So, you have decided you want to get a rescue dog! Congratulations and thank you for making this compassionate choice. Bringing a rescue dog into your family can be a truly rewarding experience, and the start of many adventures. But it is also a huge undertaking, with many considerations, so you need to make sure you start in the right place.

Although it may be surprising to know that not all rescue shelters exist with pure intentions, this unfortunately is the reality; a reality that creates a very real problem in animal welfare. While the vast majority of rehoming centres are run by compassionate people who have the animal’s interests at heart, there are unfortunately opportunists out there, looking to take advantage of the good intentions of others, at the expense of the animals they are responsible for.

In recent years, more sellers are hiding behind a façade of being a rescue centre or shelter. But in actuality, are acquiring their animals from more sinister places. By using words like ‘adopt’ or ‘rescue’ in their adverts they are creating an impression of something they are not. Cashing in on people’s compassion to up their profits in the process.

Where are these dogs coming from? 

So, if these animals aren’t strays or previously owned pets then where are they coming from? 

Puppy Farms

Puppy farms are facilities where multiple dogs are continuously bred, producing a constant stream of litters to be sold. These places typically put profit above the welfare needs of their animals meaning the animals are kept in extremely poor conditions and health issues are regularly overlooked. The dogs are often overbred allowing them no time to rest. Inbreeding is common and leads to serious health problems for puppies. This may be apparent from the start of their life or not until later down the line.

The lack of welfare considerations in puppy farms means puppies produced here are usually rife with problems. From lack of socialisation to multiple health issues. 

The breeding dogs in puppy farms are treated as commodities rather than animals with emotions and intelligence. Their suffering is often immense. They will often be left to die from health problems or cast aside when they are no longer useful to the owners. 

Illegally Imported

Often the dogs in these farms will have been imported from overseas. As it is illegal to transport young puppies, this will have been done unlawfully. Illegally imported dogs can come with diseases not common in the UK. They are unlikely to have been vaccinated or treated for things like worms and fleas. The puppies themselves are also likely to have suffered considerable stress during transportation, which can have psychological and health-related implications.

Thankfully Lucy’s Law comes into place on April 6th this year. This means that third-party puppy sales will be banned. Therefore, if you want to buy a puppy you will need to deal directly with the breeder. This is certainly a step towards the end of puppy farms but there is still a long way to go so vigilance is definitely still required.

So how can you tell if the shelter is legitimate?

A real shelter has the interest of the animals as their primary motivation. This doesn’t mean they won’t ask for money, though, as running these types of facilities is expensive. So, you should certainly still expect to make a donation as part of your adoption deal. 

There are several things you can look for when seeking a shelter to adopt from:

Where did you hear about the dog being offered?

Generally, a shelter won’t advertise in a newspaper or on a local Facebook page! If you do see a dog advertised somewhere, look at the other dogs that are on offer. Are they all designer-type breeds? This is definitely a red flag that points towards a puppy farm and needs further investigation. Do a bit of research on the organisation and see what information you can find online. 

Are you able to meet the dog and see the shelter?

Meeting the dog first is compulsory. This would normally be done in a shelter setting so it should be easy to see the conditions the dog is kept in prior to adoption. If you are asked to visit a private home, then extra caution is required. If anything seems off, follow your instincts and if you are worried you can report them to your local council.

How healthy do the animals appear?

You should expect animals ready to be adopted to be vaccinated and as healthy as possible. Some animals will certainly come with pre-existing issues. But these will have been assessed and stabilised whenever possible with clear instructions as to what the animal will need for ongoing care.

Most centres will make sure the animals are neutered before rehoming or they will provide a voucher that can be used at a veterinary practice. If the animal is not already neutered it should be in your contract that you will have it done and the centre will want to see proof by a certain date.

Have they provided a behavioural assessment?

All rescue centres should have made a behavioural assessment of the animals before putting them up for adoption. Any issues need to be flagged and openly discussed so the animal can be homed with the most suitable owners who can be prepared for any challenges they may face.

What background information can they provide?

Any known information about the circumstances leading up to the animal being surrendered should be disclosed to potential adopters. This information can be really important to understand where the animal will be best placed and what type of environment they like / dislike. Many animals are found as strays or handed in anonymously so it isn’t always possible to have this information, but this should be explained if this is the case. 

Expect to be interrogated!

With the animal’s best interest at heart the shelter has a responsibility to find out as much about you and your situation as possible. You should expect to disclose information about your home set up, whether you are in a house or a flat, whether you have a garden, how many people live in the house and their ages, if you work, if you have a holiday booked. This information is vital so that they can help you to find the perfect match so don’t be put off by their questions. In fact, you should worry if they don’t ask!

In a non-covid world a house visit should normally be arranged so they can see for themselves that the home is suitable, but there may be other ways these checks are happening during the current climate. 

Are you being offered support and guidance going forward?

Ideally, a shelter will be forthcoming in their desire to provide any support, should you run into any problems, or just have any questions after taking your pup home. Teething problems are not uncommon and the right support is invaluable to ensure the longevity of your relationship with your new family member.

If in doubt the major charities such as the RSPCA, The Dog’s Trust, Battersea and The Blue Cross are always a reliable option. And don’t forget to ask your vet’s advice. They will often deal with smaller local charities too so may be able to vouch for their sincerity.

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