Dog Rescue in the USA

I have a rescued dog. He’s from Georgia. An organization called Home for Good found him in a shelter there where he likely would have been euthanized. So they packed up his 8-week old butt along with his brothers and sisters and brought him to New Jersey where he became a Christmas present for my son.

Now at age 4, he enjoys a leisurely canine lifestyle. After breakfast he goes to the park to play with his friends. Then, after a full day of sleeping on whatever couch has the most sunshine, he enjoys a dinner of dog food topped with leftovers from the fridge. Just about everybody in my neighborhood has a dog, most of them rescues and all as spoiled as mine.

Pepper and Cosmo

Two rescued Southern mutts and a stick.

Dog rescue is usually a two-part process. The first is to get abandoned or abused animals into a shelter. The second is to find a home for these dogs. That is what organizations like Home for Good does.

Animal shelters originally came on the scene as pounds and they date back to colonial times in America. The first pounds were originally focused on rounding up stray livestock that would end up being sold. Dogs weren’t seen as having any market value, so they were usually killed.

The first shelter was opened by the Women’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Pennsylvania in 1869. Many others followed, including New York City based shelters run by the ASPCA. Most of the shelters that came into being, however, were municipally owned and managed and their goal was to eliminate what was considered a public nuisance. Stray dogs were often assumed to carry disease and were perceived as dangerous. So the goal was to get them off the street, not to find them a home.

It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 20th century that things started to change. Starting in the 1970’s, a time when euthanasia rates for shelter animals were at their highest, privately-owned shelters began to be created. These shelters were usually funded by donations and run by volunteers. And their focus was on animal welfare. The ASPCA estimates there are about 5,000 animal shelters in the U.S. today.

Dogs usually end up in shelters for one of two reasons. They were either abandoned or abused. One of the most common reasons dogs are abandoned is because of restrictive housing policies. Their families move into housing that doesn’t allow pets. Or they may be with families who cannot afford the cost of feeding and caring for them or the cost of medical care that they need. They might get tossed for making too much noise and chewing stuff up. And some are left homeless due to death or divorce.

Others find themselves in a shelter because they’ve been rescued from cruel or abusive treatment. Some may have found themselves in the hands of lowlifes who promoted dog fighting. Or they may have been saved from puppy mills where dogs are kept in cages and bred continuously. Some animals are rescued from situations where owners have hoarded more animals than they can care for.  All in all, close to 4 million dogs enter shelters in the U.S. each year.


Tess was adopted through the Southern California Golden Retriever Rescue

While animals entering a shelter are no longer targeted for quick euthanization, the clock still starts ticking when they enter many shelters. And if they are not adopted within a certain period of time they are put to sleep. Dog rescue organizations, which have largely come into being in the last 25 years, are focused on getting dogs out of shelters where they might be euthanized and finding homes for them. In addition to volunteers who physically rescue the animals, these organizations often provide foster homes where the dogs can stay until being adopted. A key piece of the rescue operation is the Web site  where upwards of 100,000 rescued dogs and cats are posted for adoption at any given time.

A releatively recent trend is the no-kill shelter. Richard Avenzino, who headed the San Francisco SPCA for 22 years, is often credited as the founder of that movement. In 1984, Avenzino convinced the city to take back the contracts that had gone out to laboratory suppliers for “animal control.” A decade later he introduced the Adoption Pact which guaranteed a good home to any healthy, recoverable dog or cat in the shelter. A year later New York City followed his lead and went “no kill.”

In its 2015 annual report, the Animal Humane Society announced that it had reached its decade-long goal of saving 90 percent of the animals who enter their shelters. They in fact hit 91.2%.

But despite the proliferation of rescue organizations and the increasing commitment of shelters to saving dogs, there are still more than a million that are euthanized every year.

Sometimes I feel a bit silly for not finishing a restaurant meal to make sure I have something to bring home to my dog. And I laugh at the friend who makes scrambled eggs for his rescued dog’s breakfast every day. And there is my neighbor who brings her dog to the park every morning with a pocket full of hot dog pieces. And not just any hot dogs, her rescued mutt apparently prefers the organic uncured variety that she buys at Whole Foods. But then I remember that these guys had a rough start or a turn of bad fortune before we found them.

(The author, Ken Dowell, is a trustee of the Tess McIntyre Foundation  The foundation raises funds to support dog rescuers and to provide health care for dogs who need some medical attention before they can be adopted. You can follow the foundation on Twitter @TessMcIn.)


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16 Responses to Dog Rescue in the USA

  1. Phoenicia says:

    As much as I am wary of dogs , I hate the thought of any animal being abused. I cannot comprehend how someone can mistreat an animal, just because.

    Dog shelter’s and other charities invest time and money to ensure animals receive the love and care they deserve. One should think long and hard before committing to bring one into their home. It is a great responsibility, one which I know I could not take on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sabrina Quairoli says:

    All my dogs over the years were rescue dogs. The brought so much joy and fun in our lives. Thanks for sharing the history.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I volunteered to walk dogs every Saturday at the Humane Society for a year until Speckles found me. I can’t even imagine who dropped her off and why. She was fully trained and knew all kinds of neat commands. She really was the once-in-a-lifetime dog and I wish she would have lived more than ten years. I can’t see how people will spend a lot of money on pedigreed dogs when so many need good homes. My current rescue is a total basketcase, but I adopted her knowing it wouldn’t be easy and that not many homes would be quiet enough to suit her skittish ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ramonamckean says:

    Ken, thanks for your post. I grew up loving dogs, though I haven’t had one for years. I recall, as a kid, the lack of regulations for dog owners. Dogs were seldom spayed or neutered, which meant for a terrible number of unwanted puppies. Along with dogs roaming freely and being hit by cars, the mortality rate due to accident, euthanasia or downright murder was horrendous. I am grateful for the generally higher level of consciousness today, though we have a long ways to go still. Thank goodness for the good-hearted individuals who make it a mission/practice to care for “unwanted” pets and for all the responsible and loving dog (and other pet) owners of our world. I can tell that you are one of those!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Donna Janke says:

    It was heartwarming to read about dogs who had a rough (and possibly abusive) beginning now having owners who scramble eggs every morning or buy organic uncured hot dogs for them. I also enjoyed reading about the history of rescues.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. lenie5860 says:

    Ken, one of our sons is developmentally challenged and a few years ago I took him to our local animal shelter to find a dog for Christmas. She is a bichon-frise, 9 lbs. soaking wet and better dressed than I am. She has booties, coats with hoods, T-shirts and 2 or 3 beds so she can choose which one to sleep on. Getting this doggie for him was the best thing we ever did. He used to go into depression because he was so lonely – now he has Zoe to love and boy, does he ever, no more depression.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Love rescuing dogs. In Spain I had one that was a mix of everything under the sun and highly intellingent. One day he thought he was losing me and did “a Lassie”. When I got home he was not there and in the morning he still wasn’t back so I started looking for him. Then the phone rang and it turns out he had found his way to my then boyfriends house. Don’t know how he managed because he had only gone there by car before. But he did. Talk about an intelligent dog. When I left Spain I couldn’t take him with me but he found a new home with a rich Saudi family. Am sure they gave him better food than I did:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As a huge animal lover, cat and dogs both, I’m a firm believer that adopting animals from shelters is the only way to go. You get some of the most beautiful, loving, loyal friends ever if you go that route. It’s almost as if they somehow know what you’ve done for them and spend the rest of their lives paying you back. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the way the network for Dog Rescue is growing. Our neighbours have adopted several homeless dogs. A fellow winner of a Readers’ Favorite Awards in 2014 (when I also won an award for my chocolate book) wrote about Rescued Dogs. And your wonderful post assures me how the movement is growing. That is really encouraging for us animal lovers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. One of my good friends does greyhound rescues–I think she currently has 3 of them that she kept! I like dogs, but haven’t owned one for years. Too much apartment life for a while. I still get Puppyitis, but with the travel we do, it wouldn’t be fair to the dog. The last dog I had came from a shelter and she was a great dog–quite the protector of me!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jeannette Paladino says:

    Thanks, Ken, for such a detailed description of the rescue dog movement. It is wonderful that so many more dogs are finding loving homes. I’ve never owned a dog but I see how much love there is between dogs and their owners. I always love seeing the dog videos on Facebook. They are so touching.


  12. Andy says:

    Strange but true: PETA operates a kill shelter in Virginia.
    (Or not so strange, depending on your view of PETA.)


  13. I think dog rescues are one of the most noble things a person can do in this world.
    Some people look at my past, considering I was a hunter when I was younger, you must remember the area I grew up in, and also it was a form of income.
    Dogs were not pets to us, nor where they a tool for hunting. My dogs were part of my family, losing one was as hard as loosing a sibling.
    Giving a dog a home, and a 2nd chance is something that not only benefits them, it makes you a better human being. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Anarette says:

    I adopted all my dogs from the shelter and one cat with four kittens that I found as she tried to find shelter under my neighbor’s porch. They change your life in such a positive way. Especially mama cat was very grateful that she found a safe home. She was the best cat ever.


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