You may think that when you support a local rescue or an animal shelter that you are doing a good thing by supporting the saving of animals. However, what you may not know is that all rescues are not created equal.
There are a few different options when running a rescue. The owner can choose to have the rescue registered as a charity. In this case, it will be governed by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in what it can and cannot do. Financial decisions are limited, but it gives the rescue a more reputable reputation. In addition, the rescue can give charitable tax receipts for most donations, and can apply for financial grants that are restricted to charities. However, becoming a charity can be quite a lengthy and costly process. If you're wondering about a rescue, you can check if they're a charity here: https://apps.cra-arc.gc.ca/ebci/hacc/srch/pub/dsplyBscSrch?request_locale=en Secondly, the owner can choose to become a registered non-profit. This requires less paperwork, but has fewer advantages than becoming a charity. A non-profit cannot give charitable tax receipts, and cannot apply for most financial grants. Finally, the owner can choose to remain sovereign, without any registration status from the government. This is an option chosen by many rescues, as they are able to make their own choices to a greater extent, and are not governed or watched by any larger body such as the CRA. They are able to use finances with greater freedom. However, this also means that they are susceptible to spend their donated money in ways that their donors may not agree with, and that the public may not appreciate. Please don't misunderstand me, this is not the case with most rescues. Most people who open and run a rescue do so with the best of intentions; to save and rehome animals who need help. It is rare that a rescue does something that causes harm to an animal or other people. Though rare, this is something that appears to be unknown by much of the public. Someone is ready to adopt a dog for example, so they search for a rescue and find just the dog they dreamed of. They then apply for the dog, are quickly accepted, and adopt the dog for a high, though considered fair, adoption fee. What is wrong with this picture? First of all, it can take months, even years of searching through reputable rescues to find 'just the dog you're looking for'. Rescues often have to deal with dogs who have unknown, or abusive or neglectful pasts, which means time for assessments and training, as well as gaining trust and further assessing. We then need to ensure that the dog is matched to you; not just that you find the dog you want. Secondly, it will often take us a bit of time to consider your application, contact your references, and decide whether or not you will be a good match for the dog you applied for. Thirdly, reputable rescues try to keep their prices fair. We DO NOT make a profit. Though it is allowed, we DO NOT make a salary or have employees to pay. We have volunteers and dedicate our lives, usually 24/7 to helping animals. We do have to pay for veterinary expenses, as well as training fees, and often supplies and various equipment for the animals. As we want to help animals, we also don't want to take advantage of people with unnecessarily high adoption fees. These are just simple examples of some of the things to watch for when choosing a rescue to support. It often begins with good intentions. In general, people like animals and want to help them if they're able. As described in a Globe and Mail article from 2016, "In Canada, there are no regulations at any level of government specific to foster-based (meaning in private homes) animal rescue groups. Anyone can set up an animal rescue, take in animals, and solicit donations. Canada does have a set of recommended guidelines for standards of care in animal shelters, but those pertain more to bricks and mortar operations like humane societies and SPCAs. Each province also has their own general set of animal welfare laws, but they often lack the financial resources and manpower to enforce them. And for home-based animal rescues, there are simply no rules and no governing bodies overseeing their practices, and thus, as it seems, things can easily get out of control." As these cases begin with good intentions that get out of control, there are specific signs to watch for. We will not be naming names here. As an organization, we always try our very best to focus on the positives. There are a lot of negatives in the rescue world. We deal with lot of difficult situations on a daily basis, and we want to convey the good that is being done in the world, and in the rescue world. We are always more than happy to suggest rescues and shelters that we know are being operated well, with the animals' interests at their heart. They usually stop saying 'no' to animals in need. Unfortunately, we all only have so much space and resources to help animals in the right way. This means that to give quality care to the animals we do take in, we have to learn to say 'no' to ones that we don't have space for, or the ability to provide quality care for. The same article correctly states "The mentality of 'better alive in misery than dead' is very infectious among rescues," and this is what ends up happening in these situations. The rescue takes on too many animals, and then quality of care declines until it is no longer provided, and horrific neglect takes place, leading to deaths of the animals that were meant to be helped. (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/well-intentioned-animal-rescue-groups-need-intervention/article31459366/) More signs to watch for: The animals at the rescue consistently appear to be in poor health This, like all signs, must not be taken singularly, without taking the full picture into account. First of all, rescues often take in neglected or abused animals, with the intention to provide care in order to fulfill their needs. In the case to which we are referring, the health of the animals will be mostly untreated. This means that animals in their care will be emaciated, neglected, suffering from flea and / or tick infestation, worms, etc. They may be placed in overcrowded conditions, causing fearful and / or aggressive behaviours. Adoption rates are surprisingly low or shockingly high Let's discuss each of these instances. When a rescue has lower adoption rates, this can mean a number of things. It can mean that the rescue has a foster program. This is not in its essence a bad way to do rescue. However, what we have seen in some cases is that a rescue with a foster program will continue to take in animals after their capacity is met, because they can continue to search for foster homes, without necessarily meeting the needs of the animals currently in their care. When adoption rates are too high, this to me, is more of a red flag. It takes time, energy, and resources to properly evaluate dogs especially. Have you heard of the 3-3-3 Rule? We say that it takes 3 days for a dog to decompress, 3 weeks for them to realize they are in a new home and start to feel at home, and 3 months for a dog to fully show their personality. These numbers are of course, estimates and can vary somewhat from dog to dog. However, they are a good guideline to consider when adopting a dog, and also when evaluating a rescue. If a dog is spending less than 2 weeks in the care of the rescue (or approved foster home) before being adopted out, this means that they may be proceeding too quickly through their assessments, or not providing them at all. Remember, it also takes time to evaluate adoption applicants for the animal, and if the animal is being adopted out quickly, the rescue may just be searching for a home, not necessarily the best home, or the best match for the animal. This is what we call an animal flipper. They are usually in it for the money, or for the clout they get for adopting out hundreds or thousands of animals in a year. What this doesn't tell you is how many of these adoptions are successful, or happy. The living conditions are not clean. Animals can be dirty. Cats can stink. This is something we're well aware of when we enter into rescue work. It can take a lot of work and time to keep up with the animals. If you enter a shelter and it smells overwhelmingly like ammonia, the staff may be overwhelmed with the amount of animals they have in their care, and may be unable to keep up with the needs of those animals, such as cleaning up after them. This can lead to illness, infection, and respiratory issues in animals and humans. Chances are, they are lacking in other areas as well. The staff doesn't work with you. One of the main goals of a good rescue is to find the perfect home for each animal they provide care for. This means finding out about each potential adopter's home life. Their application process should be fairly thorough, including but not necessarily limited to: preliminary application, shortlist, reference contacting, Meet & Greet, adoption day, follow up. Rescues may also require adopters to provide professional training and / or pet insurance after adoption. If things don't work out with a potential adopter, they will be professional and polite, and refer you to another reputable rescue who may be a better fit. Also, good rescuers stand behind their animals and adopters and offer support when able. https://www.petmd.com/cat/care/10-signs-bad-animal-rescue
When searching for an animal rescue to support, keep these things in mind, and do your research before assuming that all rescues are run by similarly caring people.