Rescue Me! All About Pet Rescue Groups

Love Dog
In This Chapter
  • Discovering what a rescue group is and how it differs from an animal shelter
  • Assessing and approaching rescue groups: The best way
  • Checking out a rescue group, and being checked out by a rescue group
  • Getting to know the pets
  • Volunteering as a rescue group foster caretaker

Maybe you really want to adopt a pet that needs a home, but you have your heart set on something specific: a yellow Labrador Retriever, perhaps, or a fuzzy Pekingese, or a Maine Coon cat, or maybe a lop-eared rabbit, a teddy bear hamster, or a ball python. If you know what you want in a pet and your requirements are specific, a rescue group may be just the thing for you.

Rescue groups do more than merely specialize, singling out one type of animal or breed for rescue. They also provide a more personal approach to pet rescue. Typically operated by volunteers and usually without a dedicated facility, rescue groups essentially are networks of animal devotees that keep in contact with each other to rescue and find new homes for their favorite breeds or animals. These people are committed to the welfare of their charges and won’t allow just anyone to adopt from them. Prepare to be grilled!

On the other hand, don’t be nervous — unless you’re particularly delectable with a coating of sauce. Yes, rescue groups have stringent guidelines for adoption, but only because they care so much — a good thing! After the members of a rescue group recognize how committed you are to doing the right thing for your adopted pet, they’ll appreciate you more, and you’ll appreciate their efforts to help you find the perfect fit. This chapter helps you find a rescue group that meets your needs and advises you on how to meet, work with, and adopt a pet from one.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Adopting from a Rescue Group

Working with a rescue group can be a great experience. You may develop a close relationship with the people you’re working with as you get to know them and they get to know you and all decide which pet works best in your particular home situation and for your particular lifestyle and personality. Every rescue group is slightly different, and the costs vary, too, depending on the type of animal, what supplies come with the pet, how much medical care the animal already has received, and how long the animal has been in foster care with the rescue group. Some rescue groups have set fees for adoption that can range from $5 for a hamster or a rat to more than $1,000 for a large parrot complete with large cage and supplies.
The rescue group’s procedures and policies depend not only on local laws but also on who started the group, how the group was organized, who manages the group, and even the personalities of the various people fostering pets waiting for homes. In fact, the character of the rescue group is much more closely tied to the personalities of the people running it than it is with a government-run animal shelter. But both are concerned about screening you to make sure you’re right for the pet you want. Rescue workers rescue animals because they love them, and they don’t want to entrust the animals they rescue with someone who won’t provide them with a good home.


Before choosing a rescue group, be sure to meet the people in charge in person. Ask for references and ask to see where they keep the animals. Although most rescue groups are devoted to saving pets and placing them in good homes, a few unfortunately use the rescue-group reputation as a front for stealing or hoarding animals and selling them for a profit, a practice that horrifies legitimate rescuers. Know what you’re getting into before you support an illegal operation or unknowingly contribute to animal neglect and abuse.

But even the best rescue groups aren’t for everyone. Before you decide, you need to weigh the pros and cons of rescue groups. If you think the pros outweigh the cons, then read on for more information about finding a rescue group that works with the kind of pet you want to adopt.

Rescue group pros

Not all of the benefits on the pro side of the slate are specific to rescue groups. Some apply to shelters, too. Nevertheless, among the many great reasons for adopting a pet through a rescue group are that you can _ Find the specific breed or animal you want.
  • Work one-on-one with someone and develop a relationship with people already knowledgeable and interested in the breed — people who are just as passionate as you about rescuing animals.
  • Rest assured (usually) that the rescue group has carefully monitored the animal’s health and temperament and can give you a good idea of what the pet is like.
  • Reap the benefits of the rescue’s preadoption care, which often includes having the animal examined by a vet, spayed or neutered, treated for any health problems, and brought current on all vaccinations.
  • Talk to people providing foster care to the pet. Because they’ve already been living with the pet, they can give you plenty of specific information about what the animal needs.
  • Feel good about contributing to and supporting a process that is truly committed to finding homes for adoptable animals in a responsible way.
  • Ultimately rescue an animal that needs a new home.
  • Volunteer to help with the rescue group or become a foster-care provider for other rescued animals.
Fostering first: The adopter’s test run
You know that adopting a pet is a big responsibility, but one of the best things about working with a pet rescue group is that you have an opportunity to be a foster caretaker for your breed or animal of choice. Doing so gives you experience in what living with a particular animal, breed, or species is like in general. Plus, you’re providing your rescue group with a valuable service. Foster caretakers often are in short supply.
To volunteer as a foster caretaker, contact your local rescue group and explain that you’re interested in providing foster care for rescued pets. You need to have the right environment for the pet and be prepared to provide a safe, caring home. If you don’t have training or experience with the particular type of animal, the rescue group may train you first. Rescuers don’t want to leave their pets with just anybody, so you can expect to be given just as thorough a screening as when you’re being considered
for a pet adoption. Ask what the terms are, what you’re expected to do and pay for, and what the rescue group covers. Ask how much the rescue group typically knows about the animal’s health and temperament before it comes to you, and how much you’re responsible for assessing those traits. Furthermore, ask what happens if you decide that you want to adopt an animal for which you’re providing foster care.
Providing foster care enables you to meet and interact with many different animals coming into your home in need and then leaving to go to their forever homes. The job of a foster caretaker is rewarding, even if it is hard at times to say goodbye. One of those foster animals may just turn out to be your forever pet. Or, you may decide you do pets even more of a service as a serial foster parent, caring for and helping to rehabilitate animals as they’re rescued and then seeing them safely off to their forever homes with other caring adoptees.

Rescue group cons

As much as I’d like to tell you that the pros are all you have to worry about, if these pesky cons turn out to be deal-busters for you, you probably ought to consider other adoption options. Like the pros in the previous list, some of the drawbacks of rescue-group adoptions also apply to shelters. Depending on the rescue group (or shelter), you may find yourself:
  • Traveling a great distance to hook up with the rescue person who has the animal you want.
  • Answering many personal questions.
  • Paying more than you planned for the pet and supplies.
  • Allowing a rescue person to come to your home, check you out, and approve you for an adoption.
  • Dealing with people who are incredibly devoted to animals but may not necessarily always be good at dealing with people.
  • Feeling insulted. Rescuers typically have great passion but they’ve encountered plenty of unsavory human behavior and may deal with you by assuming the worst until you prove otherwise.
  • Falling in love with a pet but being rejected as having an unsuitable environment for the pet you want.
Here’s how to decide: If you don’t like these kinds of personal intrusions, you may be better off working with a shelter. However, an animal rescue group may be just the way for you to go, if you:
  • Admire what rescue workers do.
  • Think the efforts of rescue workers are in the best interest of the pets (almost always true).
  • Like the way rescue workers help you find a custom fit.
  • Want to try providing foster care for rescued animals to help the cause while trying to choose the right pet for you.

Scouting Out a Particular Rescue Group

If you’ve decided to go with a rescue group, you can start hunting for the ones that deal with the type or breed of animal you want to adopt. Even if you’ve never heard of a rescue group in your area, one may exist right under your nose. Rescue groups don’t always advertise, so you have to talk to the right people. This section guides you to finding the people who are looking for someone just like you.

Asking around

When you know what kind of pet you want to adopt, you can jump right in and contact local, regional, or national clubs organized by fanciers of the animal you want. Sounds simple, right? And for the most part it is. For example, a local dog obedience club may keep a list of purebred rescue groups in your area. The local herpetological society may be able to direct you to a great iguana rescuer.
Your veterinarian can be another great resource. Rescue groups often supply their information to vets, and vets often see and treat rescued animals, so they can frequently direct you to a contact person working with the kind of animal you want.
Responsible and ethical small-scale or hobby breeders of the animal you want typically are willing to put you in touch with local rescue groups associated with that breed. For that matter, some small breeders also work in rescue. (If a breeder tries instead to sell you an animal, walk away!) Even though they may breed purebred animals, devoted breeders also care about the forgotten animals of their chosen breed and usually do everything they can to help place them in good homes.
You can also ask around at local pet stores (the ones that don’t sell the kind of animal you want), or at your local animal shelter. Because animal shelters often work with rescue groups to find homes for purebred animals, they often can provide you with contact information.

Surfing the Net

Consider the Internet as your staunch ally in locating a rescue group. Do you want to find an all-breed rescue? A purebred rescue? An exotic-pet rescue? Are you looking for something local, regional, or national? The Internet is full of contact information about specific rescue groups, and several clearinghouse-style Web sites keep huge databases of rescue groups and animal shelters across the country and around the world. Here are some links to help narrow your search. Many of these links have national coverage with Web-site search engines where you can enter your city or zip code and get a list of rescuers near you.

Surviving the Screening Process

The picture on the Internet was so adorable that now all you can think about is adopting that fluffy dog, cunning kitten, or precious parrot. But before you get to meet the pet that piques your interest, the rescue group handling the adoption wants to have a few words with you. And you thought interviewing for your last job was tough.
Actually, getting screened by a rescue group isn’t bad. Rescuers are careful only because they’re protective of the pets, and they want to be sure you are a good match. If they don’t think you are, maybe they’re right! The key is not to be offended, even if you think some questions are nobody’s business or you don’t like the rescuer’s zealous nature. Not every rescuer grills you, but many will, primarily because they’ve encountered many deadbeats and potentially disastrous situations, and they’ve had to turn down many potential adopters. Proving that your home will make a great one for a rescued pet is up to you.


Screening works both ways. Many people who felt like they were under the microscope never spent time screening the rescue group and finding out how much it really knows about the pets. In the same way that you expect to be carefully screened, you also need to carefully screen not only the rescue group with which you’re working but also (and perhaps even more so) the pet you think you may want to adopt.

In most cases, you talk to someone on the phone first, who asks you some questions and has you fill out an application. The rescue group reviews your application, and if workers like what they see, they may visit you at home to determine whether you can provide a proper environment for the pet. Only when they think you’re a good potential pet guardian do they let you meet the animal that they (or you) think is the right one for you.

Making contact and checking references

The first time you contact a rescue group may be by phone, by e-mail, or through a Web site on the Internet. Maybe you found a particular pet on the Internet, and you fell in love with a picture. Or, the rescue group may even contact you, if they hear, through the grapevine — such as through shelter workers, local vets, or a local club — that you’re looking to work with a rescue group. They may even send you a picture and profile of a particular pet.
Regardless of how you make your initial inquiry, you’ll probably first talk on the phone to a contact person who screens people who obviously are not serious about adopting a pet or clearly are not behaving like potentially responsible pet owners. You want a pet, so you want to make a good impression. Be specific and polite. Explain that you’re interested in adopting a pet through the rescue program, and that you’d like more information about the group, how it finds animals, how long it has been in operation, how many people work with the group, and whether it can provide you with references, such as other people who have adopted pets through the group and any vets who have dealt with animals that have come through the rescue. If you hear good reports, you can feel more confident that you’re working with someone who’s responsible and can help match you with the right pet.
That said, don’t rely solely on the opinions of others. After making initial contact, meet with the rescue group organizer and ask some pointed questions about:
  • How the rescue is set up
  • What requirements the rescue group has in terms of fees, contracts, home visits, spay/neuter procedures, training, or any other issues
  • How animals are evaluated for health and temperament
  • How the group decides where to place rescued animals

Your initial screening of the rescue group demonstrates that you’re as serious about working with people who care about animals as they are. If the rescue group balks at providing you with any of this information, consider it a red flag.


People who rescue pets receive many phone calls, sometimes at all hours of the night. For many of these people, the phone rings into their homes, interrupting their dinners, their family time, and even their sleep. Please be considerate about what time you call rescue workers, and if you’re calling outside your state, pay attention to differing time zones.

If you find that a rescue group’s practices are questionable or anything else bothers you, don’t feel obligated to work with that organization. If, on the other hand, you think you’ve found a real treasure of a rescue group, then congratulations, it’s time to move one step closer to meeting the pets by allowing the rescue group to find out what a stellar adoptive pet owner you’ll make.

Answering questions, questions, and more questions

After you’ve asked questions and checked references, the table turns, and it’s the rescue group’s turn to check you out. And will they ever!


Rescue groups have great expectations. They want you to provide the perfect new home for a rescued pet. Bear in mind the group’s priorities and the neglected animals its workers have seen. Doing so helps you to understand why rescue-group representatives ask you specific and sometime prying questions and why they may even seem suspicious of your motives. Remember, the rescue group has seen plenty of bad eggs, and the point of the entire process is to ensure your potential pet gets the best possible home.

A rescue group relies heavily on your answers to a long list of questions when determining whether you’ll make a good adoptive pet parent. The group may also request a home visit (which I help you prepare for in the “Preparing for a house visit” section later in this chapter) and may ask you to answer questions either verbally or on an application form. Reviewing the list of possible questions that follows can help you prepare for the Q-and-A session. Some of these questions obviously apply to more common rescue subjects like dogs and cats. Your rescued chinchilla won’t need a fenced yard, and you won’t need to take your rescued iguana to obedience class (unless you really want to). The rescue group wants to know details, including:
  • The full names, ages, occupations, and brief personality profiles of everyone living in your household, including children and other pets.
  • How long you’ve lived in your current home and how long you’ve been employed at your current job — the rescue group wants to weed out transient types likely to dump a pet when they move on to the next adventure.
  • Details about your home and yard, including size, setup, type of neighborhood, proximity to busy streets, and whether you have a fence (if relevant).
  • Whether you own or rent your home, including proof of ownership.
  • Whether your landlord approves of the kind of animal you seek, including proof in the form of a signed statement and landlord contact information for verification.
  • Your knowledge of local ordinances concerning pets (to find out this information, call your city hall or courthouse and ask where you can get copies of animal-related ordinances).
  • Where, specifically, you plan to keep or house the animal and where it will sleep.
  • How long the animal will be left alone each day.
  • How often caged animals will get to spend supervised time outside of their cages.
  • Your daily activities, schedule, and hobbies.
  • A general description of what you’re like (Do you like pina coladas? Getting caught in the rain? Do you often stay out all night or forget to water your plants?).
  • Whether anyone in your family has any allergies.
  • A detailed explanation of why you want the particular breed or type of animal.
  • Whether you’d consider a pet with special needs, such as a medical or behavioral problem.
  • What color, sex, and age of an animal you’re looking for and reasons for each preference and how flexible you are about these factors.
  • How much you’re willing to spend each year on vet care, food, grooming needs, supplies, and other expenses. As little as possible? Whatever it takes? How often you think the animal will need vet care.
  • What kind of food you plan to feed the animal.
  • Your future plans for grooming (the pet, not yourself).
  • Whether you’re also looking for pets through other channels, such as pet stores, breeders, or animal shelters, and why you’re looking there.
  • Whether the pet will ever be taken into public areas or come into contact with children, dogs, cats, horses, or other pets of the same type.
  • How you plan to socialize and train or tame the animal.
  • Who the primary caretaker will be.
  • What activities you’d like to do with the pet.
  • What kind of enclosure you’ll use, if any (such as a dog crate, birdcage, or critter cage).
  • How you plan to handle times when you are away for extended periods, such as vacations.
  • What you plan to do with the animal if you have to move.
  • How you plan to help the animal adjust to its new home.
  • Whether you have specific concerns about certain behaviors, such as barking, scratching, or refusal to be handled.
  • A list of all the other pets you have ever owned, including type of animal, sex, age, whether they were spayed or neutered, and if you don’t still have them, why?
  • Whether you ever owned a pet similar to the one you want to adopt, and if you have, whether you still have it. And if you don’t still have it, what happened to it?
  • How you heard about the rescue group.
  • How much you know about basic veterinary care, pest control management, or conditions common to the breed or animal.
  • Who will inherit the pet in the event of your death.
  • Whether you can provide several references (and they will call your references!), including the veterinarian you use for other pets.
Does that list seem excessive? You may even encounter some additional questions not on this list. Most rescue workers believe that if everybody had to answer questions like this before buying or adopting a pet from anywhere, no more dogs, cats, or other animals would have to be rescued — and they might be right.
If rescue workers like your answers and your references check out, then typically you get to meet the pet in which you’re interested or some pets the rescue group thinks are a good match for you. If, however, they judge that you can’t adequately provide for the pet, then your application may be turned down. Instead of being angry, ask them nicely to explain why your application was rejected. Consider whether they may be right. Maybe that pet isn’t for you afterall, and you need to keep looking. Or maybe you and that particular rescue group just don’t work well together. Just because one rescue group turns you down doesn’t mean they all will, and this experience can give you some insight into whether you’re ready for a pet or whether you need to consider a different kind of pet.

Preparing for a house visit

If you pass the interview/application stage, rescue workers probably will want to visit you at home. They’ll also want everyone who lives in your home to be present and available, because they need to meet everyone who comes into contact with the pet on a regular basis. Some people get nervous about home visits, but it’s no different than what any adoption agency would do if you were adopting a child. They want to be sure you have a safe, sound environment and that the way you presented yourself on your application matches the reality of your everyday life.
You don’t need to do too much to prepare for the visit other than clean up and, if possible, have facilities for the pet already in place so you can show the rescue workers the dog kennel, cat tree, ferret enclosure, parrot cage, or whatever else may be relevant.


If you have children, be aware that many people have been turned down for adoption when they have children running wildly about disobeying their parents. Rescue workers see the way people raise their children as a direct reflection on the way they’ll raise and care for a pet. Tell your darling rugrats to be on their best behavior. Of course, if they really do run wild and you really do have a hard timing taming your offspring, you may be better off focusing on them before adopting a pet. Don’t be offended, I speak from experience. Some people also are turned down if their perfectly lovely little children are too young for a particular pet or if a pet doesn’t do well with children — which ultimately is best for everyone, of course.

If you are turned down for any reason after your house visit, again, ask the rescuer to explain why. If it has to do with you, you then know what problems or conditions to remedy. If it has to do with the particular pet, you may want to start thinking about a different kind of pet.

Meeting the pets

So far, so good. The rescue group likes you, and you like the people running the rescue group. Finally, you get to meet the pet whose picture you saw on the Internet. Or, if you haven’t seen a particular pet, you get to meet a pet that you and the rescue group decide sounds like a good match. Until they’re adopted, most rescued pets live in homes with foster parents who either work with or operate the rescue group, so now the tables are turned again, and it’s your turn for a home visit to scrutinize not only the pet but also evaluation skills of the rescue group and foster parent. Are they telling you everything about the pet that you really need to know?
Rescue workers who find good adoptive parents are motivated to place their beloved animals in good homes, and although some are upfront about problems, with others, you may need to do a little digging. If the pet is new to the rescue, rescue workers may not have had an opportunity to evaluate the animal’s health and behavior thoroughly. You can evaluate the pet for cleanliness and external signs of good health. The pet needs to be friendly and interactive (if relevant for that kind of pet) and not shy or aggressive.
Sometimes, if an animal is newly rescued and hasn’t been in the foster home for long, it may still be insecure or adjusting — a natural reaction. The longer an animal lives in a foster home, the more the foster caretakers are able to tell you about the animal.
If the foster parents have nothing but wonderful things to say, be on your guard. Most animals have a few qualities that can be difficult to manage, and many animals are in rescue because of these qualities, whether it is a dog who urinates every time she gets scared (called submissive urination), a cat who refuses to use the litter box, a conure with a particularly cacophonous voice, or an iguana who thinks fingers are delicious. Here are some questions to ask:
  • Can you tell me about this animal’s temperament? What do you enjoy about him?
  • Does the animal have any fears or dislikes?
  • Have you noticed any tendency toward aggression, biting, pouncing, nipping, or even just guarding food, treats, or toys with a little growl or snarl or whip of the tail? If a bird, is it beaky, tending to bite everything?
  • Is this animal shy or outgoing? Does he seem to enjoy the company of people or just certain people? How does he react to new situations?
  • Does the animal have any behavior problems that need to be worked on? Have you been working on them?
  • What healthcare has the pet already had? Have you noticed any signs of ill health that I need to look into with my vet?
Foster caretakers are important resources for you in deciding whether you want to adopt an animal. They interact with the animal every day. Ask them  as many questions as you can about the animal’s behavior. Things they may not see as a problem may be a problem for you, such as submissive urination or shyness. Some animals may have unexplainable fears of certain sounds or types of people.
Beyond what you are told, you can also observe things on your own by interacting with the animal. Do you like what you see? Does the relationship seem workable? Don’t decide right away. Give the animal some time to get to know you. Rushed decisions often are the ones people regret. Please don’t give in to the urge to take that animal home right there and then. The animal may be the cutest thing you ever saw, but if you go home, think about it, come back, and visit another time or two, you get a much better sense of what life with that animal will be like. Foster caretakers, rescue workers, the pet, and you all benefit from a relaxed, unhurried approach. The more interaction you have, the more you’ll find out about whether you and the pet are meant to be together.

Making a Commitment: Signing the Rescue Contract

You can promise rescue workers, and your new pet, the moon if you want to, but signing a contract makes it all a little more official. Rescue groups sometimes make you sign lengthy contracts in which you promise to take good care of the pet in some specific ways. Some contracts require you to pay a deposit and when you come back with proof of spay/neuter procedure, vaccinations, obedience classes, or whatever else is required, the deposit is returned.
Rescue contracts can be intimidating, and it may seem like you have to promise to do an awful lot. Don’t sign unless you agree, but consider the importance of what the rescue group is asking. Before granting an adoption, rescue groups may require you to agree to:
  • Having the animal spayed or neutered
  • Never breeding the animal
  • Never selling or giving away the animal
  • Returning the animal to the same rescue group if for any reason you can’t keep it
  • Keeping current on all vaccinations
  • Deworming and other regular pest control measures, including flea, tick, or mite control
  • Providing the animal with annual veterinary checkups and all necessary care as advised by a veterinarian
  • Attending basic obedience classes (for dogs)
  • Keeping the animal from roaming outside (such as with cats)
  • Not housing the animal outside (such as with dogs or rabbits)
  • Housing the animal safely and responsibly in an enclosure with adequate space and ventilation (such as with small mammals, birds, reptiles, and spiders); never tethering the animal to a chain and leaving it outside unsupervised
  • Agreeing not to declaw a cat, rabbit, ferret, or dog — yes, some vets will even declaw dogs
  • Providing all necessary care and expense for the safe, secure existence of the animal
Beyond agreeing to certain conditions, rescue groups typically charge a fee for adoption. The fee is not intended for anyone’s profit, but simply to cover expenses the rescue group incurs taking in, treating, and caring for the animal. Truth be known, adoption fees often don’t even begin to cover these expenses, which usually come out of the rescue volunteer’s own pocket. Fees vary so be sure all fees are in writing. If everything goes well, and you, the rescue group, and the pet are all happy with the combination, and if you agree to the rescue group’s terms, contract items, and fee, it’s time to sign and take your pet home. To find out about preparing your home for you new pet and what supplies to buy, see the chapters later in this book that are geared toward specific types of pets.


You need a safe way to transport the animal home, too, usually an appropriately sized portable kennel or cage. Dogs and some cats are comfortable riding in pet seatbelts that you can buy at your local pet store or order online (try Please don’t ever transport a dog loose in the back of an open-bed pickup truck! Animals in cages also need to be safely secured with a seatbelt or other secure device.

by Eve Adamson

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