Have you ever heard of the phrase “Caveat Emptor”? It’s Latin for “Let the Buyer Beware,” and it means that, in a business transaction, the buyer often has less information about something they want to purchase than the seller, so it’s the buyer’s responsibility to carefully examine something they want to purchase to make sure it doesn’t have any hidden defects.
Most people wouldn’t think this saying would apply to someone adopting a dog from a rescue group, right? How could someone who started a dog rescue group, someone who saves dogs about to be euthanized and finds a home for them take advantage of someone who want to give that dog a loving home?
Unfortunately, as in other businesses or charities where monetary transactions are made, some people will always try to game the system to make a quick buck.
Here in Washington, some dog rescues run by scam artists make lots of money by taking advantage of this key provision of the Hayden Act, a California animal welfare law passed in 1998.
The Hayden Act expanded the minimum impound time for a stray dog from 3 days to 5 business days. In addition, Section 9(b) states:
“Any dog that is impounded pursuant to this division shall, upon expiration of the holding period described in subdivision (a), be released without cost to a nonprofit animal rescue or adoption organization if requested by the organization prior to the expiration of that holding period.”
When reputable rescue groups get a dog from California (or anywhere else), they will do the following before making it available for adoption:
- Take it to a veterinarian for a health assessment and address any problems
- Make sure it has all necessary vaccinations (rabies, bordatella, parvo, DA2PP)
- Keep it until the vaccinations take effect
- Have it spayed/neutered, de-wormed, and treated for fleas
- Do an extensive behavior assessment
But when a disreputable group gets a dog, they don’t do these things because they cost money. The most important thing for them is to get cash by adopting dogs as quickly as possible without spending anything to ensure the dog is healthy and adoptable.
I’ve heard that one Washington rescue group unloaded a van bringing dogs up from California and immediately took them to an adoption event. I’ve also heard of people spending thousands of dollars to treat dogs they adopted for parvo, bordatella, or other heath issues because the rescue group never had them vaccinated.
Because of the Hayden Act, unscrupulous rescue groups in Washington have a constant supply of dogs from California to adopt out.
This is why the Washington State Department of Agriculture called Washington a “dog magnet state.”
I do want to emphasize, however, that the majority of dog rescue groups in Washington are reputable, aboveboard, and do fantastic work saving dogs and finding them homes.
Here are 10 things you can do to ensure you adopt a dog from one of them.
- Do an internet search for the group and the person who runs it.
If anyone has written bad reviews about their experience with the group or filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau you can find it in seconds. One bad review doesn’t necessarily mean a rescue isn’t trustworthy, but multiple bad reviews can, especially if they cite the same problems.
- Search the IRS website to determine if the group is registered as a 501c3 charity.
Most rescue groups are 501c3 charities. If a group isn’t registered as a charity, it doesn’t necessarily mean its disreputable, but it should raise a red flag that indicates you should research it thoroughly because the person who runs it may be more interested in making money than finding good homes for dogs.
- Ask the rescue group where it got the dog you want to adopt and how long it has had the dog in its custody.
This is a critical question. If a group can’t or won’t tell you a dog’s history or when it got the dog, adopt a dog from another group.
If the rescue brought the dog in from out of state, ask to see its certificate of veterinary inspection verifying a dog is current on rabies vaccination and tested negative for heart worms.
Dogs entering Washington MUST have a certificate of veterinary inspection certifying a dog is current on rabies vaccination. State law also requires that the dog did not come from an area under quarantine for rabies. Dogs less than 90 days old do not need a rabies vaccination.
Dogs six months or older MUST test negative for heartworm or be currently on medicine to address heartworm issues.
- Get documentation that the dog has been vaccinated and spayed.
This is also critical. Don’t take their word for it. The health of their dogs should be paramount for every dog rescue group. Some shady rescues say their dogs have been vaccinated and spayed, but they never take in the dog for these procedures so they can make more money off the adoption. If a rescue can’t provide documentation for these procedures, walk away.
- Get a detailed assessment of the dog’s behavior and find out if it needs any training.
Reputable rescues should be able to give you specific information about a dog’s behavior, such whether or not it gets along with other dogs, if it will walk on a lease, if it knows any basic commands, if it would be appropriate in a house with small kids, etc.
- Visit the rescue group’s facility (if it has one).
Rescues that care about their dogs will be clean and organized. Don’t adopt from those that keep their dogs in filthy, unhealthy living conditions or won’t allow you to see the conditions in which their dogs live. (some rescues don’t have facilities – they house dogs in foster homes instead).
- Ask if the group has requirements you must meet before you can adopt a dog from it.
- Ask if the group will visit your home before and after you adopt a dog.
Home visits are an important part of dog rescue. Responsible groups will visit a potential adopters home to establish it’s appropriate for the dog. They’ll do a visit after the adoption to ensure it’s working out for both you and the dog.
- Ask if the group will take the dog back if the adoption doesn’t work out.
This is a biggie. Reputable rescues will NEVER abandon their dogs if an adoption works out. If a rescue can’t unequivocally state it will take your dog back if your adoption doesn’t work out, find another rescue.
- Make sure the group has a reasonable adoption fee.
There’s no hard and fast rule about how much you should pay to adopt a rescue dog, but in general the adoption fee should be between $100-$300 (and a bit more for puppies). I would question any group that charges more than $300. I’ve even seen some fees as high as $800. Groups that charge excessive adoption fees are usually in rescue for the money instead of saving dogs.
Following these tips will increase the chances that you will adopt a dog from an organization that is run by people who are in rescue to save dogs and help them find homes where they will thrive.