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Shelters vs Rescues: What is the Difference?

We just received a call on the Colorado Animal Welfare League number from a student doing research for a project in her Government class. She was asking to speak to one of our volunteers who was in charge of euthanizing the animals. At first I was a bit taken aback by the request. Why would anyone assume a rescue group would have anyone in charge of euthanization? After pondering it further, I came to the realization that this student either didn’t: a) read our website to see that we are a foster-based rescue group and don’t operate a shelter – thus no one would be in charge of euthanization; or b) maybe she just didn’t really understand the difference between a rescue group and a shelter.

Convinced that it had to be option b, it struck a chord that maybe many other people don’t really know the difference between shelters and rescue either and so I’m setting out to clarify this topic.


Shelters are typically buildings that contain multiple kennels or dog runs as well as catteries that can house many unhomed animals at a time. Some municipalities operate their own shelters but many shelters operate as 501c3 non-profit organizations and are subsidized by contracts with local municipalities. These contracts provide for incoming animals picked up by local municipal animal control officers to be housed and managed by the shelter. Shelters typically offer pet lost and found services, adoption services, low cost veterinary care services, and animal surrender intake services for the communities in which they are located.

Subsidized shelters and municipal shelters are able to support a payed staff for animal care, operations and management which they also supplement with volunteers. The subsidized shelters typically have huge marketing budgets and receive large donations from wealthy benefactors and large businesses due to their visibility within the community. Municipal shelters typically operate within a very limited budget.

Unless a shelter is specifically marketed as “no-kill”, many of these large shelters will euthanize animals that remain at their shelter too long or that are deemed as unadoptable by the staff.

Adoption fees at shelters are typically low as the shelter itself operates primarily from subsidized government contracts (or the local government itself in the case of municipal shelters) rather than the fees themselves. Adoptions done through shelters appear to the adoptive family as easier because the shelter staff is less concerned with placing the animal in the appropriate home based on the needs of the family and the personality of the animal.

Shelters will typically receive animals from animal control officers, seizures in animal welfare cases, and surrenders from local owners.

While filling a crucial need due to the perception that domesticated animals are somewhat disposable in our society, shelter life can have an adverse impact on the personality of a dog or cat. Many animals will forget any house training they have after spending weeks in a kennel in addition to losing basic social skills from lack of interaction with people.


Rescue groups were created by necessity with the intention of pulling animals targeted for euthanization from shelters in order to give them substantially more time to find a new home. Rescue groups typically operate as 501c3 non-profit organizations staffed primarily by volunteers.

Many rescue organizations operate by providing foster homes for the animals in their program until they can find the animal their new forever home. Foster care prior to rehoming a shelter dog is imperative to re-introduce the animals to living in a house, re-setting expectations for their behavior, and re-socializing them with people. Without this reintroduction to appropriate behavior, many animals that have been sheltered or have been living stray would be considered unacceptable by their new families and  be returned to the rescue.

Rescue adoption fees are typically higher than those found in shelter adoptions because rescues rely on adoption fees and donations to cover their expenses which may include: transportation, veterinary care, food, vaccinations, and spay/neuter. The adoption process varies per rescue, but many rescues will have extensive interviews with the prospective adopter and some may require home visits prior to adoption to ensure the animal is placed in an appropriate home and won’t be returned into the system.

Rescue groups will typically pull animals from local shelters or may assist other local and non-local rescue groups by taking their animals into the organization. Some rescue groups are breed-specific and will only accept pure-bred or mixed animals of a single breed, some will only accept puppies, some will only accept pure-bred animals and some will help any breeds. Many rescue organizations will not accept surrendered animals direct from owners as they feel it is the owner’s responsibility to rehome any animal they are essentially disposing into the system.

The Stark Reality About Puppies For Sale

Every Monday Ambato, Ecuador hosts the largest open-air market in Ecuador. At the end of every Monday’s market, 120-170 puppies and kittens that didn’t sell at the market are discarded like trash.

This is the reality of selling puppies in third world countries, these animals have no value to the merchant if they don’t bring in any profit, they are simply a discardable commodity – but what about puppies for sale in a country like the United States? Do large scale breeders and puppy selling pet stores actually care about the welfare of the lives they are selling or are these puppies simply used as a means to a dollar?

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), puppy mills and puppy selling pet stores have been around for decades.  HSUS believes that they “continue to thrive because they prey on unwitting consumers who are smitten by too-cute-for-words puppies in pet store windows and on legitimate-seeming websites.” They reality is that puppy mills dogs are housed in shockingly poor conditions and many puppy selling pet stores offer similarly poor living conditions with very little veterinary care.

While you may find a few stand-out puppy selling pet stores with more concern about the welfare of the dogs they are selling, the bottom line is that they are selling these dogs as a commodity to make money. If you aren’t being asked about the home you are taking the puppy to, how you intend to care for this puppy, and how much time you have available for this puppy – you can be certain the seller has no interest in the welfare of the dog once it leaves the premises.

What the consumer also doesn’t understand is that their purchase of this seemingly adorable puppy from the pet store window propagates the problem.  If the ability to make money off of the sale of domesticated animals was no longer palpable, these breeders and stores would be looking for a more lucrative business.

Every puppy purchased from a mill breeder or a pet store takes a home away from an existing dog in a shelter or rescue. Hundreds of thousands of quality dogs (pure-bred and mixed breed, puppies and adults) are euthanized yearly simply because someone would no longer care for them.

If you are only looking for a pure-bred dog, or a specific breed – please visit a local breed specific rescue first – they do take in puppies fairly regularly. If you can not find what you are looking for in shelters or rescue, then visit a reputable breeder for your breed. A quality, reputable breeder is concerned about the constant improvement of their breed, the typical temperament and good health of their puppies, and will be there to help and guide you with your new dog. They will always let you visit their premises upon request and will ask you about your home situation to ensure their puppy will be acceptably cared for – for life.

Please consider a Recycled Dog first – and to stop this cycle of essentially accepting the inhumane treatment of mill dogs, please never buy from a breeding mill or pet store. Thanks for recycling!


Mango adopted us – to put things in perspective.

Mango was found climbing a tree in central Nebraska trying to follow a squirrel. He made his way to Colorado through various rescuers and transports. At one point, he was adopted to another family but they returned him for behavioral reasons.

I found Mango at an adoption event where I was volunteering. He had a makeshift roof on his kennel because his kennel card said he was a fence jumper. With his striking golden eyes, many comments were also made that he looked a bit scary – even a bit feral.

With only a few dogs left at the three-day event, Mango and I became fast friends. Feeling very bad for such a sweet dog, I offered him a temporary foster home until the next adoption event a week later.

He found a home for a few days but was returned a second time for wandering off with the family’s rescued pitbull. We picked him up again and brought him home for good.

Mango and our rescued lab Guinness are the best of friends now and either would be heartbroken with another separation. Mango no longer jumps fences and apparently just needed a steady home with people that offered him attention and love. Although he wrangled his way into our home, we now love our sad-sack, shepherd mix, reformed jumper. Welcome home Mango.

Why Testicles Don’t Make Your Dog Macho and Other Facts About Dog Neutering

Realistically, we all can search the internet and find veterinary studies supporting both male dog neutering and leaving them intact. This is why having a dog neutered or not becomes such a fiercely debated topic.

From the point of view of a dog rescuer, the choice of neutering a dog or not is obvious.  Until we no longer require countless rescues and countless volunteer hours to save the hundreds and thousands of unwanted dogs waiting their turn on the euthanasia table, dog neutering is a necessity to reduce pet overpopulation. The only other option is super vigilant, responsible dog ownership which, unfortunately, we can’t always count on.

The bottom line is this: neutering males who are not going to be used for breeding purposes decreases the number of unwanted breedings. Period. There is no debating that statement. So then, how to address the concerns of the population who believe that their neutered male dog will be less, shall we say “manly”?

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