What's the Difference Between an Animal Shelter and Animal Rescue?


When you are thinking of adopting a rescued pet, you have to decide whether you will pick one from an animal shelter or an animal rescue. While both of these organizations provide similar functions, helping homeless pets find new homes, they are not quite the same thing. Understanding the differences will help you choose the right organization as you look to complete your family.

What Is a Shelter?

A shelter is an organization that rescues homeless pets in the community. It has a physical location that you can visit that is not in someone's home, but rather a stand alone location, where rescued dogs, cats and sometimes other animals are housed in a kennel type environment. Sometimes shelters will have veterinarians on-hand as well to provide basic medical care and spay/neuter services to rescued animals.

Popular shelters in Canada include the Toronto Humane Society, SPCA Montreal, and the Vancouver Humane Society.

Shelters often receive government funding to help them with their work. Through that funding and donations from the community, they will pay staff members to help them with their work. Shelters also rely on the help of volunteers to socialize, play with and care for pets.

Adopting from a Shelter

Shelters have set guidelines in place for adoption and usually request a small adoption fee. You may have to submit a background check or bring in your existing pets to meet the pet you plan to adopt. Shelters will require you to have your new pet spayed or neutered before you take it home.

What Is an Animal Rescue?

Animal rescues are often completely volunteer-run. As charitable organizations, they fund their work through donations from the community. Sometimes rescues are housed in one individual home, but more often than not rescued cats and dogs are fostered in homes created through a network overseen by the rescue's founders.

Examples of animal rescues include the Halifax Cat Rescue Society, the Basset Hound Rescue of Ontario, and the Friendly Giants Dog Rescue.  Many rescue organizations are often breed specific, focusing on a breed that the founders love and appreciate.

Adopting from an Animal Rescue

Sometimes adopting from an animal rescue may be more difficult than adopting from a shelter. Because the rescue volunteers are more closely connected with their animals, they will look very closely at potential applicants, with a goal of finding a match that benefits both the animal and the person. They may also require you to foster your pet for a while before adopting to ensure you are a good fit. This can be very beneficial for both you and your new pet, in case it isn’t a good “fit”.

So is a pet rescue or a pet shelter the best place to adopt? The answer depends on what you are looking for in a new pet. Spend some time researching shelters and rescues near you, and you will find the best organization for your adoption needs.