Strategies for Dog Rescuers

Finding a balance
By Julia Lane, March 2010, Updated November 2017

Whether the dogs are purebred or not, in rescue work, learning to say “no” is a must; otherwise a group will quickly run out of money, foster homes and volunteers. Nonetheless, it’s never easy to recognize and abide by the fact that no one person or group can save every dog.

Teamwork is key to any rescue’s long-term effectiveness and survival. Sadly, the stress and strong emotions that come with rescue work can lead to internal power struggles and political factions that seem to prize egos over the raison d’etre: the dogs. Good volunteers will walk away from a group that loses sight of its mission or is pressured to take any and all dogs no matter the financial or emotional cost.

Good PR is especially important to rescue groups, but it can go both ways. Recently, a prospective adopter wrote a scathing letter to the editor published in my local daily newspaper. He described shelter and breed rescue organizations’ adoption procedures as too strict, and the adoption fees too high.

There’s a reason why rescues have detailed adoption procedures—why they interview prospective adoption candidates as though they’re running for office. Their dogs have already been through enough; why risk adopting them out to just anyone, only to have them returned? Volunteers care deeply about their rescue dogs and have invested time and energy in helping them learn to trust people again. How can you put a price on that? The adoption fees—which can range from $150 to $350, depending on the dog’s age, type, region and other factors—usually include all vaccinations, spay/neuter, heartworm testing, flea/tick and heartworm preventative and, in some cases, basic training and housebreaking.


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The in-depth adoption process and adoption fee also dissuade less serious prospective adopters, who can waste a lot of precious volunteer time. I have fielded calls from people who are outraged that an adoption fee even exists. “They don’t have papers,” people will say. “No one else wants them. You should just give them away.”

Clearly, rescue groups still have their work cut out for them when it comes to educating the public about responsible dog ownership and viewing our canine companions as part of the family rather than disposable possessions.


Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 59: Apr/May 2010

Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.