The Politics of Working with Rescue Groups

A successful animal placement program has always been a key feature of any animal shelter.  Working with rescue groups plays an important role.  In an ideal world, rescues take animals that the animal shelter are finding difficult to place.  But in reality, many rescues want the highly adoptable animal, leaving the hard to place animals at the shelter.

The greatest difficulty with animal groups is that “animal people” are not people friendly.  Maddie’s Fund used to provide grant money to communities to increase adoptions, but they required that all of the rescue partners get along with one another.  They eventually found that in most cases rescues could not work together, even when being paid.

In Gainesville Florida, we had one of the most successful Maddie’s Fund grant because we were one of the few places in the country in which the rescue groups could see the benefit of working together.  As a result, we were given grant extensions.  It was truly amazing what we were able to accomplish.  It is too bad that other organizations across the country could not have enjoyed the same success.

I faced the other extreme when a local rescue organization started undermining my organization of the first day of my arrival in Roanoke Virginia.  I believed that they wanted our shelter to fail so that they could push community officials let them run the animal shelter.  Many of their volunteers worked at the animal shelter to aid in undermining the shelter’s operation.  Those volunteers all quit when I implemented an adoption program at the shelter.   Adopting animals is a good thing, it was the right thing, but by engaging in adoptions, our shelter became less of the bad guys.

In many communities animal rescues are more about their image than about saving animals.  The good thing is that saving animals plays well with a good public image.  But shelter personnel should be on the constant lookout for people who provide fake news to make your shelter look bad and their operation to look good.  This type of tactic is what killed many national grants.

One of the biggest problem with working with rescue groups is their demand for the designer pets.  To keep them happy, I usually gave them those animal as a good faith gesture in maintaining our relationship.  Although they would claim that they “rescued” the animal, we all knew that we could have easily adopted it. 

We had such an overpopulation of animals that we worked with a Petsmart Charities grant to transport many of our dogs to northern states that were enjoying a shortage of dogs.  As we were frantically shipping our dogs out, our local Humane Society was shipping designer dogs in.  We were not able to meet their need for small dogs.  So a culture developed of moving animals around the country until they could find placement.

One of the biggest risk that animal shelters take is working with home-based rescues.  These are the groups that are mostly likely to take on more animals than they can properly care for.  In Fairfax Virginia, I conducted an inspection in which we found 114 cats in a townhouse.  None of the rescues who dumped cats on this lady ever followed up to see what was going on.  She was discovered when her air conditioning went out and she opened her windows; and then, her neighbors became aware of the problem.

Unless you constantly monitor your home-based rescues, you stand to risk of your own shelter becoming overwhelmed when you are forced to seize those animals for lack of care.  Try to imagine how we felt when we had to step in and seize nearly 700 cats from a local sanctuary in Alachua County.  You begin to see the problem when groups fail to monitor the folks that they dump their animals on.  Imagine the logistics in trying to take in that many cats.  I cannot praise the Humane Society of the United States enough for their assistance.

Working with animal rescue groups are a good thing, but you have to learn the politics of game.