The Vet is In:

Working with Rescues and Sanctuaries

Dr. Holly Cheever, DVMMany of NYSHA’s members are involved with animal rescue organizations: either volunteering or fostering animals, relinquishing an animal or adopting, or perhaps donating money or supplies. Whenever working with a rescue group or sanctuary, it is important to know whether the organization is reputable and will improve the animals’ lives, or is instead a source of suffering and cruelty, seeking donations that never benefit the animals who allegedly receive them.

In order to be certain that you are working with or leaving an animal with a reliable rescue group or sanctuary, ask to be shown the full facility, and avoid any group that will not permit you to see their entire premises. If they want to meet you to take or give you a pet at a public place such as a parking lot, refuse. Some “rescues” are, in fact, hoarders who take on far too many animals, resulting in illness, starvation, and death.

When visiting the animals, check for easy access to fresh water, nourishing food appropriate for age and species, and living space that is adequate in size and hygiene: there should be no foul odors. There should be a quarantine area for new arrivals to decrease their ability to transmit any developing infections to current residents. The animals should be friendly for the most part, allowing for nervousness in new situations, but most should not be hiding or afraid of contact.

If any of the animals look like they’re in bad shape — thin, lethargic, in need of medical attention — don’t necessarily believe the excuse that they just came in this way. Some may have but find out how long they’ve been there and do some research — ask what the plan is to take care of them. The same goes for unsanitary conditions. A frequent excuse from hoarders is, “I was sick today and my volunteers did not show up.”

The animals who are up for adoption should have had a veterinary exam and fecal sample testing, ideally. If the animal lacks a fecal test, have it done ASAP by your own veterinarian, who can also check for heartworm disease, fungal dermatitis, and external parasites like fleas and ticks.

If leaving a bequest or large donation, check out the organization carefully to make sure that your money will be used for something you believe in. Does the organization have a board of directors? Who is on the board? Is it registered with the appropriate bureau of charities? Speak with management or the development director to be sure that there is a succession plan that can handle the gift. When doing a will, have a lawyer verify the reputation of the organization and check on legal actions against it.

Most importantly — if you are in doubt about the care the animals are getting or the purpose of the organization, contact local authorities to express your concerns. Witnessing and reporting animal cruelty in a supposedly safe situation is the greatest contribution you can make.

Please spread the word!

Holly Cheever, DVM

NYSHA’s VP, Dr. Holly Cheever, is a partner in a small animal practice, the Village Animal Clinic, in Voorheesville, NY. She sits on several boards for animal issues, is a speaker and consultant across the nation, and has testified before Congress about animal abuse in circuses, as well as in New York City regarding the carriage horse trade.


New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XXXV, Spring 2020.