Co-opperation Between Shelters and Rescue Groups

by Pam Green, copyright 2004

Rescue groups and shelters should be natural allies, for their goals are so much alike. Yet one hears many stories of friction and disagreement between them, as well as many stories of good cooperation. This article looks to the possible problems and possible solutions.


by Pam Green, © 2004, 2021

In my years of experience since 1987 doing Bouvier (Dog) Rescue, I have seen instances of wonderful cooperation between shelters and rescue groups and instances of distrust and lack of cooperation and everything in between. I have heard similar reports from other rescue people across the nation.

Rescue groups and shelters should be natural allies, for their goals are so much alike. Both wish to keep pets out of the shelters in the first place by educating owners to responsible guardianship. Both wish to minimize the incidence of accidental or irresponsibly bred litters by promoting sterilization of as many pets as possible. Both wish to maximize the opportunities for those pets who are abandoned to be adopted into responsible and loving homes, homes that have been well-matched to that individual pet, and to minimize the numbers who are killed for lack of such an adoptive home. Both dream of a future in which no pet is willingly abandoned and in which shelters and rescues need fill only the limited function of short term care for accidentally lost pets or those whose owners have met with unexpected emergency or catastrophe.

For the purposes of this article, by "rescue group" I have primarily in mind those groups or those independent individuals who primarily rescue pets of one particular breed or related group of breeds. (My own experience and interest lies with dogs, especially Bouvier dogs. However much of what follows applies as well to those who rescue a much broader range of pets, including those other than dogs.) This article is directed at the rescue group taking the dog from the shelter (or from a surrendering owner) in such a way that ownership , authority, and responsibility for the animal are transferred to the rescue group. Someone in the rescue group then serves as foster home under the authority of the rescue group. This is to be distinguished from shelter programs in which shelter employees or volunteers serve as temporary foster homes for animals, often under weaning age animals or sick or injured animals, but the shelter remains the legal owner and retains authority and responsibility for final fate of the animal and the shelter continues to supervise the foster home in its care of the animal. I would suppose that some of the issues I raise might also be applicable to this latter situation of foster care under continued ownership by the shelter. I do not have personal experience with this latter paradigm.

Some of the discussion about email and web sites is outdated, as they played a more limited role back in 2004. These have become more and more useful. has become an essential tool. Facebook can be useful (so I've been told; I don't live there myself).

At the time this article was written, most shelters needed dogs removed from shelter as soon as possible. So I concentrated on the rescue group taking the dog into their own foster system. But nowadays many shelters would prefer that the rescue group instead refer their potential adopters to the shelter so that the adopter goes to the shelter and adopts direct from the shelter. So as you read, keep that in mind as the alternative.

While I had breed specific rescues in mind, there are other rescue groups that can be equally helpful. That most definitely includes groups devoted to senior dogs and groups devoted to dogs with medical needs or

Why do shelters sometimes distrust some rescue groups ?

What then are some of the complaints rescue groups have about some shelters?

What can be done on either side to improve cooperation and save more animal lives ?

And let's all remember that we are ultimately on the same side of the battle to save innocent animal lives !



remarks by Dr Kate F. Hurley, DVM, MPVM

Shelter Medicine Program Director
Center for Companion Animal Health
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

Hi Pam,

I'm taking the opportunity of a plane trip to Florida to catch up on emails, and finally got around to reading this document. This is great! You lay out the issues and provide constructive suggestions at the same time.

I love your idea of including ungroomed and atypical specimens on a breed ID website; in the meantime, if rescuers can share printed photos of breed examples for the shelter rescue coordinator to have on file, that would be helpful too. Just keeping a file of photos of dogs they have rescued in the past and showing that to shelter staff would help give them an idea of the range of looks consistent with the breed. It would be great to put together a "shelter breed identification" workshop that included photos of atypical breed specimens; this would be good for vet students too.

One concern {of shelters} that often comes up is the worry that some rescuers take on too many animals and end up keeping the animals in poor conditions (more common with cat rescue, but happens with dogs too from time to time) and/or place dogs that are dangerous or place them in in-appropriate situations for a particular temperament. It would help to remind rescue groups that a good shelter will screen them at least as carefully as they in turn will screen prospective adopters. Having written or at least clearly articulated polices regarding temperament and placement may be helpful too.

my response to issues raised by Dr Hurley

The questions Dr Hurley raises about the quality of care for rescued animals and quality of match-making in placement are questions every rescuer must constantly ask herself (himself) and that rescue buddies should consult with one another for a "reality check" from time to time. Less experienced rescuers and foster homes often turn to more experienced ones for help and advice. Decisions about health or behavior can require professional help from a veterinarian , behaviorist, or veterinary behaviorist, especially when a possible euthanasia is being considered.

Added to the list of concerns by the shelter about how rescuers care for dogs (and other animals) and how they place them, ie match-making of animal and adopter, runs the potential conflict between shelter and rescue group as to philosophy between the "no kill" end of the spectrum and the "euthanize for health or behavior reasons" end of the spectrum. I can see where a shelter that is "no kill" being unwilling to turn an animal over to a rescue group that does euthanize an animal who the rescue group evaluates as too dangerous to place (and likewise too dangerous to foster forever) , or likewise a group that does euthanize for medical reasons. I would suppose that one solution might be for the rescue group to agree that , except in emergencies where great suffering or great danger make immediate euthanasia necessary, the group will return the animal to the shelter rather than euthanize it. (I would certainly caution any rescue group against accepting an animal without any right to either return or euthanize it for good cause; ie I would caution any rescuer against making a commitment to foster this animal until the natural end of its life no matter what issues of health or behavior might arise.) Equally I can see a shelter that is not "no kill" being concerned about turning an animal over to a rescue group that is "no kill" if there exists any doubt about the animal's temperament and dangerous potential or if the animal has a health issue that may not respond sufficiently well to treatment.

Where a concern exists, honest discussion of the problem and what resolutions are acceptable or unacceptable to both parties seems to me to be the best course of action. Whichever side perceives the potential problem should initiate this discussion.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 12/20/04 revised 1/12/05, 4/13/2021
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