Beware of Fake Dog Rescues
The phrase “Caveat Emptor” is Latin for “Let the Buyer Beware.” It means that in a transaction, the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before making a purchase.
Most people wouldn’t think this saying could apply to someone adopting a dog from a rescue group, right?
After all, how could someone who started a dog rescue group, someone who claims to save dogs scheduled to be euthanized and find homes for them, take advantage of anyone who wants to give one of their dogs a loving home?
The unfortunate truth is some people, even those that run dog rescues, will always try to game the system to make a quick buck. This is particularly true in Washington where dog rescues are virtually unregulated.
Starting a dog rescue doesn’t automatically make someone a saint who is above reproach. While saving dogs from euthanization and finding them permanent homes is a noble pursuit, dog rescues don’t deserve any less scrutiny that you would apply to any other seller.
First, Do an Internet Search
An internet search for the group and its founder(s) is the first and easiest thing you can do to identify a fake dog rescue.
If anyone has written bad reviews about their experience with the group or filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, you should find it in seconds.
One bad review doesn’t mean a rescue isn’t trustworthy, but multiple bad reviews can, especially if they cite similar problems.
I do want to emphasize, however, that the majority of dog rescue groups in Washington are run by conscientious people who do fantastic work saving dogs and finding them homes.
Here are 1o questions you can ask to ensure the rescue dog you adopt comes from one of them.
1. Can I see where you keep your dogs?
Virtually every fake dog rescue I’ve written about kept their dogs in filthy, unhealthy living conditions. That’s why they won’t let potential adopters see where their dogs live.
Regardless of whether a rescue keeps its dogs in a central location or in foster homes, it should always allow you to see where it kept your dog.
Asking to see where a rescue keeps its dogs is a basic, straightforward question that shouldn’t be a problem for legitimate dog rescues.
NEVER adopt from a rescue that won’t show you where it keeps its dogs.
2. How long have you had this dog?
Rescues should keep their dogs a few weeks before anyone can adopt them to ensure their dogs are healthy before someone adopts them.
Most canine viruses have long incubation periods. Keeping a dog for an extended period of time allows the rescue to identify and treat any health problems that weren’t evident when it arrived.
It also allows the rescue to do a thorough behavior assessment on a dog to determine things like:
- If it knows basic commands or needs training
- Whether or not it’s crate and/or house trained
- What kind of temperament is has
- If it can live in a house with other dogs, cats, or small children
Fake dog rescues don’t keep their dogs long enough to do behavior assessments. They want to sell them as fast as possible to generate quick cash.
Some dog rescues in the Seattle area even have transporters unload their dogs at adoptions event so they can sell them immediately, right out of the van. Others sell their dogs just a day or two after they arrive.
Adopting a dog that hasn’t had a behavior assessment can be dangerous. I know of incidents where a dog adopted from a Washington rescue attacked and/or killed a family’s other pet or their neighbor’s pet because the dog rescue didn’t have it long enough to determine if it could be around other animals.
3. What is your adoption process?
Dog rescues should have a standard, thorough adoption process to ensure one of its dogs is the right match for your family. In its article “Why is Animal Rescue Rife with con artists?”, Camp Cocker Rescue provides an excellent explanation why this is important:
“To thoroughly vet one dog, then thoroughly screen an adopter to place that dog in the best matched home is not a quick task. To do this for just ONE dog can take not only significant funds, but the man hours to promote the dog for adoption, read adoption applications, do vet references for potential adopters, do phone interviews, do home safety checks (in person, none of this Facetime or Skype “fake home checks”) and in the end, be thoughtful and wait for the best match of a home for that dog. For ONE dog this can be hundreds of hours for an ethical rescue, who is not going to cut corners or just sell the dog in front of a pet store to the first person with cash (that would be animal brokering, under the guise of “rescue”, another topic for another day).”
4. Do you spay/neuter your dogs before they are adopted?
You should never have to pay for a dog you adopted to be spayed or neutered.
Every dog you adopt from responsible dog rescues will be altered. The only excepts are if the dog is too young or has a medical problem; rescues will arrange for these dogs to be altered at a later date.
Fake dog rescues will give you a voucher for a discounted spay/neuter surgery and assume you’ll schedule and pay for it. Or they won’t give you anything so you end up paying full price for the surgery.
They may also offer to credit your debit/credit card after a vet alters your dog. But when you call or email them after the surgery for the credit, they don’t return your messages and you eventually get stuck with the bill.
Altering dogs is one of the most important thing people can do to reduce the number of unwanted dogs euthanized in animal shelters.
You should avoid dog rescues that don’t have strict spay/neuter policies because they’re more concerned about making money than reducing the number of dogs euthanized in shelters.
5. What’s your adoption fee?
There’s no hard and fast rule about how much you should pay to adopt a dog from a rescue. Adoption fees for rescues in the Seattle area generally run from $150-$400. Puppies usually have higher fees than adult dogs. So ones from groups that rescue special needs dogs. Senior dogs often have lower fees.
Some dog rescues in the Seattle area charge ridiculously high adoption fees – one charges as much as $800!
Rescues that charge high adoption fees aren’t necessarily dishonest, but you should be able to find dozens of rescues that charge more reasonable fees.
6. Where did you get this dog?
Many phony dog rescues don’t want you to know where they get their dogs. That’s because they don’t really rescue dogs.
Instead, they scour websites for dogs people give away, buy puppies from backyard breeders, breed their own dogs for puppies to sell, or pay people to grab dogs off the street for them in Mexico.
The Washington Post recently reported some of them even buy puppies at auctions where breeders sell their dogs.
Trustworthy dog rescues are completely transparent about where they get their dogs and will unhesitatingly provide supporting documentation if you request it.
Don’t trust any dog rescue that won’t tell you where they get their dogs.
7. Can I see this dog’s health certificate?
Dogs coming from outside Washington MUST have a health certificate (also called a certificate of veterinary inspection) certifying that it:
- has a current rabies vaccination (puppies less than 90 days old are exempt)
- didn’t come from an area under quarantine for rabies
- tested negative for heartworms (dog less than 6 months old are exempt)
Here’s a sample health certificate for a dog brought into Washington by the Southwest Washington Humane Society:
8. Has this dog had a comprehensive health exam?
Some fake dog rescues will try to convince you that a health certificate is proof the dog is healthy.
Like I said, health certificates only provide information about rabies and heartworms. They don’t have to show if the dog had other vaccinations or health problems.
Dogs that appear healthy can still have deadly viruses like parvo and distemper which have incubation periods that last from several days to a couple of weeks.
That’s why responsible rescues take every dog they have to a vet for a comprehensive exam before they can be adopted.
Questionable rescues don’t care about the health of their dogs. They’d rather pocket the money than spend it on vet exams.
The health of their dogs should be paramount for every rescue group. If a rescue can’t provide documentation showing a vet performed a full exam on the dog you want to adopt, walk away.
9. Is the dog up to date on its vaccines?
Most rescues say that their dogs are fully vaccinated, but don’t take their word for it. Ask to see documentation showing they’ve been vaccinated.
At the very least, the dog you adopt should be up to date on its core vaccines, which are the ones all dogs must have. They are:
- Canine Distemper Virus
- Parainfluenza Virus
10. Can I have the documents the IRS requires charities to provide the public?
Most dog rescue groups are classified as either nonprofits or 501c3 charities. Groups in either classification are exempt from paying taxes.
Nonprofits register with the state’s Secretary of State office. 501c3 charities register with the IRS.
Contributions to nonprofits aren’t tax deductible. Contributions to 501c3 charities are tax deductible.
The IRS REQUIRES 501c3 charities to provide the following documents to ANYONE who requests them:
Their Exemption Application (Form 1023) with any supporting documents
- The Exemption Ruling Letter issued to them by the IRS
- Their Annual Information Return (Form 990 Series)
Copies must be provided immediately in the case of in-person requests, and within 30 days for written requests.
Dog rescues should should be able to provide these documents within the time limits required by the IRS.
If a dog rescue classified as a 501c3 charity refuses to provide them, you should report it to the IRS and find another rescue.
Do Your Research, Ask questions
You don’t have to ask all 10 questions to identify a fake dog rescue. Asking 3 or 4 of them should give you all the information you need.
And remember, before you ask any questions, do an internet search for the dog rescue you’re considering and the person/people who run it. If your search turns up lots of complaints about a rescue, don’t even bother with the questions; just take that dog rescue off your list and find another one.
To make your search a little easier you can also reference this recently updated list of Washington Animal Shelters and Rescues.
Most Dog Rescues Run by Dedicated, Honest People
I hope that reading about fake dog rescues won’t drive you to get a dog from a breeder. The vast majority of dog rescues in Washington are run by people dedicated to saving dogs from euthanization and finding them homes where they will thrive.
By asking some pointed questions you can quickly identify the dog rescues you should avoid and find the ones that will help you find a fantastic companion.
Just remember: Caveat Emptor!