How to Find a Reputable Rescue Group by Pamela Dennison

How to Find a Reputable Rescue Group

Pamela Dennison, © 2013. May not be reprinted without written approval.

You’d be surprised at the horror stories I hear almost every day – the mismatched dog and family;

  • Human aggressive dogs paired with a family with small children
  • The rambunctious puppy given to an elderly couple that use walkers and canes to get around
  • The dog aggressive dog that is placed with another dog
  • The human aggressive dog that is adopted to a young couple that will be planning a family
  • The over-exuberant dog placed with a family that works very long hours
  • The herding breed paired with a very laid back adopter
  • The dog that is placed before any veterinarian checks have been done and it turns out they have diseases that either kill the dog or create a whole host of other problems (whipworm, ringworm, parvo, heartworm, distemper, giardia, etc.).

And the list could go on and on (and in fact does).

Rather then dwell on all of the negatives about many of the rescue groups out there, let’s talk about what kind of questions you should ask them and some protocols for you to follow when seeking your new best friend. That way you can be assured you will rescue the dog of your dreams rather than the dog of your nightmares.


  • Do you temperament test (TT) the dogs in your care?
  • If so, whose methods of TT do you use?
  • Has this dog been tested on children, cats, other dogs, other people, men, women, horses, goats, etc?
  • When was the TT administered and under what conditions?
  • How long after dog was taken in was s/he TT, and by whom?
  • May I see the completed evaluation form?
  • How long has the dog been in your care?
  • Has the dog been through a thorough vet check? May I see the vet records?
  • What is your return policy? (If a foster home you can also ask, “If I need to return this dog, will you have a foster home that will take the dog back”)
  • Do you know the history on this dog? Was s/he a stray or an owner surrender? If owner surrender, may I see the surrender form?
  • What is your group’s return rate? (i.e.: how many dogs are adopted out and how many are returned?)
  • How long do you hold onto a dog before placing it?
  • Does the rescue group have a 2-3 page form that you must fill out before they will talk to you about any of their dogs? (this is a GOOD thing!)
  • Does the rescue group do a home check? (this is a GOOD thing!)
  • Does the rescue group go to other parts of the country to find dogs to adopt? Repeat questions number 1 and 8 – have they TT and vetted the dog before they took him/her? Etcetera?
  • What is their follow-up policy? Do they check on the adopted dog and how often?
  • Have they trained the dog at all? Using what methods? (plain buckle collar, prong collar, shock collar – euphemistically called an E-collar, leash corrections or positive training?)
  • If the dog is in a shelter – has the dog been evaluated in a home environment?

It is very easy to fall instantly in love with a rescue dog. We all want to do the right thing and give the dog a new and bright future. However, sometimes we let our hearts speak for our brains and when we do that, real disasters can happen.

Whenever I rescue another dog, I think long and hard about my personality, lifestyle, needs, my existing dogs, what kinds of traits I’m looking for in a dog. Obviously I don’t have to worry about money for training, however, I do consider the added cost of food, vet bills and the additional time out of my schedule that adding in another dog will bring. Also, the potential chaos that occurs in the beginning when bringing in a new canine member of the family.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Why do I want a dog?
  • Do I have the time for a dog?
  • Do I have the money to pay for training, vet care, food for the life of the dog?
  • What kinds of traits do you want in a dog? Low energy, high energy (BE HONEST!), medium energy? Dogs don’t have batteries you can take out when YOU are tired. If you get a high energy dog, be prepared to keep that dog busy!
  • What kinds of activities will you be doing with your dog? Sedate walk around the block, something to hold while you watch TV, long hikes a few times a week, a jogging partner, or any of the dog sports – competition obedience, rally, agility, etc.
  • What kind of dog do I like? Herding, working, toy, sporting, hound, terrier, non-sporting, mutt?
  • Do I know what breeds are in each of these categories? Do I know what traits (both good and bad) each of these have (in your chosen group)?
  • Will I be having children soon?
  • Do I have children now?
  • Do I already have a dog, cat, ferret, etc?
  • Do I want a younger dog or an older dog? (caveat – you may think that adopting a puppy from a shelter is like buying a puppy from a reputable breeder – it isn’t. You don’t know the temperament of the parents, you don’t know how the pups were raised either in a foster home or a shelter, you don’t know how long the pup has been away from mom or littermates. You may get a great puppy, but then again, you may not)

Protocols for picking out the right dog for you.
I will give you my own experiences with 9 rescued dogs and 2 rescued cats under my belt. Most of them have been from specific breed rescues, not from generic breed rescue groups. I find that the specific breed rescues take more time evaluating the dogs that come to them and place them in the right homes. Let’s face it, they don’t want a return!

I write down all of the characteristics I want, my lifestyle, what I will want to be doing with the new dog in terms of training, sports, etc., in the application I fill out. I also give the group a full description of my existing dogs personalities to make sure the new one will fit in easily. I hide nothing. For instance, my dog Emma is a very strong bitch and I will not add in another bitch to my household because I don’t want to take a chance of “bitch fights.” Because once there is a bitch fight, there is no amount of training that will rectify the problem – one of them would have to be re-homed. So you see, I’m thinking ahead of potential problems.

Once my application is approved, I speak with the rescue coordinator about one or more of the dogs on their website. If we both agree that a certain dog may work for me, I go and meet it first without my dogs. I do my own mini TT: will the dog take treats? Will he play with me with a toy, will he train for me – just a simple sit or a down, will he let me pet him all over his body and will he let me kiss his face? If I like him (remember, I’m not adding in another female), I go home and think about it for a day. I schedule another appointment and bring my dogs with me and we all take a walk. I watch very carefully to make sure my dogs and the possible new dog are all okay with each other. I spend at least an hour with them all and then I go home with my dogs and think about it for another day. My latest rescue Finn – I wasn’t quite sure – he was very nervous about my Border collies – to him they looked like Goliath (he’s only 11 pounds) and while they completely ignored him, he was scared. So I asked the rescue group if we could meet one more time with all of the dogs. She said “sure,” and we met one more time. Finn pushed his way through my gang to get to me. That showed me that yes, he was afraid, but yes he got over it very quickly.

I’m also giving you some “red flags” – things you should look out for to read between the lines. Red flags in descriptions can include:

“He would do best with an older person”

“He would do best with someone who is home all day”

“He really is a one person dog”

“Gets excited easily”

“Has a lot of energy”

“Overly excited on walks”

“Only has accidents if not managed well”

“Would be a good guard dog”

“Needs a job”

“Takes a while for him to warm up to new people”

“Must have been abused,” etc.

Although some of these might be good answers or good dogs, they warrant more questioning. You may also see some cheery, “cutesy,” sickly sweet descriptions on some of the sites – be aware that there may some trait they’re trying to hide, or are maybe just not knowledgeable enough about dogs to even see there’s a problem.

You would take your time and do your research when picking out a car or new paint for the bedroom, right? So please do a great deal of investigating before you bring your new best friend home!

3/7/19 UPDATE. So with Emma’s passing, I’ve been on the lookout for another dog. I contacted a few rescue groups, filled out the applications and got a call about dog “A.” I started in asking my questions and the person that called me had no clue what I was talking about. Turns out they had the dog for only 24 *hours* and were already trying to adopt the dog out! Obviously, no TT, no vet checks, no tests to see how the dog was with other dogs, people, other animals, nada, nada, NADA! I asked about 4-5 questions and the rescue person HUNG UP ON ME! Wow. So, this is what we’re ALL up against. Do your homework, do your research and ask those questions!

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