Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Power and Pitfalls of Petfinder

As many of you know, Wisconsin recently passed a  Dog Breeders Licensure Bill which was signed into law by Governor Doyle last December. The rules and regulations are presently being hashed out in committee meetings and the law will go into effect in June of 2011.

Our new state law will, along with breeders, license and regulate shelters and rescues, who sell or offer to sell 25 or more dogs per year. Most shelters and rescues were totally supportive, and many testified at the public hearing. - but there were some that were less than happy. They feel that this is going to cause unfair financial hardship on those that are trying to help the dogs.

Frankly, I was glad to see the shelters and rescues included in the bill. We work far too hard to get the dogs out of the puppy mills to see them suffer in poorly run facilities.

How does Petfinder tie in to all of this? Well - a history lesson first. Fifteen years ago - there wasn't any Internet or Petfinder. Rescues were almost exclusively associated with a breed group. So if you wanted to rescue a Jack Russell Terrier - you went to the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America and they had a rescue "arm" with representatives in every state. They advertised their rescue dogs in their member newsletters. Any other type of advertising would have been too expensive. The vet bills and costs of these rescues were supported by reputable breeders and fundraising by the clubs. Dogs were acquired by surrenders to the club or by state representatives who checked local shelters to see if any needed "pulling" to avoid euthanasia. It was virtually impossible to rescue a Jack Russell through any other means than the JRTCA.

Many of these breed rescues are still in existence and they do amazing life saving work.

But once the Internet came along and then the powerful search engine of Petfinder was introduced, adopters were able to search for dogs nationwide with a few clicks of the mouse. It was too good to be true for the rescues. And it was free! But the downside: With the ability to advertise dogs (and all sorts of companion animals) free online it wan't long before all sorts of rescues began popping up everywhere. Anyone can have a rescue, there's no rules, (other than perhaps local ordinances and a few state laws), no standards, and no longer any need to be affiliated with a breed club.

So the pitfalls start to appear. We have had a couple of rescues go bad recently in Wisconsin. One court case is pending, another has had the charges dropped due to our present substandard laws.

Many new people to dog rescue who should have learned the ropes either by fostering for a humane society or one of the reputable breed rescues that have strong, stable financial backing and support systems, instead started up their own rescues. This has resulted in a fractured system in our state - we have 267 shelters and  rescues listed on Petfinder and this is probably not all of them! Because there are other Internet services that popped up after Petfinder.

Without the backing of a breed club or a larger group, some of these smaller rescues can quickly become overwhelmed with vet bills and expenses. They start to have to rely on adoption fees of the highly adoptable dogs to pay for the bills of the medically or behaviorally challenged ones. They have to start actively seeking these highly adoptable dogs to "pull" to make ends meet. And pretty soon it becomes a house of cards. Without the wisdom and support of a humane society or established breed rescue, things can go south pretty quickly.

Also important to mention - any reputable rescue must be willing to take a dog back at any time and for any reason. So a small rescue can often become overwhelmed both with the number of dogs they can reasonably care for, and the mounting vet bills.

One small thing goes wrong - the loss of a foster home, an unexpected return or medical expense and the house of cards comes tumbling down. Unfortunately, because these good-hearted, well-meaning people are "saving" dogs - it becomes very difficult to try to step in and say something when the red flags start to appear.  And again, it's the dogs that suffer.

I'll leave it there. But I also want to direct you to an excellent blog this week by Susan Daffron of the National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals (NAPRP). She talks about how to recognize the signs in your life that it might be in the animals' best interest for you to give up rescue and call in some professionals for help. I think she summed it up best in this sentence:

If you can't care for them properly yourself, get them into a situation where they will be given humane care and the chance at a forever home.

Here is a link to an in-depth background story on Petfinder - it starts on Page 20 of the attached archived copy of Best Friends magazine.


  1. Thank you for the great blog! I hope that some rescue groups can take a look at how far they've strayed from their original vision. Unfortunately we all know how hard it is to see what is right in front of our face. There are some truly great rescue groups that have their game on; they are foster based only, provide training, education and support to their fosters and volunteers and take the time to right grants for funding. They don't just take the highly adoptable young dogs, they take on dogs with some pretty big (but treatable) health issues and treat them all the same. Shame on the other groups for thinking more is better.

  2. Oops, I meant to say write not right!