I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit straight away that animal rescue has some serious image problems, and that these problems are merited. Not all animal rescues are bad news, of course, but enough of them are that chances are good that you know someone who has had a terrible experience.
Here are the complaints I’ve heard the most often:
“The person I dealt with was unpleasant or even abusive.” This one is true far too often. A lot of rescuers prefer animals to people, and some of them actively dislike humans and lack social skills. They often don’t trust people to be responsible pet owners, and they don’t hide it. To such rescuers, all applicants are assumed to be unsuitable or even dishonest. Suffice to say, adopters don’t like being treated like prospective animal abusers.
“I was told I could adopt this dog, but the rescue changed their mind at the last moment.” This happens too often, unfortunately. A person will see a dog on Petfinder, get approved, and meet the dog, only to be told near the end of the process that the foster is going to keep the dog because they have just become too attached. Sometimes the foster will part with their dog, but not before reminding the adopter repeatedly that this is a huge sacrifice for the foster. Anecdote time: When I volunteered for another group, I remember going to a pet show early on where an approved adopter was scheduled to get her puppy. The puppy’s foster was there and was crying so hard she was incoherent. The other volunteers had to wrestle the puppy away from her and hand the traumatized dog over to her adopter, who was becoming pretty traumatized herself.
“The dog wasn’t as described.” I regularly hear complaints that a dog was significantly older or larger than they appeared on Petfinder. When the applicant asks about this, or indicates that they are no longer interested in the particular dog, they are treated like superficial monsters, even if their reasons are extremely valid. For example, when a 30-pound dog turns out to weigh closer to 50, applicants whose condos have a weight limit can no longer adopt that dog. Unfortunately, some rescues’ response to this news is to try to guilt the applicant into moving.
“The dog was clearly unhealthy and kept in terrible conditions. It was all very shady.” Adopters have told stories of rescues that completed all of their transactions in parking lots, or of visiting foster homes where the dog was one of a dozen dogs. Now sometimes rescue dogs are in bad shape, for example if they have just come into care, but the applicants were not told that this was the case, or were told just the opposite.
“The dog was really expensive.” A lot of applicants seem to discount the fact that they are adopting a dog who has been fully vetted, and that those costs factor into the adoption fee. However, there are also rescues that charge significantly more for in-demand dogs (e.g., a beagle would be $300, while a poodle would be $650). If that isn’t selling dogs, it’s awfully close.
“They tried to guilt me into adopting an older dog or a sick one.” I’ve certainly encouraged adopters to consider something other than a puppy, but not via manipulation or pressure. Rescues that do this regularly succeed in making a lot of their applicants feel guilty and judged.
All of these are reasons why rescues are viewed negatively by a lot of people, and why some people end up buying an animal rather than deal with the unpleasantness that they associate with adopting one via rescue. If rescues want to save more dogs, this needs to change. In a future column, I’ll write about how to find a good rescue, and whether rescue reform is viable.