January 25, 2013

Choosing your dog rescue.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I would be trying my luck at fostering for other rescues in Ottawa. Due to experience and the relationships I've made over the past two years I already have a few rescues in mind that I'm interested in joining, however if you're new to the rescue world, finding that perfect rescue can be a bit daunting to say the least.

Becoming a foster parent for the wrong rescue can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth and it might even turn you off of fostering completely. To avoid that, here are some tips to help you find the right rescue that fits your needs/wants/beliefs.

Size Matters

When many people first begin fostering they act like a kid in a candy store -- they offer to foster every furry four legged creature that comes along without taking the time to really think about the type of dog they are best suited for. Be completely honest and ask yourself a few questions:

What size of dog is your home best suited for?
- does your fence have any gaps where small dogs might be able to sneak through?
- do you have a tendency to leave food or other items on your counter? (think: large dog counter surfing) 

If you have other dogs:
- do they get along best with large or small dogs?
- can you comfortably walk your foster with your dogs?

In addition, Some breeds are naturally higher energy than others, so you will also need to determine if you and your lifestyle are best suited for a couch potato, a morning stroll friend, or a running partner.

Deciding what kind of dog best suits your needs will help you to choose the right rescue.


Visit petfinder.com to find a list of rescues in your area.

Locate the box where it says Find Pet-Adoption Groups and enter in your city and province (or state, depending on where you're reading from).

A list will come up with all of the rescues in your city. You can click on each one to view their Petfinder site - this will give you more information about the rescue and you'll be able to view the existing dogs in care which should give you an idea of the sizes and breeds that the rescue most often takes in. 

From that list, choose 2-3 rescues that appeal to you.

Word of mouth

Alternatively (or in addition to Petfinder), you can also contact your local pet food stores and vet offices to see if they can recommend a reputable rescue in your area. Results will vary by city, but if you're in Ottawa, it's a great way to find out who they support. If you contact a few places, you will likely hear the same names over again which says a lot.

Google is your friend 

In this day and age it's pretty much impossible to stay under the digital radar when you have any kind of involvement with the public. People like to talk -- and they also like to make their complaints known when they have an issue with an organization. Do a Google search on the rescue(s) and if there are any issues surrounding a rescue, Google will find them. Scooby's Dog House is a good example.

If there are accusations about a rescue not properly vetting animals or worst case scenario -- allegations of abuse -- then stay away.

Social Media

Most rescues have a Facebook page and Twitter account, so spend a few days following and getting to know them. Do they interact with their fans? Post updates regularly? If their Facebook is run properly (interesting, engaging, the right amount of posts) then they have the potential to attract thousands of people -- including adopters. Hopeful Hearts has done a great job doing just that.

If the rescue spends most of their time asking for donations or posting things like THIS DOG WILL DIE IN 24 HOURS - NEED A FOSTER NOW!#@# that raises red flags. While things move quickly in the animal rescue world and there's not a lot of time to waste, it's equally as important to make sure that a rescue has the required funds to help existing dogs, and that they properly vet foster homes and adopters. If everything is an emergency for them, chances are that certain things will fall through the cracks.


Animal rescues are not regulated by the government which is both extremely frustrating and dangerous because this means any Dick and Jane can open up a rescue, claim to help dogs, and do quite the opposite while accepting donations from the public. Being a registered charity doesn't necessarily mean that the rescue is reputable - it just means that they have good accounting. I know plenty of damn good rescues that aren't registered for one reason or another - usually because they're smaller and don't have the funds to apply for charity status or have a need to do so.
However, folks in the animal rescue world want regulation, so several people have taken it upon themselves to establish groups to help self-regulate. In my opinion, a good way to tell if a rescue is reputable, at least in Ontario, is to find out if they are associated with any or all of the following organizations:

1. Rescuing Dogs In Canada (RDIC)

RDIC is a Yahoo group where rescue & shelter folks go when they need assistance with animal placement, transportation, home visit checks outside of their area, and advice from other rescues. Members are primarily from Canada, though there are some members in the US who are near the Canadian border.

This is a closed group, so in order to join you must be affiliated with a reputable rescue, and membership is approved by the moderator.
2. Helping Homeless Pets

HHP was created in 2006 to help homeless animals find forever homes and to help reduce the number of animals who become homeless. They work to unite animal rescues across Canada and support ethical rescues by assisting them with certain services. In order to become a member of HHP, each rescue needs to first agree to their code of ethics and provide several references, including vet references.

[side note: although HHP has been around since 2006, it hasn't quite reached rescues outside of Ontario (specifically the GTA) and Quebec]

3. Animal Rescue Corps 

ARC is non-profit animal protection group that works closely with government institutions and law enforcement agencies to help rescue animals from abuse situations (puppy mills, hoarders and dog fighting) and natural disasters. ARC relies on animal rescue groups (they call them placement partners) to help place animals that find themselves in these situations.

In order to become a placement partner, a rescue group needs to complete an application and provide personal and vet references that are then verified. Once a rescue is an approved placement partner, they will then receive requests to assist with bringing dogs in if the need arises in their area.


In a perfect world I wouldn't need to write this blog post because the animal rescue world would be regulated and people wouldn't take advantage of human emotions to cash in, but unfortunately that isn't the case.

Hopefully this will help someone who is looking to foster but doesn't quite know where to begin.

If you are involved in animal rescue, do you have any other tips that might help someone find their ideal rescue?

Read: The foster screening process.


  1. I'd say the #1 thing is: Talk to other fosters. Try to get a sense of...

    -- How long have they been fostering for this group? (If the rescue can't seem to keep its volunteers around for more than a couple of months, that tells you something...)

    -- How much support did they get in dealing with behavioral issues, health problems, and adoptive placements? The first rescue I started out with gave NO support on any of these things. You just got a dog and you were expected to figure everything else out on your own -- oh, and pay for it yourself, too. Needless to say, I didn't stay there for long!

    -- Does the foster seem to be knowledgeable and skilled, and did they receive any training or basic resource guides when they started out? There's a place for everyone in rescue, but if animals are just sort of being tossed at people who don't seem to know much about caretaking and who aren't getting any introductory guidance AT ALL, that would be a red flag to me. On the other hand, every good rescue I'm aware of at least has a handout or online guide for its newest volunteers, and usually has trainers on call to help as needed.

    -- What happens if the dog doesn't work out in your home? How difficult is it to return the dog to the rescue and get another foster who might be better suited to the home? Does the rescue make you hang onto the dog for weeks? Do they blame you for somehow creating the situation? These things have happened, and they're not pleasant. Best to know what your options are BEFORE you're in crisis mode.

    1. Yes, having the ability to talk to a foster for that rescue PRIOR to making any commitments or filling out applications would be a wonderful thing. Unfortunately if you're new to the rescue world, it can be difficult to find such a person.

      However I will cover those questions during in the home visit topic :)

  2. Thanks for sharing this information. While my life is not in a place where I could foster, they are still good points.


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