foster care. Rescue can then refer families wishing to adopt to these breeders as appropriate. It should go without saying that truly homeless dogs should come first.

The next step in the process is developing policies and procedures. Many people canít wait to go trolling the shelters for homeless dogs but you should restrain yourself until guidelines are in place. Procedures should be developed for:

  • INTAKE: Who will be responsible for accepting dogs into the program. Will a visit be necessary first. Will a donation be required? Requested? Where will dogs be taken? Will vet checks be done first? Who will be responsible for obtaining vet records? You will need a form for surrender, that owners must sign, giving you ownership of the dog. It is also wise to include a statement for them to sign, affirming that the dog has never bitten anyone.
  • HOUSING: Will foster homes be used or will your group rely on kennels? If foster homes are used, which expenses will be reimbursed? Vet bills only? Food? Agreements signed by foster homes releasing the organization from liability, acknowledging understanding of group procedures, and agreeing to abide by all policies are a must.
  • SCREENING: You will need to develop a screening tool (usually in the form of an application) to decide who qualifies to adopt. Some questions you may want to consider will be: ∑ Who are the members of the household, with ages. (Some dogs should not be in homes with small children)
    ∑ Have you had pets before, what happened to them? (If they were hit by a car, or ran away - the family may not take their responsibility seriously).
    ∑ What size is your house? Fenced yard? (Not all rescues require a fenced yard, some require it for dogs below a certain age)
    ∑ Name and phone number of a vet who has seen your animal? (Most vets offices will be happy to tell you if the past pets were kept up to date on shots, on heartworm, spayed or neutered)
    ∑ Who will care for the dog? Where will he sleep, do you have a crate? ∑ Have you ever taken an obedience class?
    ∑ Are you ready for dog hair throughout your house? Can you groom the dog yourself or will you use a groomer?
    ∑ Tell us why you want a (fill in breed). (Answers such as "for the kids" or "as a watchdog" may indicate the need for further education).
    ∑ These are just a few question to consider. You will need to decide what other information you want and add it to your application.
  • ADOPTION CONTRACT: You will need a contract for adopting families to sign. Provisions of this usually include: ∑ A waiver agreeing to not hold the rescue responsible for the dog.
    ∑ A return contract, stating that the dog must be returned to you if they canít keep it.
    ∑ A spay/neuter agreement if this is not done by your rescue.
    ∑ A clause giving rescue the right to reclaim the dog if it is not properly cared for.
    ∑ Stipulations for the dogs care, including housing, food, medical care and restrictions on use (i.e. no attack work, dog fighting, research or experimentation etc.)
    It is helpful to have an attorney look at all your forms when you have them completed to assure that your liability is reduced as much as possible.

The next thing to consider is fundraising. Most rescues find that their adoption fees do not totally cover their expenses This is especially true for senior dogs and medically needy dogs. Unless you decide not to take these kinds of rescue dogs, you will need to have a fund raising plan. Some groups solicit funds through newsletters, others sell or raffle off dog related items. Whatever method you use, you will want to learn the laws in your state that cover fund raising.

You will also have to consider the toughest questions that rescues have to face; when and why to euthanize. Do you put a dog down for showing aggression?, or only for biting?, for serious health problems?, only if the animal is suffering?. These emotional choices are easier (although they are never easy), if you have decided on a policy before you are faced with an old dog in a crate in your living room. Remember, aggressive dogs are a safety issue and a liability issue. You will need to keep in mind that your ability to help dogs in the future may depend on your decisions today. Find support for those tough choices. It helps not to try and make them all by yourself.

It is also very advantageous to find a veterinarian who will advise your group. Many vets will give reduced prices to rescues. It also helps to set up billing procedures before hand. You may need to prove that your group has the ability to pays its bills and that you are responsible enough to take care of them quickly before vets will give you credit.

To summarize, perhaps the most two most important things to do before you start a rescue are to set limits and be willing to stick to them and secondly, to have well thought out policies and procedures in place before taking your first dog.

Good luck!

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