Best Practices: Homeless Pets Needing Help (Part 2)

Thank you to Dallas Rising of Small Dog Rescue of Minnesota and Emily Day of Alliston and District Humane Society for writing today’s post. This post covers the following topics:

a.       Handling cases involving lawsuits (ex. Puppy mill busts)

b.      Working with local law enforcement to ensure animal welfare

c.       Intake policies

Dallas’ Take:

There is no shortage of homeless animals needing help.  The thing you need to think about is where you want to take animals in from and how you want to do that.

As a new rescue, you likely won’t be involved in any cases where masses of dogs are coming to you from a puppy mill bust, a hoarding case, or a severe neglect case.  If you are contacted about any of these, make sure you assess whether or not you feel your volunteers have the skills needed to support special needs dogs in recovery and that you can afford the specialized vetting most neglected dogs require.  If this is an area of special interest for you, it would be good to connect with local law enforcement and other groups who already work on cases like these and get advice about how it works in your area, and where the need is.

Getting animal  cruelty and neglect laws enforced is often very difficult. If this is an area where you want to focus, it would be good to figure out what the humane agent certification is like for your area.  Note that humane officers do not always do their jobs and it shouldn’t be taken for granted that they will follow up on cases reported to them.  However, as a rescue, you are not able to enforce the law.  You are only able to help gather evidence to support law enforcement in doing its job.  And pester them relentlessly until they address the issue if they don’t respond right away.  Keep a log of the date and time you called, who you spoke to, and what was said.  Getting multiple people to call on one issue is always a good strategy.

Intake policies will vary from group to group.  Our group is the only rescue group I am aware of in our area with a waiting list.  We have the philosophy that whoever is contact us for help only has to worry about the animal(s) they are calling about, not the dozens or so we do.  So we tell them we will take the dog if they can keep the dog safe until they reach the top of our waiting list.  We feel this is the fair way to go about things.  Unfortunately, that also means that we end up with the dogs no other rescue would take much of the time.  We get a lot of seniors, dogs with health issues, behavior challenges, etc.  But, as a rescue, we feel that helping those who have been rejected time and again is appropriate given our mission.

We have an surrender form we ask independent parties to fill out.  These are called family surrenders. We ask about the dog’s history, why he or she is being given up, and for vetting details, if they have been around other dogs, cats, or kids.  We have a specific intake person who only interacts with family surrender people because they require more time and need to have their hands held through the process more than a shelter transfer, or a dog coming from another rescue person or puppy mill.  You should pick someone who is very patient and interested in taking a person from inquiry to surrender – the whole way.  That person will be responsible for helping the person prep their dog for surrender, have them gather needed vetting history papers, fill out the surrender contract, and be the go-between for the surrendering party and the foster home.  We request a donation from family surrenders, but we don’t require one.

The other intake person in our group handles all the rest, including maintaining the waiting list.  They are the person who gathers pertinent info about the dog, finds a suitable foster home (often working with the foster coordinator on this as well as the foster team leads) and works with transport coordinators if needed.  We enforce a one week break for foster parents in between dogs in case there is a return and to prevent burnout.

When a dog is returned to the program, they are automatically moved to the top of the list in our rescue.

There is a constant dance between intake and the rest of the group. It is critical everyone focuses on doing their job, remains professional, and understanding about each of the pressures involved in the various roles.  Supporting the other people on your rescue team is so important.  If someone is struggling or feeling overwhelmed or has a personal emergency, ask what you can do to help.

Emily’s Take:

Homeless pets needing help

One of the most difficult things, but also one of the most important, is to remember to always be professional when handling certain situations. It is very easy to allow your emotions to take over your common sense when dealing with cases involving lawsuits and the well being of animals. In the rescue world you see a lot of terrible things and you must ALWAYS handle these things with an ounce of professionalism.


Instances where there are lawsuits such as puppy mill busts must be handled carefully. It is very easy to get excited about the dogs that have been “saved” but if you are pushing them through the system before you allow for the proper procedures to be completed, you are doing no one any favours.

Remember to get ownership of the dogs before taking adoption applications on them.

It can also prove beneficial to take some before / after pictures for promotional material.

Law enforcement

Make sure you work with law enforcement, canine control and any other animal welfare agencies rationally and with a clear head. If you hinder their work, you are helping the individuals who should be punished. Often times, rescues get involved and start pulling dogs out of situations before the law enforcement is charged. It is prudent to work WITH law enforcement – not against it.

Intake policies

Intake policies are one of the things that are often overlooked in rescues. When a rescue takes in a dog, they should have a specific outline and holding period that should be observed. (We will never again work with a certain JRT rescue who took a biter and adopted him out before they even had him!) Rescues should go over specific criteria when intaking an animal. The important criteria that should be assessed when first intaking a dog are:

  • physical check
  • fleas/ticks/lice
  • ear mites
  • temperament check
  • Food aggression?
  • Toy aggression?
  • Inter-dog aggression?

Anything further can be assessed during the time you have the dog. These are simply good starting points.


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4 Responses to Best Practices: Homeless Pets Needing Help (Part 2)

  1. Stray or Found animals:

    Rescue organizations cannot take in stray or abandoned animals legally in the state of Texas. Animals are still considered “property” in Texas, and it’s considered theft. If an owner comes forward to claim the animal, LBR has absolutely NO legal claim to the animal, and would have to relinquish the animal or face criminal charges.

    It’s also an ethical issue.

    Hypothetically, say your boxer escaped from your back yard due to a blown down fence. No fault of yours, right? Say the neighbor a block over finds your dog two hours later, and rather than placing the dog with the local animal shelter so you could find him, they decide to give him to a friend or local rescue instead? How would you like that? I’m thinking you wouldn’t like it all and would consider that neighbor a bad, or unethical, person for not trying to find you, the dogs rightful owner. All owners should be given the right to find their animal, and the only way that’s going to happen is through the local animal shelter. This actually happened to one of our adopted dogs that accidentally escaped one day, less than 12 hours later we found her on Craigslist “Free to Good Home”. That person may have meant well, but we almost never found a beloved pet because of it.

    Animal shelters are not evil entities.

    LBR has a great working relationship with over 90 North and Central Texas shelters and as long as we know where the person is taking the stray boxer, we stand a very good chance of being able to assist that dog once it’s stray hold is up. MANY times the dogs are reclaimed by their owners in these situations. In fact, to my knowledge, none that we have referred to shelters has been euthanized, but of course, I can’t say that with 100% certainty. If we do not follow a cities rules, we can lose the privilege of pulling dogs from that city’s shelter. Contrary to many peoples belief, shelters do not have to work with rescue groups, they choose to to save animals. If as an individual, someone chooses to take a different course, that is their choice; but over 300 boxers per year depend on our keeping our relationships with the local shelters in place.

    HOWEVER, on the other hand, and this has happened several times at LBR, if a found dog goes through the shelter system, and an owner comes to LBR and says “that’s my dog and I want him back”. LBR can effectively say yes or no to that request, at our sole discretion. Once a dog is released to LBR by a legal shelter entity, LBR is the legal owner, and anyone claiming to own that dog no longer has a legal claim. LBR cannot be forced to relinquish the animal to them, and we have the choice to do whatever is in the best interests of the dog. Without that release from a legal animal shelter, we have no choice.

    With that said, most of our dogs come from area shelters. The shelters know us and will often be the one to contact us when a boxer comes in. We printed Magnets several years ago to give to the shelters. They say “Got Boxers?” and have pictures of boxers on them (in the various colors), and they contain all of our contact information. That way, with the magnets stuck on a filing cabinet in the shelter, we know we’re always in the front of their minds and we hope they’ll call us if a prospective rescue boxer comes in.

    We also have volunteers that are members of the two large rescue Yahoo groups here in the Metroplex. Many of the larger shelters have people, referred to as Shelter Walkers, that post pictures of the dogs in their respective shelters to these Yahoo groups.

    We also take in Owner Surrender dogs when we’re able to, though there’s usually a waiting period since we’re usually inundated with shelter dogs.

    LBR tracks all boxers that come across our radar on our Volunteer Portal (we started by using a Google Spreadsheet). We assign each boxer in need a BIN Number (BIN stands for Boxer In Need). We track that dog from start to outcome. ALL information we have on the dogs is included in this spreadsheet. We also send a volunteer out to each BIN to evaluate temperament and overall health status.

    On the spreadsheet, we have tabs for:

    Current BINs. These are dogs that are currently in shelters or needing to be surrendered by their owners.

    Urgent BINs. These are dogs that are our top priority and euthanasia dates have usually been set by the shelter.

    Tagged BINs: Dogs we have tagged for rescue, but not yet pulled from the shelter.

    LBR Dogs: This is where the dogs pulled by LBR go after we have them in our program.

    Other BINs: This is where we move the BINs that have been rescued by another group, reclaimed by an owner, or adopted from the shelters.

    Lost BINs: This is where we move the BINs that were euthanized.

    Our Shelter (Intake) Committee maintains the BIN Spreadsheet and we post the BINs on our website so that our volunteers/foster homes and other rescue groups can see which dogs are in need.

    The Shelter Committee also makes sure we keep communication open with shelters that have a BIN we’re working on. Communication is KEY when working with shelters. Remember, shelter workers want to see dogs leave their shelters alive, and they have one of the most thankless jobs I can think of. Rescue volunteers should be polite and courteous when working with them. Respect them, and I assure you, they will respect your organization. If you tag a dog from a shelter, YOU MUST communicate when you plan to pick that animal up, and if you are not going to make it on the set date, you MUST call them and make sure it’s noted on the dogs kennel card. Failure to do so could cause that animal to perish needlessly, and you have no one to blame but you for bad communication skills. The shelter cannot be blamed for a rescues failure to pick up a dog when they say they will, and if they’re full, well, they have no choice but to make room for the many new animals that arrive daily. Sorry, but I see this all the time and it pisses me off that often the shelter is blamed for something that is, ultimately, the rescues fault. Admittedly, not all shelters are great at communication, but with those you just have to work until you find the right employee willing to help you and your group, start with the supervisor and go from there. Be nice, be polite, it will get you much further than you think.

    My two cents. Hope it helps. The BIN Spreadsheet has been invaluable to us here at LBR!

  2. Shereen says:

    Here’s a legal question for everyone….most of us have dealt with legal issues with incoming dogs, however, how do you handle removing a dog from an adopters home if they are abusing, neglecting or otherwise not meeting the terms of the adoption contract?

  3. In response to the question about reclaiming a dog who has been adopted out from your rescue:

    That’s why having clear language in your adoption contract is important, have a legal advisor look over your contract before starting adoptions, keep digital and hard copies of the contract on hand, and you are set. The one time we went to reclaim a dog, we called the police ahead of time, to give them a heads up in case things got ugly. We had two people go to the home instead of one. If the person sues you, it will go to small claims court and take time, but in our contract we also stipulate that if sued and found not guilty, the accusing party pays SDR’s legal fees.

    So, bottom line is, have a clear and professional adoption contract, and if you need to use it, you should be fine.

  4. Our contract stipulates that should the adopter not follow our outline of required care that we can take our dog back.
    Yes, it is a well known fact in the Houston area that you have to stay on the good side of shelters if you want them to work with you. But in fairness, if you are going to waste their time and not be reliable then they don’t want to work with you. HBHR responds every time we get an inquiry whether we can pull the beagle or not.

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