Recent articles in the news have revealed that not all pet rescue organizations are the same. At the core, we hope and believe that everyone does have the right reasons at heart on both sides of the adoption table. That is, to give a pet the best life possible. Yes, covid times have also contributed to the increase in demand of people wanting dogs. However, in the past six months there’s also been a big surge in owners surrendering their pets, which makes adoption or rescue dogs worthy considerations. But what should you know before committing to a rescue organization?

There are many rescue organizations across the country. Many work to help bring pets from around the globe. The circumstances vary but all are heartbreaking — strays, displaced dogs from natural disasters or war torn countries, dogs that are destined for gaming or dog meat trade are just a few common reasons.

We reached out to Caroline Applebee of Raising Rover, who holds a B.Sc. in Biology from McGill University with a specialization in Animal Behaviour and became Toronto’s first Board Certified Professional Dog Trainer in 2004 (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers). She has been a reliable source of information for us, and we’re fortunate to be able or turn to her for expert and trusted advice. When people want to bring a rescue dog home to join their families, what are some key questions or observations they should look for in a rescue organization?

Caroline: Transparency is  very  important. A good rescue will at a minimum be a registered not-for-profit or charity. They will have a board of directors and publicly available financial statements.

They should have an extensive volunteer network and well-established relationships with vets, groomers and qualified trainers. With that in mind, they should have the resources to support the volume of dogs they take in. Ask how many dogs are they adopting? How many volunteers or foster homes do they have?  Bigger is not necessarily better.

They should also conduct thorough interviews to ensure you are a good match. Yes, you might feel judged but don’t take it personally – their primary goal should be the welfare of the dogs.

A good rescue organization would not offer a “try out” to bring a dog home. If they are thorough by having their dogs spend a few weeks in a proper foster home and get vetted medically they will have a good assessment before being offered for adoption. A responsible rescue will have gone to signficant lengths to get to know their adoptable animals.

Also, rescue organizations should be happy to answer all your questions. They should respond to phone calls/emails within a reasonable amount of time. If they take two weeks to reply to your email, they may not have the resources to support the number of dogs they take in.

The rescue organization should not rush or pressure you. I’ve actually heard of a rescue group that told a potential adopter that if they didn’t take the dog, it would be euthanized.

They should know exactly where the dog came from. That may seem obvious but you would be surprised.

They should also have a wide variety of breeds/mixes/ages available for adoption (unless it’s a breed-specific rescue).

We’ve heard the term “rescue mill” floating around that’s like a “puppy mill” with unethical practices– what can you tell us about these?

Caroline: I actually don’t know this term specifically but assume it might refer to “dog-flippers”. These are organizations that pull in a significant volume of dogs (usually imported from other countries) and adopt out quickly.

It might also refer to organizations who regularly have litters of puppies for adoption. While it’s not unheard of for a litter of pups to be available when a pregnant mom comes into rescue, if this is a regular offering this is likely a puppy mill masquerading as a rescue.

A good rescue organization should be providing necessary information about each dog. What does that commonly include or what should we be expecting?

Caroline: If they have given the dog proper time to decompress in a foster home they should be able to give feedback on any potential issues with:

  • health/dietary issues
  • crate training/housetraining
  • tolerance towards children
  • potential for separation anxiety
  • resource guarding/possessive behaviour
  • intereactions with other dogs or household pets
  • basic manners (sit, stay, walking on leash, etc.)
  • while a rescue might have some feedback as to a dog’s recall skills, they should be firm about no off leash for at least several months regardless

As much as we want to adopt or rescue, it may not necessarily be the right option for everyone. What are your thoughts?

Caroline: While there is no guarantee of a dog’s health or temperament through a breeder (there are plenty of unethical breeders as well), there is more of an unknown element in rescues. Families with younger children should be extra choosy and look at rescues who have really committed to getting to know a dog while in foster. Some people may also really want “the puppy experience” which is absolutely fair but they should then be doing similar due diligence on finding an ethical breeder.

What about financial responsibilities in bringing in a rescue? What should people consider?

Caroline: A dog is a commitment both finically and time-wise. Adopters should recognize that dogs need company and if working out of the home during the day they may need dog walkers/daycare/pet sitters. And if working out of the home during the day, that means staying home in the evening. Average costs of owning a dog range from $250 – $1000 (monthly) depending on grooming, training, walking/daycare, medical needs. Adopters might also establish contact with vets and trainers/behaviourists in advance. Due to the covid-related surge in pet ownership, there can be a wait time for both of these.

More resources:

Top 10 Tips for Success With a New Rescue

How to Choose a Good Dog Breeder


Thank you to Caroline for taking the time out of her busy schedule to help us navigate us through the discussion of rescues. We appreciate you!