Animal Rescue and Animal Shelter: What is the Difference?

by Suzie Cyrenne February 16, 2015 8 min read


Animal Rescue and Animal Shelter: What is the Difference?

Want to find a new furry family member but are on the fence about whether to adopt from an animal shelter or an animal rescue? We understand how you feel and would want to help out. Just read on below to find out the difference and of course, similarities, of animal rescues and animal shelters.

First of all, we are aware that people may have different notions as to what animal shelters and rescues are. Depending on where exactly you are from, an animal shelter may be the same facility as your local pound or can be an entirely different place. In some areas, an animal rescue also acts as an animal shelter, so what is their real difference and where would it be better to adopt from?

Animal Shelter

As previously stated, an animal shelter can be your local pound and be government-owned but not all shelters are funded by tax-payer money. Generally speaking, an animal shelter is a place where animals are surrendered or brought in when their previous owners either cannot take care of them anymore or if they are found on the streets.

Shelters generally take in all sorts of animals (not just pets depending on local restrictions) and are almost always full. Because a big number of animal shelters take in all sorts of animals, they can have a problem keeping all of them and this often ends with the shelter having to euthanize animals rather than set them loose to fend on their own. Of course people who run or work in shelters do not want this to happen and some have no-kill policies in place but sometimes, letting the animal be put to sleep is the best option for the homeless animal and the community. This is the reason why shelter animals are typically seen as having their days numbered because in many instances, that can really be true.

5 Animal Shelter Pros

  1. Animals are housed in the shelter’s facility so you’ll have a chance to see available animals for adoption.

  2. Processing time for adoption is usually shorter and have fewer requirements as compared to adopting from an animal rescue (This does not apply to all animal shelters but is a general statement. Please do your research about your specific shelter or call them for information).

  3. There is an easier way to interact with a future pet since some shelters provide a meeting area or playroom for you to meet and be acquainted with an animal you like.

  4. A majority of shelters treat their animal’s minor health conditions…

  5. And would also deworm plus spay and neuter before letting the animal be ready for adoption. This means that you will save a considerable amount on vet fees.

5 Animal Shelter Cons

  1. Some animal shelters may be in a hurry to get you to take the pet home. This can have negative results depending on your and the pet’s needs and personality. Keep in mind that shelters have very limited space and they would always need new space to house other animals.

  2. Some animals in the shelter have no known history whatsoever.

  3. Another possible issue is that since animals have a short turn-around time in most shelters, the staff and volunteers may not really know enough about the animal to gauge whether it will be a good fit with you.

  4. Private shelters may have a lot of requirements and fees before letting you adopt or take home a pet. For some people, a minimal fee can be a con despite the fee being considerably cheaper than to bringing an intact pet to a vet for spaying and neutering.

  5. Shelter animals are often not on their best behavior because a shelter can be a very scary place for an animal who is not used to being in a confined space with other animals (this also applies even to the most well run shelters). For this reason, you might miss up on a great pet just because the animal is scared out of its wits when you met it.


The Inside Scoop on Animal Shelters

Animal shelters can be privately owned by a group of volunteers or can be manned by government employed staff. Because of the nature of what shelter is (some of them do not turn down surrendered animals), the place can be very stressful and crowded both for the animals and the staff or volunteers. For this reason, even the best shelters may not always have the best environment to meet a future pet. It is why it is important to try to have some alone time with a future pet before committing to adopt. Some shelters have family meet-up areas where you and your family plus existing pets can meet-up future pet candidates but not all shelters have this service or have the luxury of space and time to do so.


Animal Rescue

An animal rescue is usually a private organization or a private endeavor which takes in certain animals (mostly pet animals or companion animal only) from abusive homes or homeless situations. What an animal rescue does is to provide the animal a temporary home through a network of animal foster parents who agree to host the animal until it is adopted. This is can be for the duration of rehabilitation if the animal has health or behavior problems, or for the duration of treatment if the animal is ill or in need of veterinary help.

An animal rescue can also be focused on one or two types of animals only. Some are breed and age specific which is a good thing because this means that the people who are fostering the animals really have a passion for the specific breed or age of animal the rescue is focused on.

Generally speaking, animal rescues run on pure donation and goodwill of animal lovers. It is very rare for an animal rescue to receive any help or funding from the government.

5 Animal Rescue Pros

  1. Animals are often housed in home environment where they can retain their social ability and be accustomed to humans.

  2. Since animals spend a lot more time in the rescue living with their foster parents, there is usually a lot more available information about the animal you may be interested in. This also means that what you see and hear is what you will get when you adopt from an animal rescue.

  3. The adoption process from a rescue is generally a lot more involved as compared to adopting from a shelter. The adoption can take weeks and would mean multiple visits before being finalized. This is an advantage for someone who really wants to be sure about going home with the right pet or animal companion.

  4. Animals from rescues are often very healthy, spayed and neutered, and have a complete round of vaccinations. If this is not the case, there is often a full record of what needs to be done so there will be very little guesswork.

  5. You will have a chance to interact with the pet candidate many times before taking home the animal. This means a more gradual adjustment which is less stressful for the animal and for you.

5 Animal Rescue Cons

  1. The amount of time spent on making sure the pet and you are a great fit can take weeks and some people just do not have time for that.

  2. The paperwork and interview fees can be a lot more as compared to adopting from a shelter.

  3. You may be asked to shoulder vet fees as soon as you expressed interest in a pet or companion animal. Keep in mind that animal rescues are privately funded and run on donations so you cannot really expect not to pay anything. The good news is although there would be fees, the animal rescue can forward your information to a vet who can give you discounted rates so it is not truly a real let down.

  4. Meeting the future pet or scheduling visits can be a pain because the pet lives with a foster who is a volunteer. This means that the foster cannot just leave his or her work to attend to you wanting to meet the pet.

  5. Some rescues may require home visits even months after the adoption has been finalized to ensure that the pet is doing well with you. It is understandable that some individuals are not a fan of this.

The Inside Scoop on Animal Rescues

Animal rescues are typically manned by volunteers. If they do have a facility, it is often much smaller than that of a shelter because rescues often have temporary foster homes for the animals they take in. In some cases, the foster families or individuals ends up adopting the pet because it is unavoidable to develop a strong bond with an animal who have lived with you for a few weeks or even a few months.

One of the reasons why rescues can be stricter when matching an animal to a future pet parent is because they know the animal’s behaviors, needs, wants, and yes, personality. They would really want to ensure that whoever is approved to adopt the animal will be its fur-ever pet parent.

The above is not to say that all rescues are like that but as HomeFurEver’s representative said, “Every rescue is different. We all have different systems of operation, adoption processes, and requirements. Approval through one rescue does not guarantee that you will be approved through another rescue. Similarly, every dog is different. What we require for one dog may be completely different than what we require for another- ie. fenced in yard, other animals in the home, ages of family members, etc.”

Adopting a Pet – Shelter or Rescue?

Oftentimes people tend to adopt from an animal rescue or an animal shelter out of simply liking one over the other or because one’s process is easier. What pet parents have to know is while it is important to do a bit of background checking on the animal shelter or animal rescue they have in mind, what is more important is to get to know the process of adoption each facility or organization follows.

There is no real answer regarding which is better to adopt from. It all boils down to who are the people running the shelter or rescue and how much they care for the animals.

Some animal shelters have partnerships with local rescue groups to ensure that animals who may not have a chance of surviving in the shelter or have special needs will still have a chance to be adopted.

The Adoption Process

Adopting can be easy-peasy or can be very painstaking. From what we’ve gathered from interviews and online research, a future animal parent can simply give up because going through the process can be a real test in determination but it will all be worth it in the end; after all, you are adopting another family member.

When shelters or rescues have stringent adoption processes, it is best to take time to get to know them. If they are investing a lot of time and effort in finding the best homes for the animals in their care, that should be taken as a good sign and not as a hindrance to you having your very own fur baby.

Every organization and facility is different. Usually, shelters are not as strict as rescues in processing adoptions but there can always be exceptions. As Jen Daley of Pet Dog Adoptions says, “Whichever organization you choose, it is important to respect the process” – we could not agree more!

Are you getting excited about adding a pet or companion animal to your family? Check out our full pet adoption series – The Ultimate Guide to Pet Adoption.

Like you, we are passionate about animals and would like you to have the same joy we have as an animal parent. Join us on Facebook to get updates on our future articles and be notified whenever we post more pet and animal friendly tips!


Suzie Cyrenne
Suzie Cyrenne


Suzie Cyrenne co-founded Zumalka over five years ago, and has worked in naturopathic pet medicine for more than six. Day-to-day, she works as the lead manager for the Zumalka staff and specializes in training the team to have thorough knowledge of pet health and the company’s extensive line of naturopathic remedies.

Suzie has gained a lot of experience from years spent in the pet health field and she earned her degree in Homeopathy at the School of Classical Homeopathy in Quebec, Canada, (a partner of the European Academy of Natural Medicine (AEMN) in France).

9 Responses


August 09, 2021

Dear Bambi,
Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your story with us. I am so sorry to hear that you need to find other homes for what sound like amazing little kitties! I’m sure this is very difficult for you. I hope you are able to find kind and loving homes for them. We also have contacts of a few shelters and rescues that may be able to help out if you need:
I hope this helps!!


August 09, 2021

My name is Bambi I’m 53 years old I have always been a cat lover and an overall animal lover I get very attached to them and vice versa I have three kittens and a beautiful calendar cat that I need to find homes for due to my need for a heart surgery and no one to care for them. The kittens are about 3 months old and soooo lovable. I’ve interacted with them every day and they actually sleep with me so I need someone who’s used to Interacting with them like Family members one of the kittens absolutely will not let you ignore him To the point where he positions himself between me and my phone it’s hilarious. They were born in my house and I’m on a very fixed income there were five I managed to get homes for two and I was trying to find homes for the other three somehow ended up keeping them they haven’t had any shots but other than that they’ve been very well taken care of their indoor outdoor so they like to run outside and they won’t run away could someone please help me give my babies a loving home and all the affection in the world that they deserve so much?

Ms Elizabeth Campbell
Ms Elizabeth Campbell

January 11, 2021

My amazing wee Shih Tzu was killed by a van this morning!! His name was Bear and he loved and was loved SO much. In time I’d love to help a wee rescue dog and adopt him. Will keep in touch. Thank you. 🐻👼XX

judith Hollowell
judith Hollowell

January 04, 2021

Adopted 2 dogs from a rescuer 4 years ago. Lost one in a hit and run. Max my fur baby left clings to me and gets very little exercise since I’m recovering from heart surgery. He is an inside dog 5 years old. Looking for a similar breed not only for me but for Max. Max is a Shitzue. Sorry about spelling. The fur baby would have a good home but I don’t know where to find a dog that needs a home and is similar to Max. Max has gained w

Rebecca Cope
Rebecca Cope

December 07, 2020

After losing my dog in the Spring I decided I’m ready to love another fur baby. I wanted to adopt a breed specific (same as last dog) senior dog because I had just loved one through the aging process & also know older dogs are difficult to place. I was so amazed that an active, newly retired person w/no other animals, no children, live alone with only time & attention to give was met with so much red tape & an attitude of “hang out indefinitely & we’ll let you know if you can adopt this healthy senior dog”. It certainly felt as if the organization had no motivation to find this dog a loving home. I respect wanting to be careful about placing animals in a safe, appropriate place but this attitude bordered on offensive. I am a retired professional, experienced with my last rescue from an abusive environment who became my constant companion. There would have been no better home for this precious dog. I walked away feeling as if my attempt to save a dog & provide his best life was something sinister and a plan for which I would be scrutinized more than adopting a newborn baby. Organizations should be thorough in vetting prospective adopters but geez, they could have a tone & attitude of working TOGETHER with prospective adopters rather than an attitude of “we’re going to make you jump through countless hoops-just because we can”. It is not in the best interest of the precious dogs who would benefit from a loving home & the opportunity to develop a strong bond with their human and feel safe & secure. It broke my heart to walk away but the rescue group made the process so difficult it felt like it would be open ended with no idea how long would be the wait for a dog advertised as healthy & ready for a forever home. Now I believe the only way is to find a puppy from a breeder. Such a shame, rescue organizations should pause to reflect on exactly why they are there in the first place. It should be priority 1 to find safe homes rather than the chaotic environment which stresses dogs unnecessarily.


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Rain's Mom
Rain's Mom

September 24, 2019

After trying for a very long time to adopt through various rescue groups, private shelters and through our own city and being stymied at every turn, we went to Craigslist. There, we found a plea from a lady who might have been a rescuer, or simply a local resident of the town. The small, overcrowded rural shelter was swamped with kittens and puppies and adult cats and dogs. This shelter takes in way more animals than are ever adopted, and so many end up euthanized simply because rescues and foster families and adopters are so few and far between… plus, so many folks either don’t spay or neuter their pets and also let them run loose. The staff, while well meaning, is overwhelmed and they just don’t have time to really LOVE on the pets and socialize them. Amenities are few, too. So, we paid a visit just to see what was up. We came home that day with a lovely and sweet (but understandably scared and shy) 10 week old kitten who has been coming out of her shell quite nicely since she came home with us a few days ago. She’s healthy, had first shots, and she will be spayed and microchipped within the month, once she gets just a little bigger. There were so many nice pets available there, it was heartbreaking. Many of them won’t have a chance to get a loving home due to space and a lack of foster families and rescue groups in that area. If we could take them all, we would. But, we were at least able to save one precious baby, and it’s a blessing. For now, I’m spreading the word, hoping to find loving homes and fosters for more of these beautiful animals.

kalissa seaton
kalissa seaton

June 07, 2019

this was very helpful since im opening my oun rescue

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