How to Identify Responsible Sanctuaries and Rehomes:
The facilities. Are they reasonably clean and well-kept? Just as importantly, are they suitable for the animals’ species, breed, or type? Using dogs as an example, hound breeds are fine in a kennel environment with other hounds as long as they get adequate exercise, but when companion breeds such as poodles end up in rehoming situations, responsible organisations will have volunteers who will temporarily take the dogs into their home. For dogs, most breed-specific rescues are good sources as they understand the specific needs of the breed.
Where the animals came from. Were these animals voluntarily surrendered by their previous owner? Did the previous owner give them away because they didn’t want them? Or were they sold, or did the owner not consent to them being taken? If you bought a ‘rescue’ pet and it turned out that the pet had been confiscated from someone who was struggling to care for it because they had terminal cancer, and the pet had been a huge source of comfort in their last days, how would that make you feel? There are charities around such as The Cinnamon Trust that help people who are struggling to care for their animals (and I’ve never heard anything bad about them) and these charities deserve to be supported more than charities that confiscate animals to sell. How about if you bought the same animal, and then found out the person you got it from had in fact bought it from a breeder and sold it on to you for more than they paid for it? You might feel one way about giving your money to a ‘sanctuary’ that ‘rescues’ animals from horrible situations, but you might feel differently if the ‘sanctuary’ was just a private menagerie and your money enabled the owner to fund their own lifestyle and buy and keep animals on the cheap. Beware of horror stories which may be exaggerated or fabricated. There is nothing wrong with an honest petting zoo and such places can be run with a high welfare standard, but what is dishonest is someone using their private menagerie as a front for begging.
Are the animals suitable for you, or indeed any other potential owner? Animals that are unpredictable or potentially dangerous should not be rehomed. There are worse things that can happen than euthanasia or humane slaughter in cases where it’s not reasonable or fair on the animal to rehome it. I’m aware of situations where elderly or semi-feral animals were chased around and transported in stressful situations for the sake of publicity stunts, where onsite euthanasia might well have been the kinder option. Responsible rehomers just like responsible breeders will accept back an animal if its new home doesn’t work out. They will assess animals and try to match them to suitable new owners, and won’t blame or guilt trip the owner if things don’t work out.
Do they specialise, or do they just collect anything? For example, a sanctuary specialising in unwanted horses and donkeys is much more likely to be a serious organisation able to meet the animals' needs than a 'sanctuary' that wants as many different animals as possible, probably to make it more attractive to tourists.
If you don’t take heed of what to look out for when rehoming an animal, be aware you could be contributing to the following (real) examples:
Irresponsible ‘charity’ and ‘rescue’ examples in order of increasing severity:
- Posts on social media of the general gist: “We have 1,000 chickens in horrible condition rescued from a battery farm that will be sent for slaughter if people don’t take them and rehabilitate them and keep them as pets.” There is nothing wrong with buying knackered battery chickens because they’re cheap or you enjoy them. However, doing so does nothing to address the problem that people want to buy cheap eggs, nor does it improve the welfare of laying chickens. Chickens will continue to be produced and used in battery farms and the vast majority of them will be slaughtered. Slaughtered battery chickens are used to make chicken soup, which feeds people, and pet food, which feeds pets. They are not wasted. If you care about chicken welfare, you would bring more benefit by buying either eggs or laying hens from a farmer who uses a higher-welfare system.
- We once bought two cats from a feral cat rescue. On the phone, the person said they were a male and a female, both spayed and neutered. The person who later delivered them, said they were two females, both spayed. One of the cats was orange and a friend who is a cat lover told me that the majority of orange cats are male. The next summer, I and several other people observed the other cat loitering about the place accompanied by a kitten that looked very similar to the orange cat.
- A person who has a webpage describing themselves as a ‘rescued animal shelter’ buys some healthy and well-cared-for animals from a breeder or other reputable source. The person then posts a picture of the animals on their website with a fictitious horror story about how they ‘rescued’ the animals and begging for ‘donations’ to pay for veterinary care the animals supposedly need and people to volunteer to do unpaid work helping them care for their animals.
- Some rehoming centres with dogs for sale advertise ‘puppies rescued from a puppy farm’ for a similar price as puppies from a decent breeder. Frequently the puppies have been bought from a puppy farm and puppies bought in this way are just dogs bred irresponsibly and sold via a dealer, exactly the sort of source people should be discouraged from using.
- Some operations calling themselves dog rescues specialise in taking feral dogs from the streets in foreign countries and importing them and selling them as pets. Not only are these feral dogs likely to make unsuitable pets and struggle to adjust to this sort of life, this practice has a large carbon footprint, risks bringing disease into the country, and does nothing to solve the problem of feral dogs in the country of origin. Shockingly, some of these street dogs might also be breeds or landraces genetically unique to the region, and this amounts to Westerners pillaging cultural currency. Working with local people to help them value and care for their street dogs and utilising trap, neuter, release programmes to ensure the dog populations are managed would be a far more ethical (but less profitable and less marketable) approach.
- Some high-profile animal charities no longer accept voluntary surrenders of animals whose owners can no longer care for them, and instead are focused on generating money and publicity by confiscating animals from people who are often vulnerable or may have mental or physical issues, and selling the animals and suing the owners for mistreating them and extortionate expenses in keeping them during the meantime. There is a serious conflict of interest in these cases. While some people unfortunately do wilfully neglect or deliberately harm animals, these people should be dealt with by the police, not charities. Vulnerable people who are struggling to meet the needs of themselves and their animals need to be treated with compassion, not dragged through the legal system. People who find they can no longer care adequately for an animal they own need places that will take and rehome their animals, whether it’s the animal’s breeder, a breed rescue, or another provider.
- Some zoos claim to be involved in conservation breeding of wild species – when in fact they keep animals in poor conditions that do not meet their welfare needs and squander genetic resources by breeding animals in a way that does not support conservation. For example, the Sea World aquaria keep orcas in unsuitable habitats to use in circus performances, as animals with difficult to achieve welfare requirements, and previously bred them by mating together first-degree relatives and animals of different species. A man in the USA who claimed to be rescuing big cats and breeding them for conservation was in fact using them to breed novelties such as ligers that are no use to conservation and could not be released into the wild.