What’s the Difference Between Animal Shelter vs Animal Rescue?

rescue dog wears an adopt me scarf

“Adopt, don’t shop,” is a phrase you’ll often hear when thinking about getting a dog. While there are ethical breeders that will care for new litters of puppies or kittens, the animals are still being bred specifically for selling. We cover adopting vs buying in a separate post.

According to the ASPCA, 6.3 million companion animals enter U.S. shelters every year. With an animal shelter or rescue, you’ll be giving these unfortunate animals a second chance. Adopting from a shelter or rescue will be less expensive than breeder services, which typically charge a higher premium for purebred animals.

If adopting an animal interests you, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between an animal shelter and a rescue. In this article, we’ll be going through the different types of shelters and rescues, how they work, and what to look out for before adopting.

Animal Shelters, Dog Shelters

An animal shelter, also commonly referred to as a “pound,” is a physical location that receives funding from state governments and donations. It may be called a “humane society,” but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s part of the Humane Society of the United States. Most shelters are staffed by volunteers and have a certain number of kennels they can house animals in.

Shelters typically receive dogs and cats from owners who can no longer care for them. Homeless animals are also rescued from the streets, where they are taken in for potential adoption.

Animal shelters are often referred to as either “kill” or “no kill.” If a shelter is a kill shelter, it means that after a certain amount of time, if an animal isn’t adopted, the shelter will euthanize it. While the need for kill shelters lessens as more people have their animals spayed or neutered, areas with a high volume of incoming animals are forced to euthanize animals that aren’t being adopted to make room for others.

Benefits of adopting through a shelter:

  • Straightforward, same day adoptions
  • Cheap, with only a small adoption fee
  • Most animals are already spayed and neutered
  • Shelters update an animal’s vaccinations
  • Lots of options for adoptable pets

Disadvantages to adopting through a shelter:

  • Animal’s history is unknown; may have trust or behavioral issues
  • You don’t have as much choice in available breeds
  • Feeling pressured to adopt that day for an animal you may not necessarily want
  • Little time to think about it – the animal you like may not be there if you come back later

Ultimately, animal shelters are the right choice if you’re not too picky about the animal you get and are looking to adopt the same day. You’ll also need to steel your resolve when going to a shelter, as some may pressure you into “saving” an animal. You should never adopt an animal just because you pity it. Don’t feel bad about leaving a shelter empty-handed if you didn’t find the right pet for you.

Animal Rescues, Dog Rescues, Puppy Rescues

An animal rescue is an independent, volunteer-run organization that is usually funded through donations, not government funding. One animal rescue may not be the same as another, so it’s important to do your research. For example, you’ll want to find a rescue that’s nonprofit and has a policy of spaying/neutering and vaccinating incoming animals.

It’s also important to know where the rescue organization gets its dogs from. Some may save specific breeds, such as retired racing greyhounds, puppies only, or large breeds. Others may work with shelters to give animals a second chance at finding a home.

Rescue groups may not charge much for adoptions, but they will have a more intensive adoption process. You may be required to schedule a visit and bring along your existing pets, if you have any. There can also be an adoption waitlist for certain animals like puppies and kittens. A waitlist means weeks or months before you’ll be able to adopt.

Benefits of adopting through a rescue:

  • Animals are already socialized in an environment less stressful than a shelter
  • Rescues are more familiar with the pets they have
  • Will have up-to-date listings on their websites
  • You may have more choice in the breed or age of the animals

Disadvantages to adopting through a rescue:

  • Legitimacy will differ from rescue to rescue – do your research!
  • Adoption process can take weeks to months
  • May have strict requirements for your home, such as having a fenced-in yard
  • Policies on spaying/neutering and maintaining up-to-date vaccinations may not be as strict

Choosing a rescue is the right choice if you’re looking for a more specific type of animal and don’t want to go through a breeder. You’ll also need to do your own research before contacting it. You may not get a pet for several weeks or months if you go this way, so be patient!

For more facts about animal shelters and animal rescues, visit the ASPCA’s Shelter and Intake Pet Statistics.

Photo 76433814 / Dog Adoption Mexitographer | Dreamstime.com
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