Great Animal Rescue or Great Scam?
A Complete Guide by Alison Hector ©
They sound so good but is that a valid rescue group? How to evaluate animal rescues credibility and worthiness.
Please read to make sure donations are not going to a scam
We are approaching the dawn of a new era. For the first time in history, there are over 70 open admissions No Kill shelters spanning more than 200 cities, towns and communities. New communities are appearing almost monthly. An emphasis by the public on saving pets from kill shelters is more popular than ever.
In tandem with this effort to save pets from kill-shelters has grown the number of rescues necessary to save their lives. There are an estimated 20000 rescues across the country according to the ASPCA and Petfinder lists at least 13000 shelters and rescues online.
Most rescues are motivated by their love of animals and truly are the backbone of all lifesaving from kill shelters in the country today. If not for their dedication, time, perseverance and altruism the numbers killed would increase by millions per year. When done often and right it is exhausting but exhilarating with some heartache thrown in for good measure. And it’s expensive. It costs a great deal to pull these animals and to care for their myriad of issues medically as well as to provide daily food, care, and shelter until adopted. Most rescues are never short on compassion but most are operating on a shoestring budget and continually must receive funding in order to survive.
However, the public loves companion animals and are willing to dig deep to see them saved, especially if they are not in a position to foster or adopt more themselves. The internet facilitates the impulse and mechanism of donating with ease. Unfortunately for these same reasons, some “rescues” have arisen that are not completely ethical and whose main goal is to make money for themselves. These less than savory rescues have honed social media heartwrenching down to an economic science.
One fantastic tool for all rescues is Facebook. A network of followers can be built and expanded. Links can be included to accept donations and to the rescue’s website if they have one. The popularity of the rescue on Facebook, however, does not always correlate with its integrity. A long time ago, when the Internet first became commercially feasible there was a cartoon in the New Yorker. It was a dog typing on a keyboard in front of the computer and the caption read “No one knows I am a dog on the Internet”. That still holds true today. Because on the Internet a glib, maudlin, catchy story or appealing presence may not reveal the reality of those we deal with.
Many rescues appear worthy and most of us have a limited amount of disposable income to part with. So the question becomes how can you tell is the rescue asking for funds on the Internet is credible.
The main goal of a real and worthy rescue (other than those that state they are a sanctuary) is to take in and then adopt out companion animals. This is the type of rescue we are examining in this article. They want to do this as often as possible because they are in the business of saving lives and it’s a number game. The more they pull – the more they adopt out – the more they save. In order to do this successfully, the real rescues need to employ a series of lifesaving mechanisms. If they are not performing any or few of these strategies they are most likely not saving very many lives.
The worthiness of the rescue often does not correlate with the amount in funding it receives. Often those factors have an inverse relationship because small hardworking rescues don’t have time to do the marketing that makes others so popular, real rescues are too busy saving animals lives. Also, worthy rescues would never engage in the type of unethical sales strategies that sometimes result in the most donations.
Here are some GUIDELINES and factors to help determine if you should donate to the rescue or not:
1. Donate locally.
- Do you personally know these people?
- Can you visit their facility if they have one?
- Can you visit their foster homes or adoption events?
2. If you choose to donate to people with rescues you have only seen online and on Facebook proceed with great caution.
- An overriding rule of thumb is to follow the money trail. Ascertain how much they are receiving in cash or goods and exactly how it is all being used. Is it documented? If not – stay clear.
- Many will hide behind their cover of a 501 c 3 Federal IRS tax-exempt status. The IRS liberally grants the 501 c 3 designations to animal welfare organizations. Just because they bamboozled the IRS into receiving that designation does not mean they are credible. The questions the IRS asks to receive this ability to collect tax-free money is not necessarily an indicator nor deterrent to those that plan to misuse this status to fraudulently steal your cash. In fact, these unsavory rescues are literally banking on that status to gain your instant trust and as a lure since donations are tax-deductible to the contributor.
3. Avoid rescues that do the following:
- Sound like a country western song with their constant tales of woe – if they are using a constant string of personal tragedies to lure you in then whether they are for real or not, they are not in a great position to care for animals when they cannot even take care of themselves adequately
- Avoid those that use manipulation to tug on your heart and wallet strings
- Beg for money because they are themselves near starvation and can barely pay their bills
- Discuss their personal tragedies and how it is affecting their ability to care for animals; for example, if they state they had a break in and are asking for a large sum of money to allegedly replace what was stolen because without it they and the animals are going to starve or be severely harmed – you must question this. How do you know that actually happened? Ask for facts – who what where how and double check. For example was a police report filed? Were people really arrested as alleged? Etc. Don’t hesitate to call the police to check. You need to be able to ascertain that their sob story facts did in fact occur. If not do NOT give them a penny. This type of story is a RED FLAG and most credible rescues wouldn’t capitalize on it even if true.
4. Avoid those that refuse to be transparent and answer questions about anything regarding their rescue
- Note if on Facebook or on websites or blogs if they have specific questions and answers regarding facts about their rescue, if not beware
- Do they answer rescue related or specific animals in their care questions posed by others? If no then stay clear.
- Ask for copies of their 990 (IRS tax return) and application to obtain the 501c3 status. If they refuse to give it to you – report them to their state Attorney General’s Office and the IRS.
5. Avoid those that do not clearly report and identify how many they rescue and adopt out
6. Stay clear of rescues that on their Internet presence post few pics of those they claim to have up for adoption or is in foster.
- Avoid them if there are very few if any local people commenting on the pets in their care they have seen, adopted, or fostered.
7. Steer clear of those that do have an internet presence but mainly post pics of themselves with the pets
- Real rescues usually have pics only of the pets in their care and the only humans in their pics are usually happy adopters.
- A real rescue does not have time to for cutesy or heart-wrenching blogs with many details that are irrelevant to specific pets they are trying to get adopted out. Avoid.
8. Steer clear of rescues that have blogs that focus on a myriad of tragedies specifically geared to get you to DONATE NOW, but not to necessarily get the pet in the story adopted. No pet in the story? Then doubly avoid.
9. Avoid them if they don’t have a clear focus on adopting their pets out. Everything they write and every action they take should have rehoming the pets in their care as a priority (unless they are clearly a stated sanctuary) Always keep in mind the lifesaving worthiness of a rescue is may be evaluated by how many and how often they take in and then adopt out, as this continual, difficult and expensive process is the ONLY way more can be saved.
- Avoid the rescue if they have many posts about non-pet related subjects such as smiley face or arts.
- Avoid them if even in jest they discuss doing anything illegal including drugs use.
- If the rescue in question saves a few but doesn’t clearly focus their efforts on rehoming the pets so that they can continue to pull and save more, and instead only keeps asking the public to DONATE NOW, avoid at all costs.
10. Avoid the rescue if they or associated businesses have fake reviews per Yelp, Google or other review sites
- Avoid the rescue if they fundraise in the memory of pets that are actually still alive or conversely fundraise for pets that are non-existent or already dead. note: the following example was not part of this original article by the author, Alison Hector and only added as an example by the blogger reposting the article [example; the group, Rescue Dogs Rock has been observed on multiple occasions seeking out tragic situations so they can insert themselves into the rescue and then use the story to raise money. RDR raised thousands of dollars by selling T-shirts using the memory and tragic story of Caleb the little puppy that died a horrible death; then when a legitimate group was working to find Caleb’s killer by hiring a private detective and working with the DA they reached out to Rescue Dogs Rock to join forces but Rescue Dogs Rock refused to help and even bad-mouthed the group trying to find the killer—Perfect example of a fraudulent rescue group only in it for the money]
11. Avoid with all cost if the rescue sues anyone for changing their mind about donating!
- REDFLAG Especially avoid rescues that slander those that question their transparency or because they have asked valid questions, as a smokescreen to divert attention away from their lack of being forthright. This is especially true when the defamation in turn actually may have the effect of then harming more pets because those being slandered are also in animal welfare or rescue. If unsure of motives always ask who has the most to gain financially in the situation?
- Just because a rescue has many followers or “likes” on Facebook does not mean they are on the up and up. It may be that they lucked into a gimmick or became associated with a popular Facebook page. It may just mean they understand human psychology, how to play people like a timeworn violin, and are fantastic at marketing aimed at kind people’s vulnerable soft spots for animals.
- Many times these organizations are so bold they are clearly not what they purport to be if looked at with a knowledgeable eye and/or are receiving more in funds than they should be, given their actual rate of lifesaving but the public is unaware of how to evaluate a credible rescue. Even on the face of their own stories, their rescue doesn’t justify the amounts collected, but people are sucked in by their clever stories and don’t know what the hallmarks are of a good rescue that deserves funding really looks like.
- Even when the less than honorable rescue has posts regarding a pet in their care, they insert themselves often into the story and do not focus on information relevant to getting the pet adopted. They discuss and use emotions designed to get the public to donate. They also often focus on the “irresponsible public” and use fictionalized details of sometimes even exaggerated abuse that they could not possibly know. Here is an example of a story from a rescue that employs this emotional manipulation to receive donations but does not focus on getting this pet adopted and one should be cautious about donating to :
“I received a desperate call. The woman was crying so hysterically I barely could understand what was being said. I told her not to worry I am there for her, please calm down. Her neighbor was frequently starving and beating a dog that was tied to a tree. The neighbor moved away and left her there. She described the many scars and how deep they were. I also started crying as I always do whenever I hear cases of such abuse. She left many messages, at many rescues but they never called her back or just told her to call me since everyone knows I am the only one to always lend a helping hand. I was very busy with my many dogs and myself crying hysterically over having to put one down but of course, I made time to call her back right away! Plus I freakin love unadoptable dogs! I heard the desperation in her voice as she cried “ Please please help me – you are the only one that might and animal control wants to kill him right away” So, I took a deep breath, and said yes I am the angel you were searching for but I have to be honest with you. ( Side note – these phony rescues use the words “being honest” quite frequently in their writings)I said as much as I want to help this poor dog, I’m beyond over-loaded with rescue dogs right now, so I’m not really sure that I can help. But I promise I’m willing to do everything I can to try and find someone else who can.
Then… I heard hysterical crying on the other end of the line.
She screamed out “Ellen, please! I am begging you! I’ve already tried everyone else. Anyone who was willing to talk to me… was only willing to help… by giving me your number. If you can’t help this dog… you and I both know… no one will… and she will die!” I knew she was right. So, I promised to contact her back after back and hung up. I reviewed our limited funds to see if I could help or not. Even though we couldn’t really afford it I called her back because I didn’t want the dog to die. I wasn’t sure of what I was even going to say I was so upset for that poor innocent baby. Then I just blurted out “when can you be here” The next morning, the lady and her family drove more than 6 hours to deliver my new baby to All Dog Rescue. When they arrived, it was love at first sight.
I named her Peace because I had to pick up the pieces of her broken soul.
And in return, Peace’s smile reminded me… of what I do… and why I do it. It’s never about me. It’s always about them. (NOTE – this type of story IS about the rescuer as much or more than the pet) And when they really need you… you always find a way…
*Peace has a long expensive road of recovery ahead. In addition to her many injuries inflicted by careless mean owners & massive additional issues, she is also heartworm positive, which requires even more extensive, costly treatment. If you’d like to contribute to Peace’s care and her future, please Donate NOW.”
* Pics are included of the rescuer with the dog – hugging and kissing her*
So here at Pet Advocates Network we will give you GUIDELINES on how to evaluate dollar worthy rescues so funding can go where it does the most good:
A Good and Worthy Rescue:
1. Has a mission statement. It is usually to save as many shelter pets as possible by pulling them from shelters and then adopting them out. That is usually their number one goal – to get them into forever homes. Or they also more rarely accept owner-relinquished pets directly or are a sanctuary that does not adopt out. In any event, their goals should be clearly stated and then clearly followed.
- If you want to donate only to rescue that claims it is “no kill” you must examine that claim.
2. The worthy rescue is transparent and hows no problem listing and answering the following questions:
- If possible use one year as the uniform specified period of time with most recent stats possible
- How many pets do you save/take in over a specified period of time?
- How many do you adopt out over a specified period of time?
- How many do you euthanize over a specified period of time?
- Under what conditions do you euthanize?
- Do you kill for space?
- How many are currently in your care?
- What are your hours I can visit?
- What is your address and phone number?
- Do you rescue pets from your local shelter?
- Where do the pets come from?
- Who is your vet?
- How much did you receive in contributions for a said specified period of time?
- Exactly how were the goods and money used?
- Where may I get a copy of your 990? * see note on 501c3
- If not a 501c3 why not?
- How many employees do you have? Volunteers? Fosters?
- How do your market your pets?
- Do you have adoption events?
- Do you have a website?
- Are there current pics of the pets?
- Do you have an up to date Rescue Groups, Petfinder or AdoptaPet account and listings?
- Do you have applications to volunteer, foster and adopt?
3. If they have an Internet presence they liberally use photos of the pets in their care. Photos are the number one way to get a pet adopted as well as receive donations for that particular pet in need:
- They post photos of all those in their care. That includes those they take into their facility or foster homes
- They post photos of all those adopted
- They post photos of adoption events.
- They DON’T post endless photos of themselves with the pets.
- Sometimes a less than honorable rescue will save a few animals and post a few pics of the small amount they are actually taking care of or have in vet care. They use this lure to get the good-hearted public to donate more to them with claims of their saving many more than are shown or identified.
- If they refuse to show photos of all those they say they have saved or have continual excuses for not putting them up. DON’T give them a penny. (The photos of those still in the shelter that the rescue claims they will be pulling don’t count) The photos should be at their location and that should be made obvious. Photos should be recent and kept updated.
4. A worthy rescue has a description of each pet in their care they are trying to rehome and any background of the pet that is known. Also the needs of the pet and what type of home he or she would be well suited for.
REDFLAG Avoid those that insert their own emotion into the description geared to manipulate for more donations. For example, discussing how they cried hysterically or every other tear-jerking ploy or phrase that is not relevant to getting the pet adopted.
EXAMPLE OF A LISTING FROM A CREDIBLE RESCUE:
Hi, my name is Spot and I am a working guard dog. I need an experienced, working dog owner. I came to All Dogs Rescue when another rescue refused to take me because I bit during my transport. The transporter was told to take me back to the shelter where I came from and have me put down. The transporter could not do this so she called us and asked if they could help train me. I was not neutered, had a nasty and painful ear infection and was skinny and starving. ADR is collecting proceeds to assist with this. When the trainer at ADR tried to give me food, I jumped at her and tried to bite the can. She says I was allowed to have these bad manners with other people, but she would not tolerate me acting that way, so straightened me up. My foster mom told me it was a matter of life or death, but I didn’t understand what that meant, I just know she was serious about getting me trained. Now she says I am ready for a home with an experienced owner.
What a perfect home would have A home with an experienced working dog owner. A person who understands how to be the top dog or leader and the need for exercise. NO Children, small dogs or cats.
Several appealing photos of the dog from various angles are included in the post.
5. A worthy rescue’s entire Internet presence is geared toward getting its pets adopted and the following applies to those that are on the Internet.
6. A credible rescue focuses ONLY on marketing their pets, medical care, adoption events, securing volunteers and fosters. In addition to what should constitute a majority of their posts is featuring the pets they have in their care, these are the only other elements they concentrate on. They individual rescuers DON’T focus on themselves, they don’t have cutesy irrelevant stories or post long tear stricken stories about the ones they had to euthanize.
7. A worthy rescue frequently discusses and actively, overtly uses methods for getting pets adopted and that encompasses up to date listings and having a Petfinder account and/or an Adopt a pet account since these are the two most frequently visited websites used by the public to search for a rescue pet.
8. A worthy rescue lists and shows on their website all the ways it is marketing pets to get them adopted. It shows how the public can get involved with specific events or endeavors that result in adoptions. That is usually the main focus of the website.
9. A valid rescue has up to date working links to their applications for fosters, volunteers, and adopters. This is a must for credible rescues that exist to save animals by getting them rehomed. RED FLAG. If a rescue does not have any type of these applications easily available or the link continually says “page not available” then avoid.
10. A valid rescue is known and respected by its LOCAL community. They often support local businesses in a symbiotic relationship. Don’t hesitate to inquire around. In addition, they do not trash other local rescues so as to make sure only they are donated to instead. (Inquiring into a rescues claims or transparency is NOT trashing them. Making up slanderous lies is)
11. A worthy rescue with many resources and plentiful of funding does not send stray dogs on their property to a high kill shelter
On a personal note, I believe a rescue that supports and defends kill shelters and does not advocate for shelter reform should be avoided as well as those that purport to be no-kill simply to gain more donations but are not.
In sum, it is easy to fall for the heart-wrenching Madison Ave infomercial appeal of some less than honorable rescues because of their manipulation and fairytale quality. Just because they are popular on Facebook or have used that to leverage media does not mean they are worthy of your donation.
In a final analysis, the most worthy rescues are putting all their efforts into continual life saving and not busy with writing fairy tales to win a popularity contest and for max donations.
Some less than honorable rescues won’t focus on adopting out their pets or bringing more in even though they ironically have the most resources, because that takes time, money and work. Some will also kill the animals in their care calling it “the last act of kindness” instead of spending their time and money donated to rehome them for the same reasons. What they care most about is taking your money.
Then ask yourself should you give another penny to, vote for, or support a rescue that already for example has well over $100000 or a significant amount in donations for the year, is not transparent, and has just a few animals total with few ever adopted out despite a wealth of resources to do so but instead writes good heart-wrenching stories OR should you donate to a rescue with no personal or engaging hard-luck tales, but is busy trying to save from death row and is verifiably adopting out as many as possible with little support or funding and badly needs your donation?
If you really want to help save lives, before you give another penny determine if the rescue meets or defeats the guidelines and criteria listed above.
By Alison Hector, Esq. © 2012