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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

For those who are not involved in rescue, some of the policies and practices of a rescue group may seem odd.
While many of the policies are put in place due to past experiences, the decisions rescue groups make can sometimes be more puzzling. 
When I originally got involved in rescue, I was preparing myself for some really difficult situations. Many of the reactions I get when I tell people I volunteer in rescue is “Oh, that must be hard.” My answer to that is, working with the dogs is the most rewarding thing I can do, but the decisions are almost impossible.
How do you decide which dogs to pull from the pound and which ones to leave? The simple answer to all of these types of questions is, we do as much as we can with the resources we have. 
In particular, those resources are foster homes. Since we do not have any type of shelter, we rely on our network of foster homes to house dogs who, in some cases, literally have a needle in their arm.  
So it may seem odd when a rescue puts a dog in a “temporary” foster home, only to move it to another more permanent foster home a week later. Usually, the case is that we would rather take the needle out of the dog’s arm and put him in a warm, loving home, even if for just a week, until more suitable or longer-term accommodations are available. 
Another question we commonly get is, Why do you bring dogs up from shelters in the States when pounds are occupied with dogs in our own community? We always look to our local shelters first when we have an open foster home. However, some further explanation is in order.
There can be many different reasons a dog is brought into a pound. She may simply be lost and just waiting for her owner to claim her. If nobody comes to claim the dog, and she has been at the pound for a length of time, rescue groups like ours take notice and begin a conversation about taking the dog into our program.
Sunny, an highly adoptable chocolate Lab, was in a pound in Kentucky, and his time ran out after he went unclaimed.
Why let a beautiful 1 year old dog like this be euthanized when we have an open foster home?
Sunny was adopted in summer 2012 within a few weeks of entering the program.
In the meantime, we may have an open foster home and might get word that a dog will be euthanized in a high-kill shelter (meaning very high euthanization rates, with few dogs being claimed by owners or adopted) across the border. In that case, why allow those dogs to be euthanized when we have a loving foster home willing to save them? Our view is that if we can save a dog’s life, geographic location is irrelevant. Rescue is the business of saving lives.
Cora, a very gentle soul, is one of the TAGS
seniors who was adopted into a loving home.

Of specific note are the senior dogs. Seniors are often euthanized faster because they are less likely to be adopted. In some cases, dogs are brought to the pound for the simple reason of being “too old.” Senior dogs offer many benefits including requiring less exercise, already being trained,  and are especially loving. This situation has led TAGS to create an innovative initiative called Seniors for Seniors.

We also get many comments on our policy to operate only within Durham Region (population 608,124). This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but we have a general rule out of respect for our volunteers. Our adoption process requires our volunteers to visit the home to conduct a questionnaire. Asking volunteers to drive out to Mississauga is too much to ask. We could do the interview over the phone but feel that a home visit is the only way to really understand the environment the dog will be going into. Our program also requires adopters to attend an eight-week training class in Enfield, Ontario, which is less feasible if they have to drive farther distances.
TAGS began to notice that many of the homes that we interviewed and approved to be foster homes were adopting their first foster dog, and then were not willing to foster any longer. As a result, the number of foster homes we had dwindled. Therefore, TAGS now has a rule that a foster family cannot adopt their first foster. 
This policy is to remind current and potential fosters that being a foster home is not about the dog you have but about the dog somewhere out there who has only days to live. By that, I mean, being a foster home allows you to quite literally save a dog’s life (or several dogs’ lives over time). It may be difficult to see each one go, but it is even harder to think of all the other dogs in need.
An email from Sue, the TAGS foster coordinator, sent on December 21, 2012.
The two dogs Sue was trying to save from being euthanized on Christmas Eve.

So the next time you hear about a rescue organization doing something you might not personally agree with, take into account the dog out there who is hours away from euthanization. And there is something you can do, too: VOLUNTEER!


  1. Absolutely wonderful post! There are so many tough decisions to make. Everyone involved with rescue knows we do everything we can. I truly wish others would open up their homes to foster. I know there are people out there that feel bad about how many dogs are being euthanized in shelters. I just wish more of them would step up and volunteer! If you can provide love and some food (which isn’t expensive by any means!), then you can save lives 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Absolutely, decisions are the most difficult part of rescue. TAGS even provides vet care, food and everything else you would ever need (training, crate, gentle leader etc.)

      At the park today I saw a foster mom be knocked on her rear by a dog she fostered two plus years ago. It is just so rewarding seeing them go on to lead happy lives and complete a family.

      Thanks for commenting.