An animal rescue organization's mission often comes from its founder's personal encounter with animal abuse. For example, Maryland's HorseNet specializes in "senior care." It rescues horses that have outlived their usefulness to certain industries - like brood mares that can no longer breed and carriage horses that have gone blind. Founder Elle Williams started the organization after getting her first horse, which had been beaten so severely that it panicked at the sight of anything resembling a riding crop [source: HorseNet].
Many organizations, out of necessity, devote themselves to one species or breed. The needs of a horse are obviously vastly different from the needs of a kitten. And some animals have breed-specific behaviors -- which can be made worse by inbreeding or abusive conditions -- that are best handled by specialists.
Some organizations further specialize by rescuing animals from specific situations. Greyhound rescue groups typically help dogs that have been deemed too slow to be lucrative [source: Greyhound Rescue Rehab]. In recent years, pit bulls have needed a lot of help. Dog fighting -- though it is illegal everywhere -- is a growing trend. Cockfighting and the violent interspecies combat known as "hog-dogging" also leave injured, maimed and traumatized victims that need immediate medical attention and intensive resocialization [source: HSUS].
Sometimes the need for rescue isn't the pet owner's fault. When someone is called up for active military duty, he or she can't bring a dog. So some animal rescue organizations specialize in foster placement for the pets of military families.
Most rescue organizations work to prevent abuse and treat its results. Overpopulation (especially through reckless breeding) is a major cause of animal neglect, so rescue organizations work actively to advocate spaying and neutering -- often through community education programs and "spay days." Organizations also teach obedience classes and offer animal-care programs designed to keep an animal's behavior problems from leading to abuse or abandonment.
With so many rescue situations, several million animals wind up in shelters every year. Caring for them all can become quite expensive. On the next page, we'll look at animal rescue grants.