Monday, November 22, 2010

Rescues, Rescues Everywhere Till Not a Dog in Sight

For anyone that is considering making a dog a part of their family, the question of where to get the dog is bound to come up. They will have undoubtedly considered a breed and thought about finding a good breeder, they possibly have taken note of the cute faces in the pet store and no doubt have also considered heading to the pound or shelter. Now, they must choose between the many options available.

I’ve already written a bit about what to consider when deciding to get a new companion but now I want to spend a bit of time discussing so called “rescues.” In considering how to approach a subject like dog rescue, it is important to recognize the potential for controversy regarding the facts and the conclusions one might draw from those facts. It is with this thought in mind that I write. I acknowledge the risk that the points I am trying to make might be misinterpreted and therefore will start by clearly stating that I admire and respect those who dedicate time and effort to dog rescue.

When addressing any topic where passions are high, one can be sure the feelings that are touched lie just below the surface. In fact, as I will discuss later in this article, it is these very passions that are sometimes played with, manipulated and preyed upon in driving an agenda that is very much anti-dog.

While I generally support the work of many rescue organizations, I do have concerns with how some operate. Not all rescue organizations spark the same concerns in me and some are definitely better than others – but a partial list of my concerns that have arisen over the years is:
- An attitude of save 'em all at any cost
- Poor utilization of scarce resources
- Bad matches resulting in the wrong dog placed with the wrong family
- Agendas driven by idealism that interfere with effective and efficient operation
- Animal Rights proponents infiltration, taking over the cause, re-framing the issues and driving the agendas.

Many, if not most, of the issues on that list are connected to some degree though they manifest in different ways. Those who participate in rescue are understandably passionate about saving dogs. Some would say "All Dogs" - even those dogs that are unsalvageable and cannot safely be “re-homed.” With the growing move toward “no kill” shelters and rescues, some dogs are simply being locked away indefinitely at a very high cost. Sometimes already tight budgets are getting stretched to the breaking point. The fact is, you cannot save them all and in trying to do so, pressure is being allowed to build up within the rescue/welfare system that helps fuel the concept of a “crisis.” It is this concept that is then used to fuel and support some of the anti-dog legislation and agendas.

For some unscrupulous folks, people's concern for animals is something that can be exploited and the rescue concept can be used as a political and/or a business opportunity. Not long ago, two young dog owners contacted me to help train their dog Nikki. Nikki is a handsome, medium sized dog of unknown mixed parentage. His owners, a young professional couple report, “Nikki is a wonderful dog, he just has a few issues we must get under control.”

As it turns out, Nikki had a propensity to get into fights with other dogs, ran off any chance he got, stole stuff, can be very destructive and was almost impossible to walk. His owners informed me that they got Nikki through a rescue organization in the mid-western USA…and that he got there from someplace in Mexico. Noting my puzzled expression, they explained that even though they know there are dogs available locally, they wanted to contribute to a larger cause and help a dog from more difficult circumstances.

Nikki is not unique in my experience. I've had clients tell me of the hundreds of dollars they paid for a Bouvier that was “rescued” from a “puppy farm” in Quebec – they got him by arranging to meet some guy on the side of the highway. The dog was then transferred from his van to their car and the deal was sealed by them handing over a considerable - previously agreed upon - sum of money “to help defray expenses.”

Another example is the Chihuahua obtained from someone's basement in Toronto for several hundred dollars. They were told the place was a foster residence and the money helped cover “costs” – they were also told they could pick any kind of small dog they liked and the foster residence could get it for them. They believed the story that all the dogs were rescues and therefore they were doing a good thing.

From the dogs reportedly rescued from the puppy mill in northern Quebec to the side street operations in Toronto, it is becoming more and more common to see “rescue” dogs being shipped far and wide…sometimes with exorbitant price tags attached. It seems clear to me that at least in these instances, the public good-will and desire to help is being exploited.

Every year millions of concerned citizens mistakenly believe they are helping, to take care of pets in need, by donating millions of dollars to Animal Rights organizations (some posing as animal welfare groups). The fact is that while most front line rescue groups have almost no money, very few resources and rely on donations from patrons within the community to survive, outfits like HSUS have their coffers full and very little ever finds it's way back to actually helping the animals. What do such groups use the money for? While I don't have access to their budgets and can't give a full accounting, there seems to be plenty of evidence that a good portion of it goes to fund political activities which promote the animal rights (AR) agenda. Some of the money goes directly into funding unreasonable restrictions on dog ownership, dog care, reproduction and various other anti-dog type laws – all with a view to first restrict and ultimately eliminate the ability to own and enjoy the company of a dog.

When considering the very limited resources some rescues are faced with, it always amazes me to see some of the spending choices that are made. Excessive numbers of man-hours and finances are sometimes dedicated to a single project resulting in even less to go around to those other equally worthy dogs that remain. It's not just a case of poor financial choices either. I've seen many cases where rescue organizations, crying they are overcrowded, refuse perfectly good homes because of some questionable idealistic criteria they are holding to. Multi-page questionnaires complete with reference requirements, home-visits, contracts limiting ownership, requirements and restrictions concerning what training is permitted and even the physical structure of the home are often cited as reasons an adoption was refused. Some rescue groups criteria would rival that of any child-adoption agency.

Earlier, I gave an example of a “long-distance” rescue that happened to be a problem dog. Of course not all long distance rescues are problem dogs – many are just “normal” dogs with nothing to distinguish them from any other dog found in any other place. Many, if not most of the problem dogs ending up in people's homes (coming through rescue) come from local rescues.

It has been my experience that some rescues are much better than others at screening out dogs which should either be placed very carefully or not placed at all. For example, one rescue that comes to mind has repeatedly placed dangerous dogs in the homes of unsuspecting families. Zealously operating from a viewpoint that suggests all dogs must be saved, they will place dogs with serious bite histories in a succession of homes (taking it back after every incident and then re-homing to a different unsuspecting household).

All the concerns I've noted so far represent challenges that can be overcome by knowledgeable individuals that are committed to strengthening the dog-owner relationship and are dedicated to this cause. Unfortunately, these difficulties are also proving to be fertile ground for the much more sinister agenda of the Animal Rights movement.

“When an enemy tells you he is going to kill you believe him.” This quote, attributed to Congressman Lungren, is based on a holocaust survivor (when questioned about what he had learned) replying, “When your enemy says he will exterminate you, believe him.” When exploring the efforts of those that would see us loose our right to own and train our dogs, it is worth keeping this thought in mind and not minimize the intention and efforts invested by such individuals.

The Animal Rights movement has been both insidious and relentless in their efforts to successfully infiltrate and distort the principles of animal welfare. Rescues, shelters and pounds have not been immune from this onslaught. Indeed, many of the initiatives and legislative pushes (behind restricting and/or eliminating dog ownership) are the result of these well meaning groups vulnerability to exploitation and manipulation by an underlying Animal Rights agenda.

It would be impossible to fully discuss the Animal Rights agenda in an article such as this – indeed whole books have been written on the subject that I'd encourage each person to seek out and read for them self. Briefly stated, however, the AR movement seeks to end all use of animals and/or ownership in any form. They'd like to see the extinction of any animal that is domesticated or “man made,” and with respect to our pets and companion animals…they would sever that relationship entirely.

If this is indeed their agenda, what factors (within the shelter movement) might they distort and exploit? The most obvious is the “overcrowded” conditions and lay the blame for it at the feet of the dog fancy. They also use their own peculiar take on this to push for the mandatory sterilization of dogs. Their hope is to slowly drain the gene pool until it is dry. Recently they have become emboldened in their attacks against those breeding and showing their dogs – painting all as “puppy millers.” All “man made” breeds are at risk as they push for creative ways to first limit breeding and ultimately ban it altogether. They use everything from pushing mandatory spay/neuter laws, to laws that outright ban or at least unreasonably restrict breeders and they couple this with the liberal use of the “puppy mill” label. In their use of these initiatives, they use every opportunity to pit those involved in rescue against those who participate in the dog fancy.

The fact is however, that of the millions of dogs that end up in the shelter/rescue system, very few are purebred dogs, produced by responsible breeders, within the dog fancy. Indeed, among the reasons most often given (for turning dogs over to shelters and rescues) are significant behavioural issues.

The following is quoted from the “Dog Owners Guide” an online magazine for pet and show dog owners ( A bit of research reveals that numerous articles support these same conclusions. To illustrate the point, here then is the quote taken from the introduction of the above noted article:
“Several years ago, the Humane Society of the US initiated a “voluntary breeding moratorium” to urge dog breeders to stop producing puppies until all dogs in shelters were adopted to new homes.

“Until there are none, adopt one,” the slogan said.

“Thoughtful and caring dog breeders were put on the defensive, pet stores were vilified, and all commercial kennels were lumped together as “puppy mills” no matter how they provided for their animals.

“A new study that examined the reasons dogs — about two million each year — are surrendered to animal shelters has shed new light on the problem. The main reasons dogs are surrendered is that owners fail to obedience train or have unrealistic expectations of their pet; the dogs at highest risk of surrender are those acquired at low or no cost, especially those that do not visit a veterinarian regularly.

“Gary Patronek VMD, PhD, one of the principle investigators on the study, presented the results at the NAIA Purebred Rescue Symposium last March. The work was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on August 1, and is corroborated in another study reported in the August 15 issue of the Journal.

“Patronek and his Purdue University colleagues concluded that dog owners who pay more than $100 for a dog, take him to a veterinarian more than once a year, and participate in obedience classes are more likely to provide a long-term home for the animal.

“Veterinary care and obedience classes may reinforce the bonding of pet and owner,” the researchers wrote “. . . by allowing the owner to experience and appreciate the positive aspects of pet ownership such as companionship, affection, entertainment, and security without overreacting to or being distracted by disruptive or unwanted behavior.”

“Their conclusions challenge the assertions of activists that breeders directly and indirectly produce an “overpopulation” of pets and provide testimony for early intervention through education, a solution that breeders, breed clubs, kennel clubs, and the American Kennel Club have promoted for years.”

Let me stress that most of the dogs going through the rescue system are trainable, loveable dogs and can make great companions. It is important to remember though that if one of the main reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters is behavioural issues, the odds of encountering a behaviour problem are higher if one gets a dog from a rescue versus from a breeder. Fortunately, most of the so called “behaviour problems” will respond nicely to a well balanced training approach. Regardless of where you get your dog, one of the first things you should be doing is finding a good trainer that has shown they can produce reliable, effective results in a timely manner. If you discover the dog you are considering making your next companion has any serious issues, you must also be prepared to decide what your “Cut ‘em loose” point is before you have too much invested in to the relationship. A good trainer can help you with this as well.

If well trained, mannerly dogs are way more likely to remain happily in their homes and out of the shelter system, why is so much emphasis placed on neutering and very little on training? I can think of a few possible reasons:
1. The AR movement is not likely to promote strategies that are more likely to succeed and are at odds with their agenda and basic views.
2. Poorly mannered dogs help create an overall negative view of ALL dogs in the eyes of the public. This negative image can then be used to support and promote all sorts of anti-dog legislation.
3. Related to number 2 is the concept of “Untrainability.” In researching what (if any) kinds of training various AR groups might support, I found the sorts of training declared “acceptable” are those shown to be among the least effective. These so called acceptable kinds of training are those that the most difficult and or dangerous dogs are unlikely to respond favourably to. If they can “show” training to be unreliable (and/or cruel) they can maintain the overall negative view of keeping dogs.
4. The “spay and neuter” campaign is largely a propaganda war in which the goal is ultimately to replace all potential progenitors with sterile dogs. Couple this aim with the elimination of “breeders” and within one or two generations, very little is left of the domestic dog.

Several days ago, I watched a documentary on a project designed to eliminate the sea lamprey from Lake Huron. I found the story fascinating and went online to read more about this program. Perhaps you are wondering why I'd mention such a program in this article. Here's what was so interesting...they are planning to eliminate the lamprey population by sterilizing large numbers of the lamprey male population. Rather than catch and kill or trying to find some other means to directly eliminate the population now swimming around in the lake, they are catching large numbers and then chemically sterilizing and then marking them before releasing them back into the lake. The neutered stock then competes with the rest of the population. They are using lampreys to eliminate lampreys – genetically dead stock to slowly decimate the genetically healthy population. If one looks, parallels can be drawn between this strategy and that which is being pursued via the AR movement.

If we humans are to maintain our relationship with “man's best friend,” a relationship that has survived for thousands of years, we must do something to effectively address the problems of unwanted and abandoned dogs. We must line up squarely against the AR movement and not yield any further ground. It’s up to us to provide the care and training that will allow dogs to remain in their homes and a welcome part of society. We must insure that our dogs stay out of the shelter and rescue system and we must remain vigilant to insure that system is not exploited by those pushing a cause or pursuing the profit motive - all on the backs of animal misery.

It is especially important that we not allow ourselves to be sucked into the emotionally laden arguments of the AR zealots – arguments that are designed and dedicated to ultimately end this valued relationship. Instead, we must be prepared to offer a wide array of solutions that work. Education and training top such a list of solutions. Much ultimately hangs in the balance and our friend is counting on us. Let’s not let him down.


  1. Well written! I have become enlightened to the "rescue" world as well and your article makes my husband and I feel not alone in our experiences. The "groups" often do it to promote themselves socially and or for profit as you said. My husband ( a Veterinarian) and I own an animal hospital and bought it almost 4 years ago. We started helping the big rescue groups in our area( of which there are an abundance), quickly eliminating one for being in it for the wrong reasons and a bunch of drama queens amongst themselves. Then we supported another group with tens of thousands in donations and lots of time, to have them become demanding,dishonest,underhanded and unappreciative and start wasting time and money on very ill dogs/cats or ones that just should not be rehomed. They too got full of ego and negative attitude and was dictating vet care and refused the go home pain meds after spay /neuter to save money! I could go on with the list why we cut off the relationship. We have always helped individuals that do rescues on a regular basis and rerelease the ferals after spay/neuters or rehome their rescues to good homes. However,we have had to narrow down the groups we help because they get to the point where they forget we are working together to help these animals and their outlook on the animals change and they lose focus on their goals and lose touch with reality. Out of this enlightenment to rescues, I have put myself through training courses to become a dog trainer and now rescue working breeds, provide medical care esp spay and neuters as needed, behaviourly assess,and train over months and rehome them OR euthanize if they are not safe to rehome. I go in knowing that the reasons they were dumped at a shelter may be unmanageable and prevent me from rehoming them despite the best intentions and the best training and patience. I try to be realistic and responsible in my rescue efforts. I wish the groups did the same. I also assess the new owners and their recreational activities for a fit for the energy of the dog,I never ask for funds.My only requirement is if they cannot manage to keep the dog they give them back to me,that they not put them back in the system. They are made to understand the expense of a dog and the lifetime committment. Our expenses and time are our gift to that animal in trying to give him another chance at a happy life!
    Thank you again for making me feel not alone in the views on rescue groups.
    DeAnne H.
    North Carolina

  2. For some additional perspective on this issue, the history of "rescue" is worth looking at. The first time I heard the term, it was applied to groups that were connected to specific breed clubs. Breed rescues were started by breeders because the animal shelters and humane societies said "You are breeding too many ______ (fill in the breed name) and they end up in our shelters where we have to find homes for them!" The breeders' response was, "We will take responsibility for any ___________ (fill in the breed name) that are brought to your shelter." These groups were called Breed Rescue because they were rescuing the dogs from being put down in shelters. Funded by breeders and other members of the national and local breed clubs, these groups have never been anti-breeder. It has been the breeders providing foster care and finding suitable homes for dogs of a breed they love.
    Over time, the term "Rescue" has been hijacked so that it no longer refers to the groups of breeders taking responsibility for unwanted dogs of their breed. Now is seems like every animal shelter and humane society wants to call itself a "Rescue" even though they have little in common, philosophically or operationally, with the original Rescue groups.
    Those original breed rescue groups still exist and are worth seeking out when looking for a purebred dog as a pet at reasonable cost.

  3. I too, feel the term "Rescue" has been hijacked. It is another emotionally laden term that makes almost all involved feel good. The term tends to turn off people who need to give up their dog, as their dog doesn't need to be rescued from them, he needs another home.They aren't likely to call a rescue unless the term is explained. They believe dogs who are rescues are rescued from something, neglect, abuse, etc. Ask anyone who has adopted a rescue and they are sure that any behavior problems the dog has have been cause by abuse.
    I am also always astounded when pet owners are told by their vet that spay/neuter will calm their dog down. I usually respond that although I'm not a vet, I am quite sure that is not where dogs store their energy. Training will help.

  4. Great article! I agree that the term "rescue" is misused as is the term "no kill" shelter. I am also concerned about dogs being misplaced! I have also worked with a young couple that adopted their first dog from a "no kill" shelter after being told the dog was great with other dogs. Unfortunately, she attacked the woman's moms dog on the first meeting. They couldn't take her for walks because or her leash aggression. They called this "no kill" shelter and were told they couldn't take the dog back and had to take it to be put down because it was aggressive. Luckily, the owners worked hard and can now take Moxie for a walk without issue. While Moxie can never be trusted off leash with other dogs, she can get the exercise she needs because of these owners. This is a dog that never should have been adopted to an inexperienced owner.