How Animal Rescue Organizations Work

Horrifying cases of animal cruelty make the news, but neglect is the most common form of animal abuse. See more pictures of cats.
© Ulm

The 22 boxer puppies' eyes were a startling red. They were born in a puppy mill and had developed a condition called "cherry eye," or prolapsed inner eyelids. The dogs needed surgery. They also needed a bath -- many of them were stained with feces and infested with mites. They desperately needed food. Most of all, they needed human attention. Fortunately, they wound up at Northwest Boxer Rescue, an organization that gives boxers medical treatment and places them with foster and permanent homes [source: NBR].

Horrifying cases of cruelty and dog fighting make the news, but neglect is actually the most common form of abuse [source: Pet Abuse]. It can range from the extreme -- pets kept chained and malnourished in filthy, squalid shacks -- to the milder and more insidious forms that stem from simple ignorance of an animal's needs.


Some people don't understand the exercise and nutrition requirements of dogs, which are among the most abused animals in the United States. Other people purchase pets without understanding the true costs of pet ownership. Still others obtain exotic or fad pets for which they can't provide an appropriate environment. Sooner or later, all these animals must be rescued. If they're lucky, the owner recognizes the problem, admits his or her failings and brings the animal to a shelter. In other cases, the animal is dependent on the vigilance of neighbors, authorities -- and rescue organizations.

"Rescue," of course, can be defined broadly. So, too, can the range of situations from which people believe animals should be rescued. Some organizations rescue pets and farm animals only from clear cases of cruelty. Other organizations target laboratories, circuses and slaughterhouses. Many rescue groups seek to raise awareness of these issues, but extremist groups sometimes resort to violence or breaking and entering to "liberate" animals.

In this article, we'll take a look at animal rescue groups: how they operate, how they find funding and how you can get involved.



Animal Rescue Organization Missions

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.


Animal Rescue Grants

Because animal rescue organizations are largely not-for-profit, many of them obtain funding from charitable donations. Organizations also supplement that funding with grants.

Some animal rescue grants come from charitable organizations. For example, the Humane Society offers grants to local shelters. It also maintains an online listing of other available rescue grants [source: Animal Sheltering].


Many grants, unsurprisingly, seek to prevent abuse and neglect, and to that end quite a few are designed to encourage neutering. Some organizations offer community grants, designed to reach out to whole cities or neighborhoods through concerted education or neutering programs. These grants usually go to municipalities rather than to shelters.

Some grants come from for-profit corporations that maintain charitable arms. Petco maintains a foundation devoted to helping animals in need. Recently, it's been working with local shelters to help keep family pets from becoming casualties of the financial crisis. PetSmart, likewise, has a charitable foundation. Both companies have distributed millions to shelters around the United States [source: Animal Sheltering]. Other assistance can come in the form of educational programs or discounts on specialized products and services.

If you run a rescue group and are thinking about applying for an animal rescue grant, take a few tips from the nonprofit world. Have a clear, specific mission. Know exactly how you'll use the grant money, and make sure you have a way of monitoring the money use. And do your research. Most funding organizations have missions at least as specific as those of the groups they help. Your odds of obtaining a grant are much stronger when you appeal to an organization that has a mission similar to your own.

Beyond funding, there are a lot of other ways to help animals in need. Read on.


Helping Rescued Animals

Sadly, an abused animal's troubles don't end when it's rescued from the abusive situation. Many animals face lengthy struggles to regain their health. Some never regain their full abilities, and some have lasting psychological damage in addition to physical scars.

The scars of past abuse can mean that rescued animals are not as easily adopted. Prospective adopters may not want the added challenge of tending to a pet's unusual physical needs. Or they may worry that a dog suffering from past trauma could suddenly turn violent. In some cases, that's a problem for shelter and animal alike. A domestic animal will thrive best in a domestic situation. And the more permanent residents a shelter has, the fewer additional animals it can help.


Many rescue organizations operate as nonprofits, so helping rescued animals can be as simple as opening your checkbook or swiping your credit card. The medical bills of rescued animals can be significant. Some organizations, such as Northeastern Boxer Rescue, allow donors to sponsor the medical costs of individual animals. Some organizations maintain a "kennel fund" to help other animals in crisis. If you're looking for more direct involvement in animal rescue -- or if your budget won't tolerate a hefty donation -- there are plenty of other ways to help.

You might already have as many pets as you can handle. Have you considered providing a foster home to an animal? Foster homes provide healthy environments for animals recovering from abuse or neglect. They allow the animals to get used to living with a stable, caring family. In cases of neglect or abuse, a foster home can help the animal regain its strength or health. Additionally, some animals need to go through a period of mourning for their former owners, even if those owners were neglectful. A foster owner can also help with areas of training that the former owner may have overlooked. Fostered pets are better socialized and better adjusted -- and more adoptable.

To learn more, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Animal Sheltering. "Programs and Services: Financial Assistance." Animal Sheltering: A Service of the Humane Society of the U.S. 2009. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • American Kennel Club. "Breed Rescue Groups." AKC. 2009. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Greyhound Rescue Rehab. "Who We Are." 2008. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • HorseNet Horse Rescue. "About Us." HorseNet. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • National Greyhound Adoption Program. "NGAP War with AMC." NGAP. 2008. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Humane Society of the US. "Animal Cruelty Facts." HSUS Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign. 2009. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Humane Society of the US. "Animal Neglect." HSUS Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign. 2009. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Humane Society of the US. "Frequently Asked Questions about Animal Cruelty." HSUS Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign. 2009. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Northwestern Boxer Rescue. "Available Dogs: Sneakers." NBR. April 2009. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Pet Abuse. "Animal Neglect." 2009. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Pet Abuse. "Is It Cruelty?" 2009. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Pit Bull Rescue Central. "Recommendations for Fostering Pit Bulls." PBRC. 2008. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Purebred Cat Breed Rescue. "Animal Hoarding." 2008. (Accessed 5/5/09)
  • Salk, Pia. "Rescuers and Humane Society and Animal Shelter Volunteers: The Unsung Heroes of Dog Rescue and Cat Rescue." Adopt-A-Pet. (Accessed 5/5/09)