Movement and sales of dogs through “rescue channels” continues to explode.  While more and more cities and states are restricting sales of dogs in pet stores to those obtained from animal shelters and rescue groups, the actual source of these dogs remains obscure.  Yet, there is mounting evidence that movement through “rescue channels” includes individuals or organizations involved merely for the profit, hence the name “Retail Rescue.”  The dogs may be coming from the very same unscrupulous dog breeders these laws are intended to put out of business.

Not many states track the importation of dogs for adoption into their states, but those that do, shed some light on the enormity of this issue.

In 2012[1]

  • 7,450 rescue dogs were imported into New Hampshire
  • 15,000 dogs were imported into Connecticut through “rescue channels”
  • 90,000 dogs were received in Colorado
  • 130,000 dogs were received in Virginia

The numbers from New Hampshire and Connecticut represent dogs imported through rescue channels.

In Colorado, of the 90,000 dogs received, 12,600 were received from outside Colorado, representing dogs entering the state through “rescue channels.” The remainder includes 24,000 dogs returned to shelters, 8,600 transferred between shelters in Colorado, and other movement in and out of the state.

In Virginia, 16,800 of the 130,000 dogs received appear to be rescues, but movement of dogs within and out of the state are not well monitored.

Why are all these dogs moving through these rescue channels?

People continue to want to buy dogs, particularly puppies, but have been convinced that pet stores sell dogs that receive substandard care from commercial breeders collectively called “puppy mills.”  Thinking they are saving these dogs, the public is increasingly backing laws banning sales of pure-bred commercially sourced dogs, and permitting only sales from animal shelters and rescue groups.

Notably, the overpopulation of dogs in many parts of the U.S., particularly the north east, has been curtailed by effective spay-neuter programs in these states.  Therefore, to provide puppies and dogs to the public, seeking to purchase pets through rescue channels, these animals have to be imported from other states and countries.

Some commercial breeders deserve the name “puppy mills” and should be closed down.  Others do not.  Many rescue groups are trying to do the right thing.  Others are only in it for the money, often buying dogs from the very same puppy mills.

Profits in “Retail Rescue,” particularly involving dogs, are likely to increase exponentially.  More than 35 cities and at least 2 states, Connecticut and Illinois, have adopted or have considered banning the sale of dogs obtained through commercial breeders, and limiting sales to those sourced through rescues or shelters.

There are several animal health and consumer-related problems associated with the unregulated movement of dogs through Retail Rescue channels:

  • The source of the rescue dogs may be from the same “puppy mills” owners are trying to avoid, or from other breeders providing substandard care for the dogs;
  • Dog breeding through these channels will not only continue at current levels, but is likely to increase, if the market favors sales of rescue dogs;
  • Federal regulations over commercial breeders may not apply to these breeders;
  • “Puppy lemon laws” which many states use to protect consumers sold dogs with infectious and/or inherited diseases and disorders do not apply to rescue/shelter dogs, so consumers are without recourse when treating their newly purchased dogs, often purchased sight unseen and with no medical history;
  • Dogs imported from other states and/or countries may be infected with transmissible diseases or parasites that endanger their health and the health of other animals they come in contact with;
  • Punishing retail pet stores for unscrupulous dog breeders unreasonably harms these businesses, and will not eliminate the problem at its source;
  • Pet owners who prefer to purchase a pure-bred dog, for their known physical and behavioural characteristics, will have increasingly limited options.

Some states, in addition to tracking the movement of dogs into, within, and out of their states for adoption, have taken action to help ensure animals are healthy and owners do not unknowingly purchase sick, infected dogs.

  • Connecticut has initiated a crackdown on “adoptions” taking place at parking lots throughout the state;
  • New Hampshire requires any dog, cat, or ferret entering the state for sale or adoption, to be held for at least 48 hours at a state licensed animal health facility or veterinary practice, separated from other animals before the sale, where at least some illnesses can be diagnosed and treated.

Out of increasing concern about the spread of rabies from infected dogs imported from rabies-endemic countries, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (“NASPHV”) recently recommended that the CDC revise and expand its current animal importation regulations “to reduce the risk of introduction of zoonotic diseases, particularly rabies, into the U.S.”

According to NASPHV, over 287,000 dogs were imported into the US in 2006, many with falsified or inadequate animal health documentation.  At least 25% of those dogs were too young to be vaccinated for rabies.  To protect animal and human heath NASPHV recommends, in part:

  • Dogs, cats, and ferrets should be at least 6 months of age prior to importation into the U.S.;
  • Proof of rabies vaccination should accompany imported dogs, cats, and ferrets;
  • Permanent identification of these animals should be required and a national electronic database established to track their movement;
  • The imported dogs, cats, and ferrets should be quarantined for a minimum of 30 days.

These measures would help prevent the exposure of U.S. pets and humans to rabies or other zoonotic diseases.

Some of these controls, even if modified, should be considered for dogs moving through rescue channels to help ensure their proper care, and prevent the spread of disease.  A closer look at the source and movement of dogs through “rescue channels” must be part of the overall initiative to protect the health and well being of dogs sold in the U.S.





[1] Data obtained from NAIA Shelter Project

  • Brandia

    Great article but you only touched on the tip of the iceburg. We have a
    rescuer here in Washington state who buys from breeders & sells the
    dogs for up to 1400.00 & she has purchased at least 5 properties
    that I know of, off of those proceeds. This same person let almost all
    of her exotic animals starve to death in Montana. She has now resorted
    to getting animals from California shelters which she brings straight
    off of the transport van & adopts out that day & caused a
    horrific parvo outbreak where adult vaccinated dogs were dying. It is
    perceived that rescues with a 501(c)3 are “good” a lot are not. I have
    been trying to write some kind of legislation that gives our state Dept
    of Ag control over rescues but am coming up short in the legal language.
    WSDA & their vet are standing behind me so I will keep trying. The
    caveat is that ONLY the WSDA veterinarian can authorize seizure of
    animals & certify that they are either abused or not & he is a
    good old fashioned country vet who knows the difference between media
    ops & a truly sick or abused animal. To protect our state from the
    sensationalized HSUS raids because they already got us for millions of
    dollars with the Kennewick Eskimo raid. I am a rescuer, but I work
    almost entirely with shelters & breeders, NOT other rescues. Yes, I
    said breeders, usually if I have a dog of their breed (even a mix) they
    will take the dog & have them fixed because they guard good breeding
    lines very jealously& don’t want unknowns in that breed & they
    usually have a waiting list of 1 to 5 years. I have known breeders my
    whole life & they were the original rescuers, but without the
    fanfare & the donation campaigns. They would be the one’s to help
    with ideas & solutions, but because of the HSUS & ASPCA smear
    campaigns most have gone underground. Get good breeders to the table
    & let them help, they have been controlling & perfecting their
    pet/show/breeding populations for decades.

  • Songbrook

    The public needs to be protected from unscrupulous ‘rescues’ more than from already regulated breeders. People are brainwashed into thinking any dog will do in any home, as long as it’s ‘cuuute!”, but in reality, the most important element in keeping a dog in a home for life is comparability of temperament, grooming needs, and energy levels. A street dog from some other country isn’t likely to make a good pet for a young family who is looking for their first dog. Responsible breeders make sure the family looking to buy a puppy from them is ready for a dog of their breed, or any dog at all, really.

    The other thing is that many ‘rescuers’ present themselves as professionals. Most are just kind people who want to help, and many of them are deeply misguided by other people who are just like them. They don’t understand the temperament of the breeds mingling in a mixed breed dog, and mistakenly say, for example, a sheltie/jack russell mix is a good choice for a suburban family with active children in a two-earner household. The dog will be left alone much of the day, and when attended, will be overwhelmed by the activity in its surroundings. Jacks like exercise; shelties need a structured household. This dog gets neither, and both breeds bark a LOT when their needs aren’t met. Neighbors complain, and dog lands in a shelter, or returns to one, *if* the rescue or shelter is still around when you call, once your check clears.

    Just as there are poor breeders, there are bad rescues. How can you regulate one but not the other?

    • Mia

      No one mentioned the “guilt” the public is made to feel when buying a purebred dog from a breeder.

    • ronna

      Excellent Point!

  • Marcella Covault

    Excellent and spot on blog and comments from the trenches. Every time I read that another city has banned sales of dogs and cats unless they come from “rescues” or “shelters”, I am appalled that people can be so misled. When I read of the THOUSANDS of dogs that are imported into this country by “rescues”, while dog breeders are vilified and blamed for “overpopulation”, I am appalled and incredulous that people actually buy into the anti-breeding propaganda.

    Long-time pet breeders in particular are usually very knowledgeable, and they certainly have expertise that would benefit pets that need re-homing. They are shunned because of the “propaganda mill” hate-speech from the animal rights-led organizations that has deluged society for years. When I read someone saying that the “overpopulation problem” is getting worse, I am appalled and disappointed that someone can be so brainwashed that they won’t even research how well we are doing in cutting down on shelter euthanasias and education of the public in responsible pet care.

    Jon Katz wrote an excellent essay discussing Plato’s “The Allegory of the Caves”, and he called the animal rights extremists the “shadowmakers”, as well as implying that there are many other areas in society that are either those who can’t see (chained cave dwellers) or those who manipulate and control to suit their ends (shadowmakers). I re-read Plato’s classic work after reading Jon’s essay, and it’s a relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago.

  • Joan Horrocks

    animals should have to be bought from a home breeder or from shelters with addresses and locations that can be traced..not parking lots…but people have to use their heads son-in-law tried to rescue a shepherd mix, but when at the end the lady said you have to text my husband and tell him where you are from then meet him…he will be there about 3AM!!!! My son said I am NOT sending my family out with 500.00 to some rest stop at 3am…forget it we won’t be taking the dog…scary! He is still looking…
    AND what happened to paying 75-100.00 for a rescue then a spay/neuter??? Now it is 400 to 700 to adopt a dog…I can buy a purebred from a breeder or breed rescue for that price..and some of these dogs have only been there for days…not like your paying for up keep..should never go over 200.00 with spay/neuter and chip. They go on about how these dogs need homes but then the price is so high you can’t afford it. I remember when you got a dog at the pound or SPCA for the cost of a spay/neuter. Now you have to SAVE up for a dog at a “non-profit rescue…OKAYYYYY something is definately wrong here…

    • doozledorf

      N.J. ASPCA sells mixed breed pups that have been brought from the south or other countries for $400—$500..i have a friend who works there and she fell in love with a pit bull and it got sick and they just let it die instead of spending money on it…she said they are now all about the money!

  • Tal Al Arz

    Kudos to Brandia & Songbrook!
    We clearly NEED regulations aimed at “Rescues” & “Shelters” as opposed to exempting them from regulations. Further a strong educational initiative to counter the divergent and mis-leading AR propaganda.
    1) absolutely STOP importations from “off-shore” This is profit motivated &/or a tool to falsely publicize “overpopulation” in an effort to pass anti-breeding legislation
    2) Following NAIA lead, mandate tracking of interstate transport of rescues and eliminate the double and triple listing of “rescues” used so effectively by the animal rights proponents to promote anti-breeding legislation.
    3) Regulate and set guidelines for minimal qualifications of any and all “Rescue & Shelter” personnel to ELIMINATE making invalid, erroneous, and ignorant evaluations of “Breed” temperament, and suitability of rescues for a potential adopter!
    4) Mandate effective quarantines for any animal transported across state lines for “resale” by ANY & ALL Rescues & shelters.
    5) a massive educational initiative aimed at the general population but even more importantly our legislators on the realities of pet ownership and sale practices, & the critical issues created by the willful abuse of the rescue ideology by HSUS and animal rights extremists. It is appalling that basically intelligent individuals are led like blind mice, by the AR zealots, into glorification of the rescue INDUSTRY, yes it is a profit making machine which feels a need to vilify purebred breeding to promote their own existence .
    I Have done purebred rescue and am appalled at the overwhelming mis-identification of breed of “rescues” by both legitimate shelters & for profit groups. I wonder if this is ignorance & lack of knowledge or simply an attempt to get Pure Bred Rescues to take dogs the for profit shelter/rescue industry do not want or perceive as $saleable$? Then there are other shelters who refuse to release a dog to it’s breeder or pure-bred rescue??? To what end? Certainly not a positive end!
    I am also very concerned at the totally misguided and adamant pro mix-breed (read also DESIGNER, the newest puppy mill development!!) & rescue/ anti purebred mentality of otherwise intelligent individuals encountered at off lead dog parks. A window, I fear, into the ignorant and naïve opinions embraced by John Q Public.
    Education of the general UN-ENGAGED public and Legislators is absolutely necessary but the question is how to engage the intended audience. AKC has an audience limited to the already aware. I think we need to form a coalition of concerned groups to spearhead a massive educational initiative using any and all approaches, media and otherwise.

  • etbmfa

    Mostly agree with this article but strongly disagree with the “source” for the rescues. Young puppies are being imported/smuggled in from Mexico and other foreign sources – over 300,000 in 2013 according to the USDA and that is just the ones imported legally. Shelters in the south are encouraging people to bring them puppies from “opps” litters which then encourages “accidental” breedings since they are paying for the pups. It is also highly suspected that many shelters are doing their own breedings with dogs confiscated or brought in and then placed in foster homes when they are discovered that they are accidently pregnant. If a shelter worker doesn’t know what is causing those accidents then they are not qualified to work at a shelter. This is a MUCH bigger problem than anyone seems to realize.

  • KaD

    Many ‘rescues’ are using lax state laws to transport vicious dogs to other areas where their attack history is effectively erased. This pit bull that killed another dog was shuttled through Colorado:

  • Maribeth Magby

    In Arkansas, i have been fostering for a group that’s hard to pinpoint… no working website.. they only post pics in the northern states petfinder sites as northerners pay more and return them less.. also, this one only does puppies and nursing mom’s niw, as they can get 500.00 for a puppy. It’s called last chance arkansas. Check it out

  • Maygrelle

    It’s not only New Hampshire that has a 48-hour hold. Massachusetts and Rhode Island also have the same. Unfortunately, that boosts the adoption fees in those states. And there are ways to circumvent the law, i.e. picking up in a different state and then transporting an owned animal. I applaud the efforts to crack down, but I don’t know that it will work…

  • Janel Lewis

    My sister and I recently adopted a puppy from Abby’s Animal Rescue in Osteen FL, at a PetSmart event. She runs a non profit shelter and states she received the pregnant mother from a kill shelter. We adopted him and everything was going wonderful, my sister gets an email from her a few days later, urging her to get the free 30 day pet insurance policy included with the 350 cash only adoption fee. She told me sister that one of the puppies was “sick”. My sister didn’t think much of it, but the next evening he started showing signs of parvo. We took him to the emergency vet and it was confirmed. We then look at her Facebook page and a few days before she posted that one of his littermates had contracted parvo and died and they were asking for donations. She stated she emailed the adopters, but didn’t disclose that the “sick” dog had parvo. My sister has spoken to the other adopters via social media and almost all the puppies have parvo. She works exclusively with a certain vet who is giving plasma infusions to the infected dogs, a treatment not advised to us from the vet we saw. My sister didn’t not want to use her Reccomended vet and she has declined to offer any assistance financially, but knowing now concerning the Florida lemon law , we would have been better off adopting from an accredited business instead of a 503 c 3, “non profit “, which are exempt from this law. It angers me that she would not be transparent about the parvo infection, and instead urged my sister to get the pet insurance which had a fourteen day waiting period before any protection started. I will think twice before adopting from a non for profit shelter. Thanks for all the information.