How to Find a Reputable Animal Rescue

What factors determine a reputable animal rescue for both adoption and/or surrender of a pet?

Terri Tinsley founded Arf’s German Shepherd Rescue in March 2002; but that was just the beginning. “Her big mission was to get rescues and shelters to play well together and she really [made] that…happen.” Among her many contributions to the animal rescue world was the creation and maintenance of the Wisconsin Dog Rescue website and email listserv, which assisted in “establish[ing] screening rules for rescue groups and foster[ed] better communication between shelters and rescues.” Many say her system was, “the finest in the United States.” In fact, other states have modeled her system.

Based on Terri’s original screening rules, and subsequent updates provided by Wisconsin Dog Rescue, please use our checklist below to ensure you are working with a reputable animal rescue.


A reputable rescue advocates for the animals in their care at all times including:

  • Ensuring that all pets are up to date on shots, are heartworm tested and currently on heartworm prevention (primarily dogs, sometimes cats), and receive vet care before placement.
  • Spaying/neutering all pets before placement (when medically possible) or adopting out on a spay/neuter contract, requiring a refundable deposit, if it is not possible to do so prior to adoption. Reputable rescues also follow up to ensure that the spay/neuter was performed.
  • Temperament testing all pets in order to improve the chances of optimal placement in a forever home.
  • Fostering pets in social settings.


A reputable rescue realizes the importance of the adoption process and requires appropriate verification and safeguards to ensure that the adoption process goes smoothly. This includes:

  • Requiring an application form and adoption contract.
  • Screening potential adopters through reference checks and a thorough home visit before a pet is placed, even for foster and temporary placements.
  • Working carefully to match up the right forever home with the right pet, based on the pet’s needs/personality/etc. Reputable rescues are not afraid to say no to an adopter IF their situation is not optimal for the animal in the rescue’s care.
  • Providing up to date vet paperwork to the adopter upon final adoption.
  • Requiring that if the adopter cannot keep the pet for any reason, the pet is returned to the same rescue…every time.


A reputable rescue understands the importance of complying with applicable federal, state and local laws including:

  • Requiring Certificates of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) and adherence to all federal, state and local laws when transporting animals from another state.
  • Requiring a legal release form from owner-surrenders.
  • Securing appropriate licensure in accordance with federal, state, and local laws.


A reputable rescue conducts its business in a reasonable manner for the benefit of the animals it serves including:

  • NEVER breeding animals in order to “support” the rescue.
  • Prioritizing work with shelters and owner-surrenders from within its own state first.
  • Understanding the limits of its resources by not accepting more animals than it has the legal authority, space, time or financial means to care for.
  • Operating as an official 501(c)(3) public charity OR as a not-for-profit entity.
  • Is recommended as a “good rescue group” by at least 2 established non-profit shelters in its own state and can provide those references upon request to potential adopters.