by Felicia Langel, DVM
There are many animal-friendly ways to adopt a pet, including from family or friends, from the local animal shelter or humane society, and from a rescue group. The first two options are fairly self-explanatory, but what exactly is a rescue group, and what should you know before adopting a pet from one?
A rescue group is a private organization made up of like-minded animal lovers who take in homeless pets; arrange for the temporary care of these animals in foster homes or, for those with a central facility, within a kennel or shelter environment; and attempt to match them with suitable adopters. The individuals involved in a rescue group are nearly always volunteers. The animals may come from municipal or county-run shelters or they may be relinquished directly to the rescue group by a previous owner.
Most rescue groups focus on a certain type of pet, such as a particular species, breed, size, or age. Rescue groups are often, but not always, incorporated as approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Most rescue groups are local or regional; some are national or, less commonly, international. They often work with municipal shelters and humane organizations. Frederick County Animal Control & Pet Adoption Center works closely with several rescue groups in the county and can provide interested residents with a listing of these organizations.
Common to all rescue groups is the goal of saving adoptable pets ... not making money.
Why Adopt from a Rescue Group?
Since rescue groups tend to specialize in certain types of pets, their staff tend to be very knowledgeable about the pets they adopt out. For first-time pet owners, or people who are less familiar with certain types of animals, rescue groups are a great source of information and will work hard to carefully match the pet with the owner. Typically, rescue groups know the temperament, quirks, and history of each animal in their care. They can, therefore, advise potential adopters about a pet's health, its behavior, and its previous family experience. Also, pets from rescue groups will have been screened by a veterinarian and are likely to be current on vaccines, free of parasites, and spayed or neutered.
Many municipal shelters, like the Frederick County Animal Shelter & Pet Adoption Center, provide a similar level of care and information, especially for long-term shelter residents. Depending on your circumstances, preferences, and experience, a shelter can be an equally good or better option for seeking your next pet.
How to Choose a Rescue Group
It is wise to do some homework before engaging with a rescue group. This is for your protection and for the protection of pets. Some rescue groups are fronts for selling stolen pets, animals obtained from puppy mills, or pets from hoarding situations. A well-run rescue group will be incorporated as a nonprofit and will operate like a small business, but will not turn a profit.
The best rescue groups earn the trust of potential adopters by being completely transparent about their operations. Specifically, the group should provide contact information on its website, and staff members should return phone calls and emails. A rescue should readily answer questions about how it obtains animals, how it treats the animals in its care, and its adoption procedures. A rescue with a central facility should allow visitors. A trustworthy rescue group also has a strong, long-term relationship with a veterinarian.
If you encounter a rescue group that doesn't meet the majority of these basic qualifications, be suspicious. And if you have real concerns about the health and welfare of animals in the care of a particular group, notify Frederick County Animal Control & Pet Adoption Center of your concerns.
The Adoption Process
After screening and selecting a rescue group, expect to be screened in return. Rescue groups want the best for the animals in their care and will adopt only to an owner who is the best match for the pet. Rescue group adoption procedures often include a lengthy application that details the potential owner's previous pet experience, current home situation, relationship with a veterinarian, and references. The rescue group may require a home visit before approving an application.
Once approved, the rescue group will suggest available pets and offer a meet and greet for the pet and the potential adopter. If a match is made, the adopter will pay a fee that covers veterinary care (vaccines, deworming, spay/neuter) and sign a contract that requires the owner to return the pet to the rescue group if things don't work out.
If you're not currently looking for a pet but want to help a particular rescue group—maybe one from which you previously adopted an animal, or one whose philosophy meshes closely with your own?you may wish to engage with that group in other ways. Rescue groups welcome volunteers to help communicate with and process the applications of potential adopters; individuals willing to help care for pets housed at a central facility; fosters to temporarily house and care for a pet until it can be adopted into a permanent home; and donors, of large and small amounts, who can collectively help pay for the medical care, food, and shelter of rescued animals.
Felicia Langel, DVM, is Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Veterinary Corps, and a member of Frederick County's Companion Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.