Last updated on February 18th, 2023 at 06:04 pm
The term “rescue dog” has become a popular phrase over the past several years. This was especially true during the Covid epidemic when shelters were literally emptying out their facilities. Pet adoption increased significantly when many people were suddenly at home and in need of pet companionship.
But what exactly is a rescue dog? You may conjure up images of a robust St. Bernard with a barrel of brandy hooked to his collar searching for skiers on a snowy slope. But, generally speaking, the term rescue dog means a dog who has been saved from a dire situation. In other words, the dog is the rescuee, not the rescuer.
Rescue Dog Definition
This definition below comes from thefreedictionary.com and describes two rescue dog meanings:
1. a dog trained to assist rescue workers. See also search dog
2. a dog that has been placed in a new home after being abused, neglected, or abandoned by its previous owner
Search and rescue dogs are canines that have been trained to find people in a disaster. These dogs were critical to the search for people in the collapsed towers following the 9/11 attack in New York. Search and rescue dogs are also help in natural disaster situations such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or to track people/children who have gone missing.
On the other hand, the phrase rescue dog usually means a dog that has been rescued from some horrific or neglectful situation. But this same term can also refer to dogs in need of care from less dire situations.
What Does it Mean When You Rescue a Dog?
In our opinion at Dog Tales, all dogs are rescue dogs in a sense. Dogs have been bred for centuries to live and work with humans. Without us, they struggle to survive. This is because dogs have been domesticated and are no longer able to survive well in the wild. See my post How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog for more information about shelter dogs.
Our premise at Dog Tales is that “Most dogs do not do well in our world without helpful human intervention. Whether they are strays on the streets, living at shelters, rescued from dire situations, or for sale from breeders or pet stores, they need us! ” Please visit our home page to learn more about our mission and vision. Unfortunately, a large array of circumstances can lead to a poor mutt who is in dire need of love, shelter, and care.
When you adopt a dog from one of the following situations, you can save a sad pup from a life of misery.
- Stray dogs that were abandoned
- Dogs surrendered to be re-homed
- Family dogs who have become lost
- Puppy mills that breed animals in cruel, unhealthy caged environments
- Retired racing Greyhounds
- Dogs forced to fight in betting rings (think Pit Bulls)
- Hunting or family dogs kept outside in cages
- Pet hoarders who do not provide adequate care
- Dogs that have been abused for any number of reasons
- Guard dogs who are chained in yards and neglected
Since dogs are mammals like us, they need warmth, love, stroking, and other pack/family members to relate to. Dogs are very social animals with feelings and needs similar to our own. See my post 8 Primary Emotions that Dogs Share with Humans for more information about what dogs can actually feel.
What is the Difference Between a Rescue Dog and A Shelter Dog?
The reasons that animals end up either in a shelter or a rescue facility often overlap. However, there are some distinctions.
As a rule, shelters are often government-funded facilities, sometimes known as “the county pound”. Dogs and cats in these shelters are usually strays, have become lost, or are animals that were surrendered for re-homing. Shelters also pick up aggressive animals that have become a nuisance. They can sometimes also be a nonprofit organization that has contracts with the local government to provide animal control
Marin Humane in Northern California is such an organization. This much-beloved nonprofit serves as Marin County’s animal control shelter and it provides advocacy, shelter, adoption, and education for the community. Here is their mission statement: We transform lives through exceptional animal care, humane education, and advocacy. Every day, we inspire compassion and positive relationships between people and animals.
Government-run shelters and pounds often have a “kill policy”. These shelters will never refuse a stray or surrendered animal, but they may need to euthanize when they become too full. However, this is not necessarily true across the board. Many County pounds will occasionally waive adoption fees to help empty out their shelters and make room for more dogs in need of care. I address the different types of shelters in my post about adoption fees.
Rescue facilities are usually privately run non-profits that specialize in specific types of dogs or situations. Good examples are:
- Retired racing Greyhounds
- Pugs and other breeds in puppy mills
- Laboratory dogs (Beagles)
- Fighting dogs
- Senior dogs who have been abandoned or surrendered
Rescue organizations often rely heavily on volunteers and foster families to help care for their dogs, and lovetoknow.org has posted a great article about shelters and rescue organizations. They site several specific rescues and also provide a link to find organizations that adopt out the animals they have saved.
Are Rescue Dogs Better?
I have raised dogs from puppies, which we bought from good breeders. I have also owned dogs from shelters and rescue situations. In my opinion, dogs, in general, are wonderful beings with delightful spirits. They are eager to love and be with you and can warm a household up with positive energy and activity. I wrote another post about why mutts may be better than purebreds, and the shelters are full of mutts! Mutts are unique and loving, but mostly, when you adopt them you may be literally saving their lives!
Yet, there is something special about rescue dogs. They have prior experiences for comparative purposes and do seem to understand that they may be getting a second chance. When treated with love and kindness, these dogs often respond with fierce loyalty and love. Even though they may first need to heal from prior negative experiences or the loss of a prior owner, these mutts can rebound and come back to life with love and attentive care. To read more about my experience with two adorable shelter dogs, see my post, Rescue Dogs Are Not Broken!
Dogs do have memories, even if not quite like our own. And, they are sensitive to how people treat them. They know a good thing from a bad situation. I wrote a long post about whether or not dogs remember and miss their past owners. And it seems that they do. I also wrote about how dogs remember their stay in a shelter and that rescue dogs are grateful for being adopted.
In summary, all dogs are rescue dogs in one form or another. They need us whether they are puppies from a reliable breeder or older dogs from a rescue or shelter facility. They do not live well without us and they deserve a good life. Dogs are warm, loving, little spirits that deserve the best and give a lot back!
Deanna Euritt is a dedicated dog enthusiast with over three decades of experience in raising and training a diverse range of dogs, including many rescue pups. Her practical expertise is rooted in real-life experiences, where she has successfully navigated the challenges of nurturing rescue dogs into confident, well-adjusted companions. Residing in Northern California, Deanna’s days are filled with adventures along trails and beaches with her beloved dogs, Charlotte and Georgia. In her writing, she offers insightful, compassionate advice to fellow dog lovers, leveraging her extensive personal journey in the world of dog care and training. See About Us.