Animal Rescue Theatre

How to Spot and Prevent 5 Common Animal Rescue Practices Which Do Not Help Animals
July 6, 2024
-
Big Ideas
by
Stephanie M. Casey

With so many existent dog rescues, do things need to be done differently to help alleviate the overpopulation crisis? ‍

Even as more and more rescues pop up, the numbers don’t change‍

DLB is touching on this topic because this is a piece of the “think about things differently, do things differently” needed to fix our dog overpopulation crisis and resulting euthanasia. ‍

Animal Rescue Theatre affects the amount of positive outcomes possible.


It affects volunteers and fosters donating their time to help and distracts adopters from adopting responsibly.


And, most importantly, Animal Rescue Theatre affects the animals, directly, sometimes in a tragic manner.

In this article we will break down common Animal Rescue purposes, practices, and examples of “Animal Rescue Theatre.”‍

Thousands of 501(c)3 (non-profit) Dog Rescues exist and are active in the United States.


Some are breed specific.


Some only take medical cases or seniors.


Others help however and wherever they can.


An animal may enter an Animal Rescue from a municipal shelter, directly from a home in need of rehoming, or directly from the streets where they were a stray.‍

Resources needed for effective, reputable Animal Rescue operations include:

  • MONEY
  • LABOR
  • BUSINESS MANAGEMENT
  • INTAKE STRATEGY
  • PATHWAY PROCESSES
  • FOSTER HOME SPACE
  • BOARDING SPACE
  • VET CARE
  • MARKETING
  • EMOTIONAL & MENTAL STABILITY*

*rescue animal work is defeating, taxing, and compassion fatigue and/or burnout is common‍


This article will mostly focus on Dog Rescue but we will reference “Animal Rescue,” in general, as well as many rescue details which are the same regardless of type of animal.‍

Practices which mislead, cause confusion, inefficiency, or undesirable outcomes for the animals are what we coin “Animal Rescue Theatre.”

WHAT IS AN ANIMAL RESCUE?‍

An Animal Rescue is an organization (almost always a 501(c)3 non-profit) with the purpose of supporting animals in need who are in between homes. Here is a breakdown of the difference between a non-profit "No-Kill" rescue and a "Kill" municipal animal shelter.

WHAT DOES AN ANIMAL RESCUE DO?‍

An Animal Rescue is generally an in-between point from one home to another, the streets into a home, or a municipal animal shelter into a home.‍

Animal Rescues provide connection and care‍

Common Animal Rescue Services Include:

  • ILLNESS or INJURY healing support via vet care and/or in-home or facility care
  • BEHAVIORAL ISSUES training provided to help a dog with behavioral issues
  • TIME more time to find a home than they have at an open-intake, municipal shelter
  • FOSTER SUPPORT supporting their fosters including supplies and vet access
  • TRANSPORT SUPPORT to get an animal elsewhere to an adopter
  • FOSPICE giving an aged or sick animal a comfortable end of life home and care
  • COMMUNITY SUPPORT to help people keep and care for their pets
  • MARKETING animals for adoption, rescue activity to recruit donations

WHY DO SO MANY DOG RESCUES EXIST?‍

In support of the overwhelming amount of need, Dog Rescues continue to be created because people want to help.

We can’t be sure why so many people decide to start their own rescue VS foster or volunteer for existent, established rescues but reasons we have heard, while working in the animal rescue space, include:

  1. don’t agree with practices of other local rescues
  2. competitiveness
  3. ego
  4. monetary gain from donations, grants, sponsorships, etc.

A new rescue startup can best serve the community by filling a specialized need not currently served by an existing rescue.

If not doing that, a new animal rescue may crowd the space further.

For example - check out the list of hundreds of partner rescues at Dallas Animal Services.‍

IS IT GOOD TO HAVE SO MANY DOG RESCUES?‍

PROS:

  • people care
  • people want to help
  • specialized, niche rescues are able to better help in a focused way

CONS:

  • watered down resources - people, money, attention spread thin
  • fundraising competition
  • very little oversight or regulation
  • blind trust - it is not challenging to get a 501(c)3 (i.e. non-profit status) but that designation signals to the public the entity is legitimate and trustworthy

Many Animal Rescue organizations do incredibly challenging and productive work. The hard work, the long game work, the unglamorous work.

Some do not.

WHAT QUALIFIES AS ANIMAL RESCUE THEATRE?‍

Practices which mislead, cause confusion, inefficiency, or undesirable outcomes for the animals.

In this Dallas Love Bugs “Animal Rescue Theatre” article, we are going to cover:

  1. Courtesy Tagging
  2. Dog Hoarding
  3. Savior Complex
  4. False Advertising
  5. Dog Flipping‍

WHAT ARE SOME COMMON ANIMAL RESCUE THEATRE PRACTICES?

1. COURTESY TAGGING

Courtesy tagging a dog at an animal shelter is when a 501(c)3 Dog Rescue tags a dog (typically labeled ‘Rescue Only’ due to possible medical or behavior reasons) on behalf of a citizen or rescue not allowed to tag the animal.

A rescue may courtesy tag on behalf of a person or another rescue because person/rescue’s status with the shelter does not allow them to tag (perhaps they are not an approved adopter / rescue or have been banned). A shelter will label an animal "Rescue Only" when the animal needs advanced care so the idea is the animal will only be routed where they can get definitely receive that care - otherwise humane euthanasia may bethe kinder choice.

A courtesy tag may also be in the form of someone adopting the animal to pass on to another or attempt to rehome the animal, on their own.‍

PROS:

  • the animal is moving out of the shelter‍
  • It may work out, with luck, for secure, positive, long-term placement

CONS:

  • no ongoing support or connection from the shelter or tagging rescue
  • no tracking of the animal’s safety or care‍

WHY WOULD A RESCUE OR PERSON COURTESY TAG?‍

Hope. Desperation to “save.” The need to be involved even if they can’t help holistically or legitimately.

Courtesy Tags are probably generally well intentioned but can turn bad.

We get messages about this, too often. For example - dogs transported out of state then dumped in boarding with no one helping them, for months or ever. Or hearing that more dogs have been added to a dog hoarding situation.

It is safer, for the animals, for all dog ownership activity to be long-term thought out, recorded, supported, transparent, and legitimate.‍

WHY WOULD AN ANIMAL SHELTER ALLOW COURTESY TAGS?‍

Generally, the shelter staff will not know this is happening.‍

HOW TO SPOT COURTESY TAGGING: Rescues offering to do this, someone getting an animal who you know should not be allowed to, animals dumped in boarding with no plan, no follow up content or information available‍‍

2. DOG HOARDING‍

Dog Hoarding in the Animal Rescue space is when a well-intentioned person or group, designated as an animal rescue, gets in over their head. Fosters back out, funds dry up for boarding, they compulsively continue tagging out of grief or monetary need, and the emotional want and urge to save lives.‍

PROS:

  • none

CONS:

  • animal neglect
  • animal suffering
  • situation hidden so the animals are less likely to get help
  • situation hidden while even more animals are pulled and fundraised for, sometimes getting more and more extreme as far as medical needs, etc, to generate larger donations‍


WHY WOULD A RESCUE OR PERSON HOARD DOGS?‍

This likely starts accidentally, most of the time. Then snowballs. It often takes considerable community effort to save these dogs who were “saved” by a hoarding rescue or person.

A recent example from 2023 is April Mclaughlin in Arizona who was tagging medical and special-needs dogs then not caring for them. It took multiple people with large online influence audiences essentially blowing up the situation on social media for law enforcement to help the animals in her care after several investigations.

Reputable rescues had sent dogs to Ms. Mclaughlin's rescue as this rescue effectively shielded the reality of the “rescue” situation, raising money from donors meant to go to the dog’s care.

We see similar situations, at various scales, locally and elsewhere passed to us through the grapevine or via online exposure with photo and video evidence. Dog Hoarding is challenging to prosecute so it is better to not put animals into this situation, in the first place.

WHY WOULD A SHELTER OR RESCUE LET A DOG GO TO A DOG HOARDER?‍

They likely do not know that is the situation.

Almost no shelter or rescue is funded or staffed well enough to do thorough, ongoing rescue-partner vetting. Due diligence likely usually happens, at the onset of the relationship, but it is not hard to create online evidence showing what you want people to see.

And it is doubtful many (or any) shelters or rescues have resources for continued follow up once a partner is approved. This is another CON from the “too many rescues” notion at the top of this article.‍

HOW TO SPOT ANIMAL HOARDING: This one is tough because hoarders generally keep hoarding a secret but some indications of animal hoarding, possible to spot from outside a structure may be: smell, sounds of many animals, and witness of unusual trash disposal items (animal body like; sorry but this is the reality)‍‍

HOARDING is a mental illness that can happen to anyone. If you or someone you know needs help, the NAMI Helpline is a good place to start.

3. SAVIOR COMPLEX‍

This is when a dog rescue (or person) tags an animal for which they do not have a pathway plan and/or resources to care for. Savior Complex tags are frequently made as an emotional reaction vs a logical (i.e. a plan in place) response.

Savior Complex symptoms may include:

  • Obsession with urgent pet content
  • Impulsive decisions
  • Insistence on helping even if not asked or wanted
  • Feeling good only when involved with urgent requests
  • Belief they are better than others for helping
  • Obsession with accolades for the action(s)‍

You may be most familiar with these types of posts and tags on social media as they are emotionally charged and often go viral due to an urgent, panicked tone with praise for the tagging person(s) or rescue(s) as "heroes" and "saviors."

There is a plethora of social media accounts and pages exclusively dedicated to urgent pet media.

These rescues/tags can result in algorithm-loving, attention-grabbing social media shares, distracting reputable rescues with constant tagging and messaging, unfulfilled monetary pledges, and panic to find a solution for the animal.

Savior Complex media and actions can also drag focus from the many highly-placeable animals being promoted, which are not yet on a euthanasia list (they will be! all animals at municipal shelters are at risk!). Savior Complex media and attention may also distract in the direction of an animal for which, because of advanced or significant illness, injury, or behavior, a humane euthanasia pathway may be the kinder solution.

Often with these posts and tags, we see how ANY placement (i.e. tagging) is encouraged and accepted.

Results may include:

  • POOR MATCH for a foster, adopter, or rescue; no consideration of this for the tag
  • ABANDONMENT fosters abandoned by the tagging rescue, for example - providing no supplies or behavior support and unwillingness / inability to take a dog from the foster; abandonment of dogs in endless boarding
  • “URGENT HELP NEEDED” pleas in order to care for or fund a dog already pulled from the animal shelter “I can only take them to the vet if you give us/me money” - this is especially heartbreaking when it is a medical dog
  • REHOMING immediate request
  • DUMPED at another shelter or rescue, far away from origin shelter or on the streets‍

PROS:

  • It may work out, with luck, for secure, positive, long-term placement


CONS:

  • animal suffering
  • pushes participants (fosters, volunteers, adopters) from the space after a poor experience
  • loss of trust for animal rescue, in general
  • accelerates compassion fatigue
  • lost audience for animal rescue / animals in need of rehoming from the constant, emotionally-overwhelming content (people look away, it is too much)‍

HOW TO SPOT SAVIOR COMPLEX: Yelling, Angry, Threatening, Accusatory, or Desperate-toned copy (ie the words you see), piles of CAPITAL LETTERS, and plenty of 🚨🤬😡❗🆘😡 angry, alert emojis.

It is important to understand that There Are Worse Fates Than Humane Euthanasia. And that we cannot save them all. The USA euthanizes about one million dogs and cats every year.‍‍

4. FALSE ADVERTISING

This can take many faces. Some of what we have seen over the years includes:

  • LACK OF TRANSPARENCY about an animal’s behavior, health, or care needs
  • LACK OF TRANSPARENCY about a rescue’s operations
  • FAKE NEWS promoting dogs or rescue efforts not actually connected to the promoting rescue or person
  • EMOTIONAL EXPLOITATION manipulative storytelling, invented backstory, blame and/or harassment in an inaccurate direction
  • CONTINUED PROMOTION for an effort or animal long since passed (for donation collection)

PROS:  

  • none

CONS:

  • everybody loses

The reality is, most dogs at animal shelters and in rescue are adoptable, homeless dogs in between homes. Yes, there are horror stories and rehabilitations but the bulk of dogs in animal shelters just need a new, caring home to thrive.

WHY WOULD A RESCUE OR PERSON PRESENT FALSE ADVERTISING IN THE ANIMAL RESCUE SPACE?

Money, honey. Notifications. Engagement. Social clout. Mental instability. Savior Complex.

We have seen testimonials, for example, of rescues using found content, inventing a story, and running a fundraiser - this is an easy space to manipulate good-intentioned folks who want to help.

With skilled marketing, trusting humans may just click to donate, foster, or adopt without performing due diligence on where their support is going.

Examples of invented, supposed, or promoted backstory:

“this dog was clearly abused” (it is more likely dogs are unsocialized, when skittish)
“obviously was used as a bait dog” (bait dogs will rarely make it to a shelter, criminals don't want to be caught)
“they have never before had love, a toy, a treat, etc” (meanwhile, they arrived as a stray)

HOW TO SPOT FALSE ADVERTISING: lack of the full story, comments asking about specifics are deleted, banning from a page if you ask questions, evidence from peers of poor experience, bulk of commenters are not local to rescue or promotional page’s location, mismatching information across platforms

5. DOG FLIPPING‍

This is when a dog rescue acquires the most desirable dogs from a municipal animal shelter (before the public has a chance to see or adopt them) then offers them as “rescues,” charging an adoption fee, while the adopter believes they are doing a good thing by taking in an unwanted dog which needed rescue.

The most-requested (i.e. desirable to adopters) dogs have characteristics including: small size, healthy, fluffy, genial temperament, designer breeds, and brachycephalic breeds (dogs bred to have deformed muzzles - the “smoosh face” dogs such as bulldogs, pugs, frenchies, cocker spaniels, etc - these dogs are born to suffer with breathing and eye issues for their “cute” look).‍

There are shelters where most-requested dogs DO need help (go there, rescues!). But the highly-desirables generally do not require assistance with placement via rescue when they land at municipal shelters with high traffic and visibility. Rather, these dogs are the most requested by adopters yet never available through the shelter when rescues snag (pre-tag) them almost immediately upon intake.

PROS:

  • those dogs will always have a fallback via the rescue (if a reputable rescue pulled them)

CONS:

  • denies the public the option to adopt these dogs at the shelter’s free or very low cost
  • leaves only big dogs, pitties, shepherds, huskies, medical, seniors, etc at the animal shelters
  • deceitful labeling so the adopter thinks they are helping an animal which was in need‍
  • public tax dollars used to vet a dog which the public then cannot adopt without paying the flipping rescue's fee

WHY WOULD A RESCUE FLIP DOGS?‍

Dog Flipping can boost numbers like crazy - for marketing, grants, donors, board members, etc.

These dogs are easy to find fosters for and adopt out.

Dog Flipping helps to maintain “No Kill” status by intaking most-wanted, easily-adopted dogs the rescue will not have in their care for very long.

Almost no one is going to ask for a breakdown of age, size, breed, and health when evaluating success rates of an Animal Rescue.

So, padding the numbers with "easy to move" dogs is a way to boost success data when applying for grants or asking for larger donations behind “proven success” data.

We have been told that Dog Flipping is part of some rescue’s business models and essentially offsets the ability to take in dogs which need rehab, medical, or take longer to adopt. Some people think this practice is okay (and that is okay).

Dog rescue work is hard, exhaustive work and any shortcut allowing expansion of the work is reasonable to review and consider.

We don’t agree with Dog Flipping, here at Dallas Love Bugs, as it seems the whole point of founding and running a dog rescue is exclusively to help animals in need.

One of DLB's 3 pillars is educating the public on why municipal "kill" shelters should NOT be vilified and Dog Flipping hurts municipal shelter PR. Shouldn't these highly adoptables be able to be adopted by the public and fostered by the public? Shouldn't the institutions bearing the most burden and struggling the most get to take advantage of their own "easy to move" dogs?

Healthy, good temperament, in demand-characteristic dogs at municipal facilities with high traffic will be readily adopted by the public and generally do not require rescue assistance to get into a new home.

They may have ended up in a shelter by getting lost, a housing or personal issue, or death of their owner.

The L.A. Times recently published a story about a Dog Flipping Rescue in June 2024. Excerpts, below:

L.A. Times JUNE 21, 2024 A canine rescue group became a favorite of Hollywood celebrities. But were the dogs really ‘rescues’?

The issue? Along with a predictable assortment of mutts, Wagmor seemed to have a lot of puppies, purebreds and popular doodle mixes, the kind not always found in shelters.
Some customers also grew skeptical, filing a series of lawsuits that, among other things, claimed Bacelar was buying dogs on the cheap from breeders, then misrepresenting them as rescues and charging high adoption fees.
Former employees interviewed by The Times echoed these claims.“It started out kosher,” says Faith Ballin, an ex-assistant manager. “We saw it completely go down and turn into something else.”
“Floofy or young,” Bucci says. “It got to the point where she told me I had to scour Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for puppies that were available for purchase.”

HOW TO SPOT DOG FLIPPING: The rescue seems to have a steady stream of the above-listed desirables or seems to procure them, on demand

HOW TO HELP THE ANIMAL RESCUE SPACE BE BETTER FOR THE ANIMALS

  • RESEARCH and vet organizations you give money to, adopt from, foster for, and volunteer with
  • EDUCATION learn about practices in the space, good and bad
  • GET INVOLVED volunteer or foster for local shelters and rescues
  • ASK QUESTIONS all Non-Profit, 501(c)3 Rescue financials and practices should be transparent; social proof is not guaranteed truth (neither are financials because they are self-reported unless they are government-audited but all rescues and municipal shelters should have publicly posted financial data)
  • TRUST YOUR GUT if you get the feeling something is amiss, ask questions; if an animal seems to be acting off, advocate for that animal
  • BE GOOD and DO GOOD we are our own moral compass and so many good people, who want to do good, are in this world!‍

Many thanks to Renee Way and Allison Biel for their contributions to this article.‍

_______________‍

We all want to help.

Efforts are scattered and unfocused.

It is exceptionally easy to manipulate people in this space and the animals pay the price.

Dallas Love Bugs is digging into the overarching practices in the Animal Rescue Space to try and figure out… with so much money, so many resources, so many people who care… why are we euthanizing a million dogs and cats a year?

Why is nothing changing? Let’s Fix It!

SOS No One Is Working on Curbing Dog Production

Animal Rescue Theatre‍

More thoughts on How To Solve Our Dog Overpopulation Crisis and Resulting Euthanasia

What Are Some Qualities of "Good" (reputable) Animal Rescues?
What Are Some Qualities of "Good" (reputable) Animal Rescues?

REPUTABLE ANIMAL RESCUES only take in animals they have the resources to care for, long term.

REPUTABLE ANIMAL RESCUES follow through on support promises made to fosters, adopters, and volunteers.

REPUTABLE ANIMAL RESCUES are transparent with their operations.

REPUTABLE ANIMAL RESCUES reclaim their animals should they be abandoned, again.

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