What Is A Rescue Dog?

Rescue is the best breed 💕

If you’re new to the world of rescuing and adopting dogs, you might be wondering what a rescue dog even is.

Do you *literally* rescue a dog in real time like some sort of superhero?

Well — sort of! But it usually doesn’t look as cool and glamorous.

The Dodo reached out to Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven shelter in New York City, and Debi McKee, a rescue advocate and founder of Rescue Dogs 101, to find out more about rescue dogs.

What exactly is a rescue dog?

“A rescue dog is a dog being rehomed after being surrendered by its original owner,” Semel told The Dodo.

And while it’s true that some rescue dogs are surrendered, there are lots of other reasons a dog might be dubbed a “rescue dog.” For example, he could have been found as a stray on the street, or maybe he was born in a shelter when a pregnant mom was taken in.

But in general, a rescue is any dog whom you’re adopting from a rescue group or shelter.

Unlike buying a dog from a dog store or breeder — which costs way more money and contributes to dog overpopulation — rescuing means you’re adopting a dog in need and literally saving a life (or rather two lives, since you’re also opening up a spot at that rescue for a new dog to be saved).

Where do rescue dogs come from?

While some rescue dogs have been surrendered by their owners, often because the owners couldn’t care for them anymore, others are literally rescued off the street (like a stray) or from puppy mills.

Others are dogs found after a natural disaster (like a hurricane), when pets get separated from their owners and their original families can’t be tracked down.

Where to adopt a dog

You can adopt a dog from a local shelter, rescue or from a friend who may be looking to find their own dog a new home (sometimes due to moving or other circumstances).

“Ask for recommendations from friends and neighbors for a reputable rescue or shelter in your area,” McKee told The Dodo. “You can use online services such as Petfinder, but it is still important to research the rescue listing [of] the dog you are interested in. Reputable is key.”

Rescue vs. shelter

While sometimes used interchangeably, rescues and shelters are two distinct places — but both are important to have in the world of dog adoption.

In general, but not always, a rescue is volunteer-run and usually doesn't have a building to hold all of the different dogs they have available. “Many rescues have dogs in foster homes while they await their adoption day,” McKee said.

A shelter, on the other hand, usually has a building with all the available dogs ready to be adopted. “A shelter has employees and sometimes volunteers to help care for the dogs,” McKee said.

Should I adopt a dog?

If you’re considering adopting a dog, you may be asking yourself if it’s the right move for you and your lifestyle. The answer to this is different for everyone.

Ask yourself these questions, and you’ll have a better idea if you’re ready to adopt a dog:

  • How much time do I have to spend with a dog?
  • Can I afford how much a dog costs?
  • If I rent, does my landlord accept dogs?
  • Do I have time to walk my dog every day?
  • Do I have time to train my dog?
  • Do I understand that no dog will be perfect?
  • Am I ready to do anything for my new dog?

If you feel comfortable answering these questions, you’re probably ready to start the dog adoption process.

Adopting a dog is one of the best things you can do. Not only will you be saving a dog in need, but you’ll also have a best friend for life.