Is This Rescue Group For Real? How To Spot A Fake Adoption Group

Recently, Katherine, a colleague of mine, was researching French Bulldogs on the Internet. She came across a group calling itself a Frenchie rescue. But something about its website didn’t seem right.

Katherine did some research and discovered a report by the Humane Society of the United States charging that the group was run by a Missouri breeder it called one of the state’s worst puppy millers. The report claimed the pets on the “rescue” site are in fact cast-offs from that breeding operation.

"I was so angry," Katherine told me. "I will do anything I can do to raise awareness."

Unfortunately, her story isn’t unique. “For-profit breeders have increasingly tried to take advantage of the public’s desire to adopt homeless pets by posing as rescue groups, even using the term ‘adopt’ when selling their, all too often, puppy-mill-raised pups” says animal welfare expert Kim Saunders. “This makes it even more important that Petfinder remains a space for reputable shelters and rescue groups.”

All the adoption groups that list their pets on Petfinder have been carefully screened by our shelter outreach staff. But if you're looking beyond Petfinder for a pet to adopt, there are some red flags to keep an eye out for. No one of these points alone proves a rescue group isn't legit. But if you find several of these warning signs, you might want to look for your adoptable pet elsewhere:

After the jump: 5 questions to ask about an organization before you adopt

1) Does the group list its pets on Petfinder?

"Petfinder is the best vehicle for adoption," Saunders says. Petfinder is the world's largest database of adoptable pets, and breeders are not permitted to list purposely-bred pets. Plus, Petfinder is free for shelters and rescue groups to use. Almost all shelters and rescue groups across North America use Petfinder, so if a group doesn't, it's a good idea to ask why.

2) Does the group list mainly purebred or "designer"-breed puppies?

Puppies are surrendered to shelters and rescue groups, but usually less often than adult and senior dogs. Purebred puppies end up in shelters too, but less often. “Shelters and rescue groups usually have a mix of dogs of different ages,” Saunders says. So seeing a pet list with lots of purebred puppies and few or no adults or seniors may be a warning sign.

3) What services are included within the adoption fee?

Shelters and rescue groups will be able to tell you about the basic health and some history of the pet you want to adopt. Those following best practices will also only adopt out pets who are up-to-date on vaccinations, have been seen by a vet and are spayed or neutered before going to an adoptive home. "Adopters should be confident that their new family member is healthy and protected from disease," Saunders says. "Responsible adoption organizations neuter pets as the best way to prevent further pet overpopulation." While not all adoption groups are able to provide all of these services, it's a good idea to ask whether the group you're working with does. If not, it's okay to ask why.

4) Is the group answering your questions and are you comfortable?

"Communication with the group is vital," Saunders says. Even when an adoption group is legitimate, it's important to make sure you're comfortable with the group. If problems arise after you adopt, you want to feel sure you've adopted from a group that is responsive. Taking the time to ask questions about the group, its policies and the pet you're interested in can give you a sense of whether it's the right one for you. It can also help you sense whether it's aboveboard or not. Here are a few questions you can ask to get the conversation going:

  • Where is the pet currently housed and can I visit him?
  • Can I meet the pet before I adopt him? (This is a must!)
  • What veterinary care has he had so far and what does he need?
  • What kind of household would be best for him?
  • Does he have any behavioral concerns that you've seen?
  • Why was he surrendered?

5) Is the group asking you questions?

Shelters and rescue groups want to find homes that are going to last the lifetime of

the pet, so staff or volunteers are probably going to ask you questions. "Helping an adopter find the right pet for them is important to ensure a happy, lifelong match for both the pet and adopter," Saunders says. Below, we've included just a few of the common questions you can expect to be asked. (Some groups ask more questions, some fewer.)

  • Why do you want a pet?
  • Who makes up your family and does everyone want a new pet?
  • What's your lifestyle like?
  • Do you own or rent your home? If you rent, are pets allowed?
  • What kind of pet are you looking for?
  • How do you want a pet to fit into your life?
  • Are there other pets in your home?

Finding the right organization to work with isn't an exact science, so sometimes it's best to trust your gut. Before a shelter or rescue group can list its pets on Petfinder, our shelter outreach team has an in-depth conversation with the group to learn about who they are and what they do. We also request a veterinarian reference and verify that the group's operation exists to help find homes for pets, not to make a profit.

While individual adopters can't go this far, your personal reaction to the staff or volunteers can be the most important factor in deciding whether or not you trust the group. If you don't, adopt elsewhere. With more than 13,500 shelters and rescue groups on Petfinder, you can find a reputable organization that you feel comfortable working with.


Petfinder takes allegations of abusing our service seriously. If you believe a shelter or rescue group on Petfinder is engaging in fraud by claiming to be an adoption agency, please contact us here.

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