Pet Rescue: Causes, Controversies and People Who Care

Mar 19, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Helping Hands, Mysteryrat's Maze, Pets

by Linda O. Johnston

Pet rescue. We’ve all heard of it. A lot of us engage in it. But what is it, really? And why is it necessary?

The simple answer? There are a lot more pets out there than people who want them. Why is that? Many reasons. Sometimes people take on pets they can’t continue to care for because of problems in their own lives. Sometimes the pets develop behavior issues the owners can’t or don’t want to deal with. Also, too many people don’t understand the value of spaying or neutering their pets so they allow them to breed indiscriminately, and then the pets’ offspring do the same thing. So do their offspring, and theirs….

Rescue pup from Animal Compassion Team in Squaw Valley

And then, too many people just don’t care.

But fortunately, there are thousands of others who do. For example,, probably the largest online forum for rescuers and organizations to post information about pets available for adoption, suggests on its shelter page, “Find an animal shelter, humane society, SPCA or animal rescue near you — search our 13,433 members.” That’s a lot of members! And a lot more pets. In fact, at the time this article was written, the Petfinder website said it listed 321,308 adoptable pets. And that’s not all of the adoptable pets that were available at that moment in this country.

There are also a lot more statistics out there. For example, the Humane Society of the United States’ Pet Overpopulation page on its website provides that around four million animals are euthanized in pet shelters annually–about one every eight seconds. The Humane Society’s posts also provide that three to four million cats and dogs are adopted from shelters each year. The two numbers don’t even each other out, though. Too bad a lot more pets aren’t saved–or don’t need to be.

What kinds of people and organizations help find homes for needy pets? The main types are shelters and fosterers. Often, they work together.

Rescues with Animal Compassion Team

Shelters may be public or private. The public shelters funded by or under the auspices of local governments generally take in all pets, whether strays, dropped off, or rescued from bad situations like hoarding. Since those shelters can easily run out of room, they may be in the position of having to euthanize animals to make room for more– hence, the large numbers mentioned by the Humane Society. Some laudable public shelters, though, make it a point to hold on to animals as long as possible, and not kill them for lack of space.

Private shelters are generally funded by donations. They are often considered “no-kill”–a controversial term, since there are differing definitions as to what that means. Most are not truly no-kill at all, since they will have animals that are in ill health and suffering put down. Some also will euthanize healthy animals with severe behavior issues that will make them un-adoptable. But sometimes people do not consider shelters that kill for any reason, even humane ones, “no-kill.”

Rescue with Animal Compassion Team

Private shelters must generally have licenses to operate and must comply with the laws of whatever jurisdiction they’re in. Sometimes, such as in Los Angeles, they can take in only owner relinquishments and animals they rescue from the public shelters, but not strays. One theory behind that restriction is that people whose pets are lost know to go to public shelters to look for them, which may in fact be true.

Those animals rescued by private shelters from the public ones are often saved in the last days before planned euthanization. Sometimes, it’s individuals who adopt them at the last minute and save them.

And, yes, many are not saved at all.

In situations where an animal doesn’t thrive in a shelter situation, or where a rescue organization either doesn’t have a physical facility or has limited room, that organization may encourage people to foster the pets. As with foster children, those people bring the animals home and take care of them without adopting them. Maybe. Sometimes fosterers fall in love with pets under their care and will adopt them after all.

Some organizations take in all kinds of pets. Some care primarily for cats or dogs or both. Then there are breed-specific rescues, where only certain types of pets are cared for by that organization.

Who staffs the rescue organizations? Some are paid employees. Others are volunteers who help out by socializing the animals, cleaning up after them, walking dogs and playing with cats and whatever else may be needed. Many shelters have orientation programs for volunteers to teach them what is needed to be of assistance there.

A family of rescues with Animal Compassion Team

If you get the impression from this article that one size doesn’t fit all, that’s true. There are a lot of people and groups whose main purpose is to deal with, and save, otherwise unwanted animals. Each has a story of its own. This is only a general overview of some of the possibilities.

But for all of them, this is the main truth: pet shelters, and people staffing them in whatever capacity, are definitely needed now, and will continue to be needed as long as there are pets out there in need of new homes… and love. If you’re not yet among those helping needy pets, consider it. You may get as much out of it as the animals you’re helping!

Check out KRL’s review of Linda’s book Beaglemania in this issue and enter for a chance to win a copy!

All photos in this article were provided by local animal rescue, Animal Compassion Team (ACT). Learn more about them in their article here at KRL.

Linda O. Johnston is the author of the Pet Rescue Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime, a spinoff series from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery series. The first in the new series, BEAGLEMANIA, debuted March 1, 2011. Linda also writes paranormal romances for Harlequin Nocturne, volunteers at a private pet shelter as a dog adoption counselor, and is the LA Pet Rescue Examiner for She lives in Los Angeles. Visit Linda at her website.


  1. I know many families who have gotten their pets through rescue programs. It’s a great service to our community.

  2. Great article, Linda. As an owner of a shelter dog, I really appreciate all that you are doing to raise awareness of pet rescue.

  3. Thanks for helping get the word out!


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