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Why We Rescue

The foundation for every rescue, regardless of size, type or longevity, is to save lives.


Three guiding principles create this foundation:

  • Do No Harm

  • Quality of Life

  • No Barriers to Life Saving

Every decision made for an animal must be based on these three principles.

Do No Harm

With every decision an organization makes, it should always be made with the basis of Do No Harm as the guiding principle. This includes all aspects of animal care and standards.  It is inclusive of things such as refusal to cosmetically alter an animal when the surgery is not medically necessary for the animal's health, including declawing, debarking, ear and tail cropping. For example, Do No Harm includes refusal to adopt to a potential adopter, when after educational counseling, they insist they will declaw the cat.  In such cases, it would be advisable to locate a cat in rescue that is already declawed.


Do No Harm also includes environmental factors. If a cat is thriving while living outside, capturing it only to have it live in a confined space for months or years on end is harming that animal. Intaking healthy animals only to euthanize them when time or space runs out is considered doing harm. Warehousing animals is the act of keeping animals in confined spaces for extraordinary lengths of time, including life, and is considered doing harm. Have you improved the animal’s life by rescuing it?

To follow this principle, a rescuer will never make a decision for an animal that would cause them harm in any way.

Quality of Life

Every decision made on behalf of an animal is based on quality of life. Rescues can choose to spend countless amounts of money to save an animal, but if at the end, the animal can’t eat or move or must live in pain, a life hasn’t been saved. Instead, suffering has been prolonged. A three-legged dog or a one-eyed cat can enjoy the same quality of life as any other healthy pet. Evaluate every animal as an individual and assess its individual needs, then decide how best to meet those needs. A dog that is too unpredictably aggressive to be around people may be forced to live in an isolated kennel for life – what is his quality of life?

To follow this principle, a rescuer will never make a decision for an animal that would hinder the animal’s quality of life and, conversely, will only make decisions that enhance or sustain an animal’s quality of life.


No Barriers to Life Saving

Rescues exist to save lives. This can’t be accomplished if barriers are created that prevent adoptions or returning pets to owners. Rescuers should search high and low for homes that match their animals in need. From an animal’s point of view, the choice is easy – a preference to live in an apartment over possible death or continued homelessness.



Creating blanket policies that prevent animals from finding homes restricts rescue. Not all dogs need a fenced yard. Many, many animals live long happy lives in rentals or mobile homes. Some cats thrive when allowed supervised, contained access to the outdoors. Every animal is an individual and should be matched based on its individual needs. Blanket restrictions create barriers to life saving.



Rescuers need to recognize what they have control over and what they do not. Once an animal has left your care, you have very little control over its life in its new home. Always set the animal and its new family up for success by educating, providing resources and a lifeline for assistance anytime in the animal’s life. But be aware of where you may have unrealistic expectations or where the rescue organization may overstep its bounds, because while some rescuers wait for “the perfect home,” good animals are being killed daily.

Example: a rescue spends a half day completing a home check, then one week after placement, the adopter moves into an apartment.

Example: an adopter has a life-changing event and gives their adopted pet to a family member, most likely violating the adoption contract. Rather than being upset and starting down a road of upset, lawsuit or confrontation, the rescue is better off seeing it as a positive – the animal moved to someone it knows, eliminating the stress of being returned, and didn’t take up time, space and resources returning to the rescue.

Denying an adoption without a conversation

Making pass/fail decisions from answers on a questionnaire is inadequate and a barrier to life saving.


Application question: “What happened to your past animals?”

Answer: “My last dog was hit by a car.”

On paper, a rescue may be inclined to deny the adoption of a dog. Upon having a conversation with the applicant, the rescue learns that he was on vacation and while his dog was boarded at his vet clinic, he was hit by a car and killed.

Application question: “How may pets do you have?”

Answer: “27 cats”

On paper, a rescue may be inclined to deny the adoption of a cat. Upon having a conversation with the applicant, the rescue learns that she is referring to the community cat colony she cares for in her yard and that she considers them “her cats.”

Application question: “Would you be willing to hire a trainer to solve any behavior issues?”

Answer: “No”

On paper, a rescue may be inclined to deny the adoption of a dog. Upon having a conversation with the applicant, the rescue learns that the applicant is a certified behavior trainer and will handle training needs herself.

Without the conversation-based adoption protocol, three animals would have been denied homes and three people would have been denied a new family member while being turned off to adoption and rescues. Denied applicants are more likely to go to a pet store or breeder after one negative experience trying to adopt, and they will also share their bad experience with others.

People who apply to adopt an animal from a rescue or shelter are already trying to do the right thing. Why would an organization make it harder for them?

To follow this principle, a rescuer will not create barriers that prevent life saving.

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