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What’s the Difference Between a Dog Rescue and Humane Society or Shelter

Rescue Adoption vs. Humane Society vs. Shelter

If you’re ready to adopt a dog, you may be searching on an animal rescue site such as PetFinder or maybe planning on heading to your local humane society. But do you know the difference between the humane society or animal shelter vs. dog rescue?

Adoption organizations such as shelters, humane societies, and rescues are not all created equal. It’s important to know your options and what the differences are to make an educated decision on adopting the perfect dog for you and your family.

Before becoming involved in fostering dogs, I really didn’t think much about the differences on where I adopted my dogs. My first dog, as an adult, was 4-month-old, Symba. My husband found him in a pet store that purchased the litter from a breeder. Our next dog, Nala, was a stray our trainer took in.

Then several years later, we found Abby listed in the newspaper (yes newspaper classifieds were a thing back then) by a family that realized they made a mistake on thinking they could handle a puppy.

Finding a Dog to Adopt Online

By the time we were ready to adopt again, Petfinder was a thing and found JJ. He was living in a foster home with a local dog rescue. Then we adopted Ginger through the rescue we foster for. And our dog, Bear, we found on Craigslist. I don’t necessarily recommend this, but I felt I was educated enough to know what to look for.

Wow, okay that was a long winded history of my dogs!

So now let’s get into why you are here.

Dog Rescue and Humane Society vs. Dog Shelter

Humane Society or Animal Shelter

Your local humane society is NOT part of the Humane Society of the United States. Each humane society in every state, county, or city is independent and have their own set of rules and regulations. In general, these shelters take in owner surrenders and stray dogs that don’t have a home.

Kill Shelters vs. No Kill Shelters
Kill shelters euthanize dogs after a certain amount of time; a no-kill shelter will never euthanize a dog unless it is for medical reasons. I’ve seen the trend of kill shelters becoming less and less, but unfortunately in high-volume areas, sometimes there is no choice but to euthanize dogs. They simply do not have the space or resources to save so many dogs. Please spay or neuter your dog to help save future dogs!

Benefits of adopting from the Humane Society or Shelter:

  • Quick adoption process: you usually can go home with a dog the same day
  • Fewer requirements: if your local dog rescue organization has strict requirements, the human society may not care that you don’t have a fence.
  • Dogs have been through a temperament test
  • Dogs are usually up to date on vaccinations and have been spayed/neutered
  • You can view many dogs at once

Disadvantages of adopting from the Humane Society or Shelter:

  • Because of the quick adoption process, a dog you may see online may not be available when you arrive at the shelter.
  • Even though most shelters perform a temperament test, the dog is most certainly in a stressful environment and you have no idea how the dog behaves in a home environment.
  • You may feel pressured to adopt a dog because you feel “sorry” for the dog, which is never the right reason to adopt!
  • Animal shelters may not have a website that lists available dogs.

Download our free adoption questionnaire
to make sure you ask all the right questions before adopting a dog.


Dog Rescue and Humane Society vs. Dog Shelter

Dog Rescue Organizations

A rescue may be a single person trying to do a good thing, or a full non-profit 501(c)3 organization with dozens of volunteers. Because dog rescues can be so different from one to the next, it is so important to do some research on the rescue before adopting a dog from them.

My personal opinion, but you are better off finding a rescue that is non-profit and has a license number. Does the rescue spay/neuter the dog, is the dog up to date on all vaccinations? I’m sure you don’t want to adopt a sick dog! And if you have to pay for a spay/neuter yourself, expect to pay a lot of money to have it done by your vet.

The application process with a dog rescue may be more intense than the human society or shelter. Expect a reference check, home visit and lots of questions.

Each dog rescue has their own requirements, some require you have a fenced yard, proof you administer your current/past pets heartworm meds, etc.

Find out where the rescue gets their dogs, do they bring in owner surrenders, strays, or work with other shelters? Are the dogs in a foster home? Do they offer any support after adoption? What is the expecting timeline? I know with the rescue I foster for, there is sometimes a waiting list for puppies! It could be months before someone is able to adopt their perfect dog.

It’s also important to note that not all rescues are listed on PetFinder or AdoptAPet. To find animal rescues near you, talk to friends, family and neighbors to find out where they adopted their dog. Sometimes the best rescues are found by recommendations.

There are also plenty of breed-specific rescues. If you are searching for a particular breed, such as a Labrador or German Shepherd, search for the breed + rescue and see what is in your area.

Benefits of adopting from a dog rescue organization:

  • Dogs are usually living in a foster home, so you can learn more about the dog’s true personality
  • Dogs are usually up to date on vaccinations and have been spayed/neutered
  • Rescues are usually more personally involved and sometimes offer after adoption advice and services
  • Most dog rescues will have a website that lists available dogs and details about each dog

Disadvantages of adopting from a dog rescue organization:

  • Longer adoption process: can take days to weeks to months
  • May have strict requirements, such as a fenced yard.

Download our free adoption questionnaire
to make sure you ask all the right questions before adopting a dog.


A Free dog is never free

The “Free” Dog

You’ve also may have considering taking in a dog you’ve seen listed on Facebook or Craigslist for free or a very low price. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a diamond in the rough, and yes you will be saving a dog’s life whichever way you choose.

Take into consideration that nothing is ever free! If you find a dog that is free, chances are the dog has not had its vaccinations or has been spayed/neutered. The dog could be sick or have behavior issues the “seller” is not disclosing. The costs of all of this are way more than the $200-$400 adoption fee you will pay a reputable Humane Society or dog rescue.

As I motioned earlier, we found our dog Bear on Craigslist. We didn’t get him for free, so it was more expensive to go this way than through a rescue, but as a family, we decided he was the perfect fit for us. I still don’t recommend it, but I felt I was educated enough to know what to look for, asked a ton of questions and really looked him over for any obvious behavior and health issues.

Also, be warned that there are scammers out there, never send money for a dog before you’ve met the dog, or believe promises of “we will deliver the dog after you pay”.

Benefits of the “free” dog:

  • Likely little-to-no requirements
  • You are saving a dog

Disadvantages of getting a “free” dog:

  • Dog is probably not up to date on vaccinations nor been spayed/neutered, which means the free dog is no longer free
  • You don’t really know the dog’s personality or behavior issues

So now you know the different options of adopting your next dog. Will you choose a local shelter, Humane Society or dog rescue? I would love to hear your story, please comment below and share with our Rescue Dogs 101 Community.

About the Author Debi@RescueDogs101

Debi McKee is a dog mom, volunteer foster dog home, and lifetime dog lover. Debi’s mission is to guide you through every step of your dog journey, from adopting the perfect dog for you and your family, to training your dog and keeping your dog happy and healthy. Sign up for our free resource library of must-have resources, containing valuable downloads to help you in your dog journey.

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