Deciding What Shelter to Support

If you’re lucky enough to still have a little extra time or income during this recession, and if you love animals, you already know that donating to or volunteering with an animal shelter or rescue can make a big impact and help save the lives of pets. But with so many organizations, how do you decide if an animal shelter or rescue is reputable and worthy of your support? It’s not easy, but if you follow these steps you  can be reasonably confident that your time or money is going to a good cause.

Inquire About 501(c)3  Status

There’s no guarantee that a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization is a reputable and genuinely charitable cause; nor is there any guarantee that an organization that hasn’t yet obtained this status isn’t doing valuable and charitable work. However, you should know before volunteering and donating whether or not a group has obtained its nonprofit status. If so, donations are tax-deductible, and you have a small measure of assurance that the organization is working to provide a public service rather than to make a profit.

Ask About The Group’s Governance

When evaluating an animal shelter or rescue, it’s important to know who calls the shots. Ask about the Board of Directors. If there isn’t one, you’ve found one red flag— an organization run by one person is less stable than an organization run by a board with elected members. One person can easily disappear with donations, decide overnight to dissolve the organization, or simply make an honest mistake that jeopardizes the entire group.

If you’re satisfied that there is a stable Board of Directors that will make wise decisions, ask also about the organization’s bylaws. Bylaws are generally created when a charitable organization is established, and govern current and future actions. They frequently cannot be modified without a vote by the membership. If there are no bylaws, the organization will be less consistent over time. Ask if you can obtain a copy of the bylaws and Articles of Incorporation.

Visit the Facilities

If you’re satisfied with how the rescue or shelter is run behind the scenes, your final step should be a visit to whatever facility they operate. If it’s a shelter, check to make sure all pets seem to be receiving proper care. Look out for the following red flags:

  • Pets without water at any time.
  • Applicants for adoption simply handing over money and receiving a pet without being pre-screened.
  • Overcrowded kennels, or dogs sharing space with dogs of a vastly different size (except in the case of companions that came in together and are being kept together)
  • Facilities that are so unclean that it presents a health hazard. It’s impossible to keep a shelter clean enough to eat off the floor, but there should not be numerous piles of waste or puddles of urine on the floor, and there should be no mold or mildew present.
  • Staff that ignores or dismisses reports of a distressed pet or a pet that has an injury.
  • Pets with untreated illness or injury.
  • Adopting out unaltered pets without a contract requiring they be spayed/neutered.

In the case of a rescue that doesn’t have a shelter, this step is much more difficult. If the pets are all in foster care, ask to meet and talk with a foster family. Request to see the paperwork that is necessary to become a foster family, and the paperwork that is necessary in order to adopt a pet. Ask the foster family to whom you’re introduced if they feel that their fosters have been given proper care by the rescue. Does the rescue pay for needed vet care, or do they allow pets with serious conditions to linger untreated until they are adopted? Are foster parents given a say in adoptions?

Overall, look for an organization with healthy, happy animals and volunteers who feel they’re supporting a great cause, and you won’t go wrong.

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6 Responses

  1. HART (1-800-HART)
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  2. stillthinking
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    I have been volunteering off and on for PAWS Chicago, the largest no-kill animal shelter in the city, for the past couple of years. PAWS depends on its volunteers to help with everything from adoption drives, PAWS educational events (promoting neuter spay and proper pet ownership), walking dogs, cleaning litter pans, cleaning shelter rooms (PAWS is a no cage environment), being pet companions and welcoming visitors and potential adoptive parents to the shelter. I can’t say enough positive things about volunteering at the shelter and all the wonderful animals who get adopted at PAWS. I absolutely encourage people to find a local shelter to volunteer at. The animals need you and are so grateful for your attention.

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  5. Rebecca Leaman
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