How to Rescue an Animal from a ‘Rescue’ Shelter

New Guinea Singing Dog looking backHeather Callaghan
Activist Post

If an abandoned animal barks or mews at your door – what will you do? There are a number of choices – unfortunately, after a little digging you find out that most of them lead to its untimely death. I didn’t intend to write a treatise on animal control recently, but the more I found out, the more I wanted to implore people to hang up that phone….

In a lot of cases, it just isn’t ending well. More often than not, the animal will end up in a shelter anyway. Have no illusions about it – they won’t be there long, but not in a good way. If you question a “no-kill” shelter long enough, you’ll find out that a better slogan might be “We don’t do the actual killing, but we’ll send it to a place that will.” Warm fuzzies. Is that what we call a rescue? Of course, they will try to find a home, but the animal – if even deemed “acceptable” – has a rapidly approaching death row date.

In your hands, it can be a different story.

Here’s the scenario. A friendly dog shows up in your yard – it’s been waiting for you to open your door and starts wagging its tail. It’s been starving for awhile now and hasn’t had water in who knows how long. You decide to fill a bucket of water with the hose and bring food fit for a king dog. It drinks down the bucket and has to wait to even gobble the food due to dehydration.

You tell a few people, who respond: Uh-oh! Shouda never fed it – he’ll never leave – it’s your dog nooooowww. You make a mental note reminding yourself that you’re not a d-bag for what you did, and a mental note of said people for when they show up hungry at your door one day. Also, it’s not your dog now – this is only one stop until it finds peace with a new family.

There are all kinds of suggestions online – crazy loads of suggestions. Like before you ever figure out if it’s lost or not. Take it to a vet, call a lost hotline, post pictures and posters, post to groups, post lost ads on Craigslist and then make the claimant prove it … Pay for newspaper ads, ask around, post to Facebook … And then while you’re waiting and fostering it – get it neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, kennel it, get it groomed, take it to obedience school, socialize it with other dogs, buy a chain/bed/leash/food/kennel cage and some state laws require that you wait seven days before finding it another home, send it to Harvard and – AHHHHHHH! Stop the insanity! That amounts to hundreds of dollars – if you can do that, you can keep it or start your own shelter. Or start the world’s first ivy league doggie college.

I think descriptions like that are meant to be paralyzing so that you just “hand it over” (for easy disposal). Truthfully, who even needs to look up something like that? Here’s why I skipped all of that – it had no collar (nor signs of ever wearing one) and was a small mix with some pit bull. Poor dog was born with a scarlet letter. A person can easily figure out if it’s dangerous, lost, abused or abandoned. No need to cower and shake behind a curtain – animal control, help me! Please noose and tranquilize this beast! It maddens me that people are encouraged by the police department to call them for issues with their pets or their neighbors. Just no.

While I can’t prove the dog was used for fighting or as “bait” as people love to say, it had been in some former scuffles. The point is, dog fighting is unfortunately very prominent in this area so it would have been absolutely stupid and naive to go around with posters or saying “Is this your dog?” Uh, yeah, that’s my dog…um come here…er…Bruiser, yeah I’ll take him back…oh, it’s a her? Oh yeah…

So, I’m Rescuer #2 (R2), for lack of a better word, and there’s also an R1 and R3. R1 got dogfood from friends who no longer had a dog, but they could not take it. R1 posted pictures to a Facebook group.

A number of years ago PETA wrote an open call to Craigslist saying “Why Craigslist is on our S*** List.” Because they allow pet transactions, and free ones that could end up with the animal in the same cycle of abuse. Fair point as dog fighting, giving to research facilities and other twisted ends are real possibilities from posting “free to a good home” ads. So Craiglist posted a warning, but PETA is still mad. Well guess what, PETA? You’re on my “S” list. Shutting that down completely would make sure that animals go to “shelters” and you seem to think euthanasia (“good death”) is a proper and dignified way to go – that these animals should all go to the proper authorities even though you say they are overrun. You are oddly silent about police killing pets, and I could go on. But again, how is this a rescue?

Just to be clear, I’m not knocking rescue volunteers. That is not an easy job and the idea is to rescue and find another home. But why is the call always about overpopulation with the main solution being to euthanize? This part of the system is easy not to think about – and it’s out of whack. On that note, I am thankful for the spay and neuter Facebook group that allowed animal postings – this is what ultimately led to the dog’s new home, believe it or not.

R2 wrote a Craigslist ad, making sure to charge what they call a “rehoming” fee high enough to deter people from taking the animal for bad purposes. It’s just a really bad idea to say “free to a good home.” I like Craigslist, though, because it’s about the only free classified option. There are pet sites to post listings to or newspaper ads, but they are insanely expensive.

Here’s a tip if you decide to use Craigslist: take nice pictures and write the profile from the dog’s perspective, letting its temperament show through. Include all the info you would like to know if it were you searching for a new pet. Unfortunately, the “rehoming” fee of $25 was set too low and led to getting sketchy messages in the middle of the night. Facebook worked better and was more transparent.

If using Craigslist, you could ask for references (vet, landlord, neighbor, friend) as a way to find out if this person is legitimate about housing the animal. Again, if you look online for more input you’ll find a list of questions that if uttered would make the Spanish Inquisition look tame. Paralyzing! Common sense and intuition work.

After a Facebook answer and further contacts, R1 and R3 borrowed a truck and a leftover kennel cage and took the dog to the prospective family to check things out after some initial conversation on the phone. They had a code phrase to say if one of them felt uncomfortable about the situation.

The key is to use your gut every step of the way and keep the animal in mind. That’s it.

It was a long drive and a long evening for them, but the dog was happy and settled at its new home. Now, we truly can hope for the best.

So, yeah, that was a lot of work (searching, caretaking, finding) for a seemingly insignificant undertaking. It could have lasted even longer than one whole weekend. It’s not easy when everyone’s skint and overworked and there all these organizations ready at the helm. But, no!

My intent for writing these two stories was to point out how conveniently easy it is “wash our hands of it.” The term “surrendering your [pet, cat, dog]” is the actual term created (by shelter groups?) to describe dropping it off. Ominous? Also, I didn’t know how many blocks there could be if you deviate from “the norm.”

The so-called authorities and experts want you to hand it over to the “professionals” – see a pattern? It is possible to do something without centralized middle men. They have an attitude that because of your irresponsibility, they must take over, roundup and kill (it’s your fault we must do this). In the end, it’s you as the community that gets openly blamed (even though you the individual didn’t do anything wrong). It’s the animal that gets punished and sacrificed, though. I don’t need that kind of “help.” We as individuals found other individuals who did something.

I believe the price of outsourcing these “responsibilities” may have led to the original problem of “just dump it off somewhere, someone else will take care of it.” But why is the answer always to kill?

It’s the lazy option.

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

Recent posts by Heather Callaghan:

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