Difference Between Dog Rescues and Dog Shelters

We created this blog post to help people distinguish the difference between a dog shelter and a dog rescue.

What is a Dog Rescue?

Dog rescues are usually privately run, non-profit organizations that take in dogs from abusive homes, surrenders, dog shelters, or homeless situations.  Rescue organizations are usually managed by executive members of their organization and a network of volunteers.  Dog rescues usually cover a specific breed (for example a “chihuahua rescue”) or represent a specific geographic region (for example a “northwest rescue”).  Rescues take in dogs and provide them a temporary home (fostering) through volunteers and foster parents who agree to host the dog until a longer solution is found.  Fostering usually lasts as long as it takes to figure out the dog’s personality and behavior on top of any medical rehabilitation period.  The term “foster failure” is used to express a dog foster parent who adopted their foster dog aka they were a foster failure.  Adoption is the goal for all the dogs that pass through a dog rescue organization. 

What is a Dog Shelter?

Dog shelters are organizations who care for dogs that are lost, homeless, seized from abusive homes, or placed in their shelter by animal control.  Dog shelters may be operated by the government, private individuals, or local humane societies.  Shelter workers care for the dogs by providing food, water, clean cages, and medical attention.  However, space is limited in shelters and animals must be held there for a minimum period (laws vary by state) before they can be placed for adoption, sold, or euthanized.  Sadly, shelters are often the last stop for many dogs that end up there…  Fortunately, many dog rescues take in dogs the shelters have given up on.  Therefore, funding dog rescues is important to help save the lives of dogs who need a second chance. 


Photos by Helena Lopes