Rescues Vs Shelters Differences

Rescue Organizations vs. Shelters vs.
Human Societies ~ aka:  SPCA’s
There Are Big Differences

You have been browsing the Internet and’s 100,000+ adoptable dogs & cats listed from your local shelters, humane societies, and pet rescue organizations.

But before you contact the organization that is holding your next ‘love of your life’….its good to know there are many differences between each Rescue/Shelter organization within the Animal Welfare arena.

NOTE: Many Rescues may call themselves “Shelters” and many “Shelters” use the name “Rescue” in their title.
“High Kill” Shelters are Shelters forced to euthanize due to overcrowding. They are contracted [government employees] by the City, County, State.
“Rescues” do not kill due to overcrowding.

*If you’re not sure who you are dealing with ~ ask them if they have to, by law, take in any Dog or Cat relinquished to them? If they answer ‘Yes’: They are a Shelter. If they answer ‘No’ they are a Rescue who have the right to decide what pets they will take ownership of.
Good luck! Hope this helps: Read on…below:

#1.  Animal Shelters vs. Rescue Organizations

Your local city shelter, often also called Animal Services, Animal Control or even “the pound” —are contracted/funded by their City, County or State.  Many are overwhelmed with the numbers of pets coming in, because they ‘take in’ everything that is dropped off to them. It also means, and they don’t tell you, if they are overcrowded, full up, that many will be euthanized.  They likely have an “open door” policy & that means they do not turn away any animals and are forced to put animals to sleep to make room. While that fact is depressing, many modern shelter facilities themselves are bright, clean, and inviting, and the pets are ever optimistic that they’ll be one of the lucky ones — that they’ll be adopted by someone like you!

Before you adopt from a city animal shelter, understand that most city shelter pets have an unknown history. Bring everyone in your household that will be part of this animal’s new ‘pack’ and spend plenty of time with the pet you want to adopt, outside of their kennel, like in an adoption office play yard, or even just a hallway or lobby.

Many shelters have volunteers that help the adopting public, but most have little to no formal screening process — it is up to you to select a dog or cat that will be a good match for your home.

Be prepared for learn as much about your Dog or Cat from whomever before bringing them home.  That way you can know what to expect.  Also bare in mind this little pet has gone through a lot of emotional stress and it will take a good 3 months before they feel truly safe and can open up and show you all their characteristics.

Be prepared to possibly need the help of a trainer or adoption-experienced friend to help you through the normal adjustment of your new dog/cat into your lifestyle, especially if you have other pets or children.

Make time to take your new dog or cat to your vet for a full checkup, and understand you may have to help them get through a common shelter cold, that they often contract,  in the first few weeks.

Shelters are generally government funded and contracted by the City, County, State.   Hence by law they have to take in whatever pets are relinquished to them every day, hence the overflow and need to euthanize.   Nationwide here in the USA these Shelters are euthanizing 5,500 – 11,000 Dogs & Cats EVERY day.

Rescues on the other hand, are individuals that ‘startup’ their own Rescue business and are doing their best to rescue Dogs & Cats in their community, or particular breeds they focus on. 

They are generally non-profit, rely on friends to foster and volunteer and do not euthanize unless for medical or temperament problems.  They raise and use their own money and the majority of them are ‘mum and pop’ operations using their own money to pay vet bills, feed and all other expenses until a worthy home can be found for their dogs and cats.

#2. SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or “Humane Society”

Each one is an independent organization, “Humane Society and SPCA”  are just descriptive words — like the word ‘bank’ is in US Bank and Bank of America? not connected to each other. It can be confusing!

Many people even mistakenly think that the Humane Society of the United States runs all humane societies. They do not! They do help animals through legislation and in disasters, but do not have a shelter themselves.

Some Humane Societies and SPCA’s are “limited admission”. Limited admission organizations often have their animals for many months, and use foster homes.   That means they do not have to euthanize animals to make room for new pets they take on.

Others, are “open door” with animal control contracts, just like a city shelter, so they do euthanize to make room.

Many “open door” humane societies run programs that have helped reduce pet overpopulation in the cities they serve.  They may have the pets for many weeks, and know more about their behavior and health than a city shelter.

Aside from if that makes your heart ache when you visit, it may affect how much they know about their pets.
Some operate exactly like a city shelter, overwhelmed and holding pets only a few days.
Adoption fees vary greatly! In Southern California, they range from $20 to $325.

#3. Rescue Organizations ~ Many are “Non-Profit, 501 (c) 3

A rescue can be a private citizen or a non-profit organization. They vary as much as stores vary from one to another!

Rescues are typically “limited admission” and use foster homes or boarding kennels.

 Because they pour so much time, love and money into saving dogs & cats, their adoption fees can range from $150 to $400. They will usually have you fill out an adoption application, conduct a phone or in-person interview, and ask to visit your home to evaluate it for the safety of the particular dog or cat you’re interested in adopting.

 The price & process may sound like a lot, but in return you typically get a lot — a pet who’s behavior and medical history is well-known, after-adoption support with training, and a solid return policy should the pet surprise everyone and not be a ‘best match’ for you.

 Understand that each Rescue can operate vastly different from other Rescues so  make sure you ask them to share the “Do’s & Don’ts” with you.

 You can find all your local rescues and shelters  here on our website,, and you can browse our over 100,000+ dogs & cats. represents more than 19,000+ Rescues, Shelters and all the Animal Controls throughout the country.  We too are a 501 (c)(3) and ALL our donations & grants go to helping Rescue Organizations be more successful at re-homing, nationwide.

We here at pride ourselves on our Pure Breed listings as well ~ it is the largest available to dog & cat lovers.  . And since you now have a better understanding of the differences between the types of adoption organizations and know what to expect, we hope you’ll have a better experience adopting your new dog or cat.

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