Shelters And Rescue Groups Unite

In this new Adoption Center Model dogs and cats ready for adoption are showcased on the adoption floor in groups of 10-20 in each room. As we covered in the last post dogs and cats not ready for this communal living are sent out of the Adoption Center into rehab.

Brandi - Dog (Med)-29As rehab progresses the animals are brought back frequently to the center to socialize them with balanced, socialized animals.

As a reminder, this is not typical fostering where only room and board is provided. This is rehabilitation.

****  The question now is, Where do we find these skilled rehabbers?

Don’t our shelters already do this?

Animal Shelter (Texarkana)For a number of reasons shelters lack the ability to deal effectively with animals with behavior issues:

  • Loud environment is a disruptive influence
  • Lack of experienced handlers
  • Too busy – not enough time to dedicate to animals with problems
  • Too many incoming animals for staffing levels
  • Not enough staff trainers to deal directly with animals with issues

The problem is twofold – shelters don’t have trained volunteers for this rehabilitation work and any staff trainer is quickly overwhelmed trying to deal with the animals herself. Shelters are overburdened with animals needing some form of rehab. The result? Most of these animals are labeled “untreatable” and killed. The rest are adopted out without their issues being properly addressed. Many of these later are returned or are abandoned away from the shelter. And the cycle repeats.

In the last post I spoke of training fosters to rehab the animals with behavior issues. This is not a quick solution as these volunteers will need careful instruction as they learn to rehab. A better, short-term solution is needed.

It is for these reasons that a better approach must be found than to simply hire a trainer to work with animals individually in the shelter. Or to rely on inexperienced fosters to handle dogs and cats with behavior issues, some of them extreme.

A ready source of experienced rehabbers

A ready source of free rehabilitation skills is in local rescue groups. Many rescuers have developed useful skills in dealing with animals with issues. These experienced rescuers often complain about shelters killing animals they consider to be easily rehabbed and thus, good candidates for adoption.

The problem is these dedicated people enjoy working on their own and most feel they know more about handling dogs (and cats) than do shelter trainers or behaviorists. On the other hand, shelter directors and their behaviorists have demonstrated an overt lack of respect for the abilities of these independent rescuers.

One of the great flaws in our shelters is the lack of cooperation between independent rescuers and the local shelters. It should seem odd to outside observers to see so many independent rescuers working away from the shelters – all trying to do the same work. Can you list all the many shelters and rescue groups in your area?

As a source of experienced volunteer rehab skills, the rescue community is plentiful. Their numbers are growing everyday as word spreads and animal lovers decide to get involved. To get a feel for the energy in this growing field of volunteerism one needs only to go on Facebook and see the new groups forming every day.

Dog Pack-8 (sm)The problem is clear:  each community will need a leader to bring these two factions together. Setting aside their differences both sides must come together to work toward this common cause. Rescuers could easily step in and provide this desperately needed service for the adoption center. Can they be convinced to give up the autonomy afforded them by their separate organization? Most have gone to great expense and trouble to obtain 501(c)(3) federal tax exemption.

What’s in it for each side?

First, adoption centers (former shelters) will finally be able to save most lives by this approach. Most of the animals killed in shelters are those with behavior issues, as determined by the shelter staff. This can be brought to an end with this program. The advantage in value is clear, as well.

Students In Class-2Most medium to large shelters already have a staff trainer or behaviorist. Instead of trying to deal with all the problems herself, this individual can now work with volunteers (both experienced rescuers and untrained fosters) to teach and oversee a hands-on informal rehab program. This is the force multiplier factor I mentioned in the previous post. One trainer creates a hundred other trainers through this innovative effort.

If nationally recognized behavior scientists will offer their assistance, more formalized training programs can be created and implemented.

Second, rescuers get some obvious benefits. They can dissolve their non-profit organization if they choose. All medical care, intake screening, fundraising, advertising, foster recruitment and placement efforts will be turned over to the adoption center.

This frees up the rescuers to do the rehab work they most enjoy and they get to continue doing it in their own home. All the costs each rescuer has covered out of her own pocket will now be transferred to the adoption center. How do you spell relief?


Is this some unreachable utopian dream? Well, yes, given the current state of relations in the animal rescue world. But the simple act of putting the animals’ welfare ahead of our American need for individualism and privacy would make this very achievable. It’s actually rather a simple concept.

The key to this is in bringing both divided factions together in a cooperative effort. Rescuers, by their independent nature will prefer to work away from the direct oversight of the center. The adoption center will have to learn to work in an arms-length relationship with these “rehabbers.” The only real obstacle to this cooperative relationship and sharing of talents and resources is an antiquated attitude. The current divisive attitudes will prevent this from happening. With an inclusive attitude and a higher priority given to saving more lives, this can work well.

Please join in and express your constructive opinion in the comments section below. This is an open forum with no right or wrong opinions. Please “like” this if you find it interesting or enjoyable, okay?. Thanks!

11 Replies to “Shelters And Rescue Groups Unite”

    1. Tricknclick, I wish I had a magic answer! How does one get a white supremecist to see value in black people? How does one convince an abusive husband to love his partner? Attitudes are tough challenges.

      I think that’s why so many just turn to laws. I guess they feel forcing behavior is good enough. So we what? Settle for the barest minimum in behavior?

      It seems to take a long time when dealing with attitudes. Americans used to think putting children to work in factories was fine. Not so much now. Maybe we just need lots of people like you to stay involved, keep posting, share the word and over time attitudes will change.

      The worst attitude I think all of us animal lovers are facing is the prevalent one held by many (most? some?) politicians – the notion that our companion animals are dumb and just personal property. Of no more value than a pair of old sneakers or a beat up old kitchen chair. That has to be changed soon.

      All our activity on the internet draws in new people and informs daily. Attitudes change as a result. So keep up the good work and keep posting! Thanks for the comment.

  1. Tricknclick, I thought about this more after leaving that comment and I think the better answer is, in the specific case of bringing rescuers and shelters together, we just have to keep bringing it up, encouraging people to try to work with shelters (as more than just fosters), and look for shelter directors willing to consider this concept.

    There are innovative shelter directors out there. We just need to be sure they hear this valuable model. If one takes it, makes it theirs, and it becomes a success, others will follow. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

    1. Thank you, Willie. It’s very frustrating not being able to see any results. I’m not a pilot, but I have to believe it can be difficult to learn to fly a plane by instruments only, unable to see what’s ahead. I write and wait, unable to see anything happen as a result.

      Hopefully we can get some innovative shelter directors who can look beyond the prison bars and will reach out to rescuers to do more than just pull animals out of their shelters. Thanks for all you do, as well.

  2. Love the blog and all of the thought you are putting into redefining shelters. I have struggled to be part of the solution for quite some time now. I have understood that shelters as we know them need to be reinvented and am joining this conversation in hopes of sharing some ideas that could eventually be part of a partial solution. Check out my site and the Rescue and Awareness Center concept. I really need to do some updating but all of the core info is still valid. I hope you find it interesting.

    1. Chris, welcome to ARCNA! I had no idea you were behind the Rescue and Awareness Center. I love your work at the Shedd Aquarium! I’m really a huge fan. I wish I could see your show with the dogs. You are a wonderful goodwill ambassador for shelter dogs.

      TO ALL READERS: please go here and watch the video of Chris working with his rescued shelter dogs. It’s amazing – and it’s on national TV! Link =

      Chris, as you can tell from my writing, I am focusing on dogs (and cats) that aren’t quite ready for adoption – those with behavior issues. They are the ones killed outright in shelters or that get stuck in a cage or foster home (and really are not ready for adoption because of the issues).

      We’d make a great team: I get the rescuers trained in rehab to undo the dogs’ problems, and then you get your crew to take them from there and polish them up. We’d run out of dogs to adopt out!

      Please, all our readers, go join Chris on his wonderful site at DOGSAVINGNETWORK.ORG Be sure to watch the videos on the home page. You’ll smile all the way through them.

      Chris, I know your heart regarding soft and gentle positive training. I have a new post coming up on rehabilitation, the preface to training where we undo the harm done by humans. Once rehabbed these dogs are then ready for great trainers like you to work with their adoptive families. I hope you like my emphasis on soft and gentle methods.

      1. Hey Thomas-Thanks for sending people to my site:) I’ve been running into people over the last few years who have given multiple reasons why innovative concepts can’t work. It’s refreshing to come to a site where the focus is on Identifying the problem and then creating solutions. We would be a good team. I have seen dogs that have been scheduled to be put down transform into not only great pets, but ambassadors for shelter dogs and positive reinforcement training.
        I’ll continue to follow this blog and I hope to be a regular contributor. Thanks for all that you are doing to promote change.

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