Today I’d like to continue my ongoing blatherations on the subject of transport-based rescues with a few thoughts on ethics and criticisms of this particular subgenre of dogdom. Specifically, I want to talk about five of the most common charges that people aim at transport rescues — some of them accurately, some of them less so.
1. “Transport rescues are stealing homes from local animals!”
Not generally, no.
Here’s something a lot of people fail to grasp about the animal shelter population in the United States: it’s not uniform across regions. In major East Coast cities, shelter kennels are overwhelmingly crowded with pit bulls and pittie mixes (well over 90%), with a smattering of other dogs who tend to get adopted or pulled by local rescues within days. There aren’t many puppies, there aren’t many small dogs (and most of the ones who are there are from mill stock and have behavioral and/or physical issues), and there isn’t a lot of variation in available breeds. An adopter who doesn’t want a pittie — for whatever reason — may not have an easy time finding an alternative dog in the shelter system.
Meanwhile, in rural Southern areas where spay/neuter cultural norms aren’t as strong and family pets are routinely allowed to breed unchecked, there’s a much wider variety of dogs in the local shelters. It’s not uncommon for entire litters of puppies to be dumped in cardboard boxes on the shelter’s doorstep, or for pregnant mothers to get dumped before they deliver. Labs, beagles, German Shepherds, and their mixes tend to dominate the kennels.
As I write this post today, there are 16 adoptable dogs listed at Robeson County Animal Shelter. 6 of the 16 are puppies under 4 months old, and only 3 of the 16 are pit mixes.
To the extent that an adopter’s preferences cannot be shifted toward locally available dogs — that is, to the extent that a given adopter is determined to have (let’s say) an 8-week-old retriever mix puppy and is not open to considering an older dog or a bully breed — that home isn’t available to most of the local shelter dogs anyway. Therefore a transported dog isn’t “stealing” a home, because that home wasn’t open to the available local dogs regardless.
To the extent that the transport dogs fit the same profile as local dogs, however, then there is a fair argument to be made here. Which brings me to my next point:
2. “Transport rescues cherry-pick the most adoptable dogs!”
Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
My feeling is: If they’re doing their jobs right, they better be cherry-picking the most adoptable dogs.
Long-distance rescue ain’t cheap. Between pull fees, vetting, quarantine boarding, transport, and foster care, it costs several hundred dollars at a minimum to provide quality care for each and every dog that goes through the system. It’s a big investment.
My opinion is that a responsible, ethical rescue should be focusing that investment on the very best dogs it can find. That rescue should also be pulling dogs not available in the local shelter population (to minimize the problem of siphoning available homes away from local dogs) and free of serious behavioral or health problems (because (a) that’s a major resource drain; and (b) it’s unfair to adopters who just want a nice family pet).
Sorry to be so blunt about this, but my view is that there is no good reason to spend several hundred dollars moving a rowdy adolescent pit mix from Georgia to Philly. Not when there are several hundred versions of that exact same dog being euthanized at ACCT monthly. Not when any adopter who wanted that dog could adopt a homeless animal matching that description for free (or at greatly reduced cost) from a local city-supported shelter or foster home, versus spending several hundred dollars to adopt the same animal from a transport rescue that’s still losing money on the adoption. It doesn’t make sense for the adopter, it doesn’t make sense for the rescue, and it doesn’t win a whole lot of friends in the local shelter network.
The one party for whom it does make sense is that individual dog. And so here’s where we get into one of the thorny questions of rescue: whose interests take precedence? Do you pull a “less adoptable” dog purely because that one life holds value and meaning equal to a “more adoptable” dog’s? Do you pull that dog to show that your rescue isn’t just about saving the cute fluffy Golden mixes? Do you do it even when that means you are taking homes from local dogs, and when it means that your foster home is probably going to stay occupied for months rather than weeks while waiting to place that less-in-demand dog?
Different rescues — even different foster homes within the same rescue — are going to have different answers to that question. There’s no one perfect right answer. This issue gets complicated very quickly, and how you come out on it depends what your goals and values are.
3. “Transport rescues take dogs away from local adopters!”
Yeah no. This is a dumb one.
Local adopters pretty much always have first pick of dogs in their local shelters, either because the shelter has a formal policy in place that allows local adopters a certain number of days before the dog becomes available to out-of-state rescues, or because as a practical matter, even if there isn’t any official policy, it takes a couple of days for the rescue to photograph, list, and network the animal.
If the animal doesn’t move within that time, and an out-of-state rescue places a hold on it, and then a local adopter comes along and is interested in the animal that’s already on hold, then in my opinion the situation is no different than any other time somebody comes in and is interested in an animal that already has a hold. It happens. Don’t worry, there’ll be another dog just like it within a few weeks at the most.
4. “Transport rescues are just in it for the money!”
Yeah no. This is an even dumber one.
It actually makes me pretty angry when I see people raise this criticism, because it is so far removed from reality that I always wonder (a) what are you smoking?; and (b) what ulterior motive do you have for thinking that rescues are taking money from your pocket? Were you hoping to sell your own puppies to those adopters? Because if the answer isn’t “bath salts” or “yes I sure was hoping to sell my $3500 doxiepoo puppies to those people!” I can’t figure out where this one comes from.
Sing it with me: Nobody makes money off responsible rescue. The more dogs you pull and place, the more money you lose.
To the extent that these rescues appear to be cherry-picking the dogs most in demand: well, yeah. As discussed above, my view is that they should be doing exactly that. But it’s not to make money. It is to minimize the overlap between transport dogs and locally available dogs, and to maximize the number of animals that get saved and placed in good homes.
To the extent that this criticism is (supposedly) leveled at fake rescues that are puppy mill fronts: well, sure, we all hate puppy mills, and we all hate millers who frame their sales as “adoptions.” But those aren’t rescues. Criticizing legitimate rescues on the basis of what mill fronts do is sort of like criticizing tofu because it doesn’t taste enough like hot dogs: yes, they’re both kind of squishy and meat substitute-y, but… uh… you do realize they’re not remotely the same thing, right? Not to say there aren’t criticisms that can be made here, but let’s try to at least get them in the correct zip code.
5. “Transport rescues spread disease!”
This one is a legitimate criticism. I wish it weren’t, but it is. The mass South-to-North movement of dogs has been strongly implicated in the spread of heartworm, and less clearly to the spread of other diseases in areas that didn’t previously see them.
The problem with heartworm, specifically, is that there’s a long latency period between possible infection and when the most commonly used tests can detect that infection. It’s possible for a dog to be infected, test negative, show no symptoms of infection for months, get adopted out as “heartworm negative,” and actually be carrying worms. It is further possible for that dog to get bitten by mosquitoes and transmit the parasite before treatments are effective — sometimes even before the infection is detected and treatments are begun.
Most other common transmissible diseases — parvo, distemper, kennel cough, intestinal worms, etc. — are easily preventable by observing basic safety procedures. This is not, unfortunately, to say that they are always prevented. Slipshod quarantine procedures and inadequate screening are two of my personal biggest peeves with transport-based rescues. Not only is it unethical to take shortcuts on these issues, but it actively undercuts the long-term goals of any good rescue.
But that one does very much happen, and it is a legitimate complaint, and it is my fervent hope that responsible transport rescues who aren’t already doing everything in their power to reduce the problem will step up their efforts on that front.
So! Those are five common complaints that I hear directed at transport-based rescues, and my semi-ranty responses to each. Any other big ones that I missed? COMMENT AWAY.