What’s the difference between a shelter and a rescue?

Understanding the differences between shelters and rescues will help you navigate your adoption process.

by Good Dog

If you’re looking to adopt a dog, there are lots of local, national and international organizations and services available to help you find your new best friend.

That can seem like an overwhelming amount of options at first, but let’s keep it simple by breaking down the differences between the two main groups: shelters and rescue organizations.

In general, shelters are places where animals are surrendered (or brought in) when their previous owners can no longer care for them. Shelters also often take care of animals who are found abandoned. These locations usually have a facility where you can meet and greet the dogs in person. They may be private non-profits run by a group of volunteers or run by your local government. You will find a mix of breeds, sizes and personalities in shelters, so be sure to talk with the staff about which dogs might be the right fit for you.

Rescues are usually private organizations that save dogs from abusive situations or homelessness. Rescues could have a facility that you can visit, or they may operate with a network of foster parents who house and take care of the dogs until they are adopted. Rescues sometimes specialize in a specific breed or cause they are passionate about, meaning you can find all kinds of dogs from all kinds of situations. They are typically supported by donations and are run by volunteers, but they rarely receive government funding or support.

More often than not, dogs are in shelters due to no fault of their own. There’s a huge misconception that dogs in shelters are somehow damaged or suffer from behavioral and/or health problems. Although there are certainly dogs with challenging issues, many are surrendered for reasons like: being unable to afford care, moving to a smaller apartment where pets are not allowed, or having a new child with a severe allergy.

If you’re ready to start the adoption process, learn more about how the process works here.