Shelter or Rescue: Which Are You?

If you’re reading this, you’re likely looking for resources to improve animal wellbeing. Whether you work for a shelter, a rescue, or volunteer at an organization, you are researching ways to enhance the lives of the animals with whom you work. What you may not know is the qualitative differences between an animal shelter and an animal rescue, as well as the ways in which those differences impact the animals. Below, we have outlined these essential differences.


Generally speaking, an animal shelter is a place where animals are surrendered or brought when previous owners cannot care for them. Similarly, this is often where people bring animals they have found on the street. As a result, shelters often have more intakes than they can accommodate, leading to problems with care capacity. In the worst cases, this can manifest in euthanization. Many shelters have “no-kill” policies, but it is often difficult to keep up with the demand for animal housing.

An animal shelter can be government-owned, but they are not always funded by tax-payer money. In shelters, animals are housed within the facility, the processing time for adoption is often shorter, and most shelters treat their animal’s minor health conditions. However, the rush to get animals out the door may result in poor pet care and few records of an animal’s health and history.



Animal rescues are often private and nonprofit organizations which take animals from abusive homes or homeless situations. Generally speaking, these organizations often run on donations and volunteer time; it is very rare for an animal rescue to receive any help or funding from the government. To keep costs low, animal rescues often rely on a network of animal foster parents to house animals.

Animal rescues allow animals to be housed in a home environment, meaning the dog will retain his social ability and grow accustomed to human interaction. Additionally, there is often more information available—both health- and behavior-related—for adoptive parents to better understand the animals. To that end, dogs from rescues are often very healthy, spayed/neutered, have a round of vaccinations, and are often microchipped.

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