This week’s question was inspired by my friend Clare — well, actually, more or less demanded by her.

It started when an acquaintance of Clare’s who had initially expressed interest in rescuing a dog ended up buying one from a Pomeranian breeder with this over -the-top website. Clare joked, “I usually don’t approve of buying fancy bred dogs, but she is truly rescuing one in this case.”

I hasten to interject here that, based on the site’s graphics and music, I was initially convinced that the acquaintance had ordered online from a puppy mill front. I began going into my “There’s no such thing as rescuing from a puppy mill” tirade. Clare assured me that her acquaintance had personally checked out the facilities, which were clean and pleasant, and that the dogs were well cared for. Moreover, after browsing the site, I found a section on housebreaking puppies that recommended positive and humane methods. So while I think it’s nuts to spend $1250 or more for a dog when you can get one from a breed rescue (if your heart is set on a purebred, although, no, you can’t check bloodlines), I’m glad I was wrong about my suspicions.

But that brings me back to my Friday topic. Rescue is trendy and lots of people throw that term around to show how compassionate they are. And others, who are holier than thou (not in the way of that website, though), tend to be purists. So who can legitimately claim to be a dog rescuer?

As Clare wrote:

If you adopt from a rescue group, you’ve rescued.  If you adopt from a shelter is that a rescue?  How about if your pup was a stray and you just kept him? How about if he was a stray, got turned in, and adopted out immediately (like Arch)?  If you take a dog from a friend who has to move, is that a rescue?  If you adopt from breeders who might turn him into a religious zealot?  [Ed: Joke alert] I’m sure there’s a plethora of other categories.  People have told me Arch isn’t a rescue because I didn’t get him from a rescue group, and he was incarcerated at Animal Control, but hadn’t yet gone through the Animal Shelter system.


22 thoughts on “Friday Focus: Dog Rescuers, Defined”

  1. Here’s what I think:
    – stray = rescue
    – from a shelter = rescue
    – take from someone who was going to take to a shelter/pound/rescue/to the vet to be put down = rescue

    If you get from a breeder, a pet store, a backyard breeder (ie your neighbours dog got pregnant etc, etc) it is not a rescue.

    Did the animal get passed from his/her previous owners house to your home for profit? Not a rescue. I think profit is the bottom line.

  2. I respect that an immediate reaction may be something like, “The label doesn’t matter, so long as a dog lands squarely on his paws,” but I contend that it does matter because I am interested in knowing what comprises the honorable process of rescue, not in assigning or claiming a particular title.

  3. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a rescue if you adopt. If you buy, nope. Adopting is saving a life. Buying is filling an order. And as for the website with the instant sale by credit card? Um, not lookin’ good. Any Internet site that would sell to you on this basis of a credit card payment and shipment date is not a good breeder, but a puppy mill.

    Clean? Yeah, that doesn’t mean it’s not a puppy mill, although commercial breeders will go apoplectic at the comparison. Commercial puppy farms treat the dogs as commodities not as dogs. Bitches are still locked in cages and bred how many times a year(?), have no home life or social life, or sense of belonging. Dogs are raised in cages, not in a home. What about sibling contact? Any socialization? I could be missing a lot of info here, but did this acquaintance ask any questions of these people? Did the place actually look like the photos on the website?

    Good information on a site does not mean they are good breeders. Lots of these types are savvy at slapping on the veneer of legitimacy. Did she meet the parents of the puppies? Did she get a tough interview or did she just go shopping? Did she know about the pdf from HSUS or ASPCA on how to tell a good breeder from a bad one – think you had that in your post on this topic. That’s my take on your preamble to your question, based on the info provided. And you thought *you* were going off on the puppy mill thing–could not stop myself 😀

    One of the most annoying sites I ever visited, I must say – they win in the holier than thou contest!

  4. We found Buster on a street in Philadelphia. We took him in; we tried to find his humans. No one showed up. We didn’t hand him over to a shelter, a rescue, or animal control. We kept him. We rescued him.

    To me, rescuing is like recycling (please, no guilt for applying that term to a living being). Rescuing is taking an already living pet – from where ever he/she is found – and making them your own. It’s about adding a pet to your home that didn’t add to the existing population of pets. I don’t consider buying from a puppy mill a “rescue” any more than I would if buying from a legitimate, reputable breeder.

  5. Rescuing is adopting a greyhound. You are taking this dog that has been bred for nothing but profit and while racing has a most horrendous life of confinement, substandard food, shot with drugs, and rife with injuries.

    By the way, race track folks hate the word rescue. They don’t think racing greyhounds need to be rescued.

    Rescue is a state of mind. Even if you are misguided and buy from a puppy mill (I want to ring your neck.) the dog is being rescued because what are the alternatives for this dog.

    1. I am not afraid to admit that I got the furry love of my life from what was probably a puppy mill. I was naive, stupid, and so afraid to walk away from the situation I found myself in without taking a dog with me. Did I rescue Prudence? No. I paid cash for her knowing full well I was supporting this operation. Did I immediately contact every person I could think of that could bring the kennel to a screeching halt? Hell yes. So it really bothers me that you say you want to ring the necks of people who are misguided (key word) and buy from a puppy mill. True, there are people out there who just don’t care where they get their newest purse puppy from. But then there are people like me who didn’t know about petfinder, who were adopting their first dog, who had checked shelters first and who are now advocates against puppy mills and are trying to educate the public in ways that I hadn’t been educated. So before you generalize and make mean comments, take a step back and think about the grey area.

      1. Ashley, I’m not going to presume to answer for Karyn, but I think you’re responding to something she didn’t say. The parenthetical phrase about neck wringing referred to the puppy mill operators, not to people who are misguided and buy from them. I know Karyn and I’m sure it was a question of sloppy punctuation/grammar by no means intended to diss people like you.

        Oh, I guess I did presume to answer for her! And I’d add one thing while I’m having this one-way conversation with Karyn. It’s not only greyhounds that need to be rescued, although the problem is exacerbated with them.

        1. Thank you for the clarification, Edie! I usually don’t like to do the whole “your comment offends me” thing, but I have gotten so much vitriol thrown my way about Pru’s origins that I thought, for once, I’d try to change someone’s attitude about we the misguided. I, too, would like to wring the necks of those that operate puppy mills 🙂

          1. And Karyn, I am so sorry if I did, in fact, take your comment the wrong way. There have been many times a grammatical error/lack of meaning you would only get from talking to a person face to face and not through the internet has landed me in a similar situation.

  6. The words ‘adopt’, ‘buy’ and ‘rescue’ are difficult to define in the dog world. Especially when you consider that any dog who comes from a shelter or or rescue organization has indeed been purchased: money changed hands.

    I think we all can agree that when you buy a dog from someone who has bred it (intentionally or unintentionally), or from a store (heaven forbid!) that is a BUY.

    Obtaining a dog from a shelter or a rescue is more nebulous. Yes, you paid cash money for the dog. Technically, you bought it! Shelters and rescues intentionally use terminology that stirs our emotions. They say ‘adopt’, ‘home’, ‘rescue’. I have no issue with these terms even though money is indeed changing hands. The words are carefully chosen and repeated to evoke an emotional response in the new owner and to convey the type of commitment that should be made to the animal. These are dogs who have already been discarded or passed around like a Kleenex. If using the words ‘rescue’, ‘adopt’ and ‘home’ helps potential new owners to carefully consider the bond and commitment expected of them, where’s the problem?

    I actually have more trouble with the word ‘stray’. How on earth do we define that? A dog that never had a home-not even a shelter? A pet who was lost for so long that he looked as though he’d never had proper care? A lost dog that someone decided to keep without making any effort to discover if he had a grieving family desperate to locate him?

    I suppose that technically a ‘rescue’ is a dog that came from a licensed rescue organization. But I think in practice, ‘rescue’ is defined by the new owner and means that you feel you took the dog from a dangerous and uncertain life and gave him a loving, responsible home.

  7. Thank you, this is all very enlightening, particularly since I agree with it all.

    One troubling anecdote about taking in a stray: I had a colleague once whose husband found a gorgeous and very well-kept black Lab running in a field near his office (collar and name tag, but no license or phone number). He was concerned. He took the dog home to join their other two black Labs. Perfunctory notification to local shelter. Dog stayed with them. He had a very good life with them, and I suppose the welfare of the dog is the main point, but still…

    Meantime, my acquaintance did in fact meet the dog’s parents and the humans. The scary thing is that she went ahead with the purchase in view of the humans’ obvious [ahem] idiosyncracies.

    1. Just curious: What exactly did she say about what the place looked like? Where/how the dogs were kept? Mary’s right. The fact that these people take credit cards online and are clearly willing to ship dogs without meeting potential owners doesn’t bode well (everything else aside…)

  8. I agree with what appears to be the trend in comments already. If you buy an animal from a breeder (defining “breeder” as a person who owns the dam and therefore the litter/kits/etc.), it is not a rescue. There is nothing wrong with getting an animal from a responsible breeder (and let me emphasize RESPONSIBLE), but those animals are not rescues.

    An animal from a rescue organization (which might ask for a $250 donation) or a shelter (which might also require payment to cover spay/neuter, microchipping, and other costs) is definitely a rescue. So is an animal you find running loose and adopt after putting in a serious effort to find his or her people. So is an animal you take in from friends or family who would otherwise dump the animal at a shelter. I guess the quickest definition is “second-hand animals,” since “pre-owned” implies someone paid for them in the first place, and in many cases, shelters have kittens and puppies born at the shelter.

    Hoping that is clearer than mud…

  9. I say any time you are truly taking a dog from a bad situation where they cannot be cared for and giving them a home where they are cared for then you deserve the title rescuer. Whether that’s your neighbor who can’t care for their dog or a stray off the street or from a shelter it counts. I’m not willing to set aside someones good deed just because they didn’t go through authorized channels. In fact I encourage it: animal shelters often have no clue how to pair dogs and people. Buying a 1200 dollar dog from a breeder does not count in my view as they have the funds to care for the dog. As someone pointed out that sounds like it’s about profits. Although I agree the website is hideous!

    I don’t want to discount the puppy breeder experience though because it’s what turned me against them. Had I not seen for myself (on a mission to buy a puppy, of course) I’d have never believed people did stuff like that. Much like taking teens to the morgue to get across the message about drunk driving some of us need to be hit in the face with it. So don’t think me bad for “rescuing” from a bad breeder, just remember that experience prompts many of us to do for dogs where we can.

  10. I look at the idea of “rescue” as taking a dog from a possibly life threatening or at the very least, unpleasant existence and moving them (through adoption or even the changing of money – adoption fees, etc) into a healthier, more nurturing environment.

    In the case of Frankie, even though he might not have gone through the animal shelter system, I would say that you “rescued” him and enriched his life a thousand fold.

    I wonder why is it so important for us to define what is a rescue dog…? Is it because, like Edie mentioned, it is currently the “trendy” or “right” thing to do in people’s minds. Is the label important so that people will know what side of the fence that they fall on…?

    I hold people who have adopted animals from a local animal shelter and who take in multiple animals in the highest regard. I have also met a lot of people who have very definite opinions and attitudes towards those who do not get their pets through adoption or rescue efforts.

    We did not rescue Penny from the humane society nor pick her up as a stray on the side of the road. We didn’t even go to a local breeder to get her because we didn’t know of any in our area that bred Bichons. We happened to find out that one of our neighborhood pet stores had Bichon puppies and that was how we got her, but whenever we mention that to some people, they give us that “look” and say that we should have either got her from a breeder or that “they” always get their dogs from the humane society.

    It used to bother me in the beginning, made me feel like we were somehow bad for not “rescuing” a dog instead of buying Penny…like we were somehow contributing to the problem of dog overpopulation and puppy mills all by ourselves. (I know that the store that we bought Penny from does not support puppy mills. They only get their puppies from local breeders and keep careful records on the parents and how often they were bred and other litter information).

    When I look at how much our lives have changed and how much happiness and joy that Penny has brought into our lives it doesn’t matter what anyone says. I won’t tell you how much we paid for her, but I will tell you that without a doubt, she is worth every single “penny”. 😀

  11. I was all set to answer this question with the same response as Shauna’s, but the truth is calling a dog a “rescue” is a complicated one.

    Normally I would also agree with Mary too. I think if you buy a dog (in general) it’s not a rescue, but then I wonder… what do I call Jasper (my Sheltie)?

    Jasper and his sister Jasmine were stuck in a dirty, nasty, flea-infested pet store window for the first 7 months of their lives (the first two being spent in a puppy mill I presume). A woman happened by and took pity on them and a cat. The place was so dirty that the cat’s litter box was overflowing with feces and both dogs and the cat had fleas so bad that they had lost patches of fur from scratching so much. She made the pet store owner a low offer to get them out of the store and then brought all 3 of them immediately to our animal shelter. She also reported the pet store to the Humane Society. I adopted Jasper after fostering both him and Jasmine. So do I call Jasper a rescue? He was purchased from a pet store. Did he become one when I adopted him from the shelter? I guess defining a “rescue” is harder than I thought.

    As for the Pom site? I guess you have your answer. It appears to be down. Did a little blog post bring it down? Hmmm…..

    1. Well, the complexity of the issue is why I shifted from the definition of rescue to the question of how to prevent having to define it in ambiguous situations such as the one you describe. Ugh.

      Interesting about the Pom site… Did you get to see it?

      1. Ugh is correct! I didn’t use to think rescue was difficult to define until I got Jasper.

        Re: Pom Site? I have not seen it. The fact that they took it down after getting highlighted in your post pretty much tells me it’s not a legitimate breeder. If it was they would have nothing to hide nor feel the need to take it down. I had the same thing happen to me after I posted “Playing on both sides of the fences” – all of the sudden none of the sites had dogs available. Hmmmm… They did a few hours before I posted!

        It’s amazing how these cockroaches head for the hills when a little light is shined upon them. Let’s all be a spotlight shall we?

  12. Hey Edie – Site is back up again. I wonder if they made some changes – they have a whole statement on not selling their dogs to brokers, other breeders, etc. and address the whole internet scam. Makes me wonder if this is a recent addition to their website (on the main page) – perhaps as a result of a blog post and the comments that followed?

    I found their other website via Google ( They do have pics of a show dog, but seems to be some time ago (1994). Other photos make me wonder. They do appear to be all over the web – lots of people are selling Poms and bragging about how their dog came from this breeder’s lineage, so hard to tell. Interesting website though – if only for the “cheese-factor”.
    Funny how they have two websites isn’t it? Very different looks to them.

    1. Interesting! I tweeted you when the site originally went back up but at that point they only alluded to having to change servers, which I thought was a bit iffy to begin with. They definitely did NOT address the internet scam issue. I wonder if google alerts led to this blog. I can’t decide if it’s a good or bad thing that they may be on to the fact that someone may be on to them, i.e., it’s easy to change the look without changing the practices.

      The other site is not nearly as cheesy, you’re right.

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