The Rip Off World of Animal Rescue
By Julie Reardon
This month, I’m going to stray from my typical column highlighting happenings in the Blue Ridge a take this opportunity to skewer a sacred cow. Groups calling themselves rescues are not all saints and many are not what they seem. Thanks to our insatiable demand for companion animals and the very successful animal rights driven anti-breeder campaign of the past two decades, the rescue industry is booming, especially for trade in cute little fluffy dogs with big eyes and snub noses. Tax free cash donations flow freely to save horses, and now dogs, from the meat trade. All this easy cash has attracted unsavory scammers, liars and rip off artists out for a tax free quick buck. Yes, tax free. All a rescue group has to do to claim non-profit status is send the IRS a postcard annually stating they make less than $50,000 a year. If they make more than that, they must fill out IRS form 990. More on that below.
Not all rescues are bad of course, just as not all breeders are evil. And while shelters might be full of dogs, they’re not the ones people want. And it’s much harder to recoup costs or even adopt out the majority of shelter dogs, because most are pit bulls or mixes—large and often not suitable for families with other pets or small children. Hence, an underground trade of dogs imported from Third World puppy mills has quietly gained a foothold to meet the demand.
Savvy horse trading scammers zeroed in on ‘saving’ horses bound for slaughter as a fountain of easy money. Never mind that there are no slaughter houses that process horses anywhere in the U.S., and haven’t been any for over 15 years. But the scammers post on Facebook and social media desperate pleas for money to save horses bound for kill buyers if you don’t immediately donate or pay $1500-2000 so a rescuer can buy it at auction and “save” it. Horses are actually a better donation vehicle than other animals since few people have the space to actually house them but they’ll happily try to save them by sending money. And while there are, in fact, slaughter houses that process horses in Mexico and Canada, these horse traders would have you believe kill buyers routinely pay well over $1000 per horse for animals they then have to truck over 1,000 miles to a processing plant. It’s simply not true—a third grader could see the math does not add up. Horse meat in countries where it’s available, sells for about fifty cents a pound. Compared, for example, to beef, starting at about $4.00 per pound for the cheapest cuts. Horses destined for slaughter sell for $150, maybe $200 tops, not $1500.
So some sucker donates $1500 to save a horse pictured on social media from “going to the killers” when in reality the sale price was $200. Add a delivery fee the rescuer may pay to have it delivered from the auction house to their own facility and it still doesn’t add up. Where does the extra $1000 go? Along with the rescued horse, it goes to the rescue as tax free income. Knock the mud and manure off it, fatten it up and the rescued animal can then sell it for an “adoption” fee of $2500 to $5000 or more. In addition to flipping horses, clever rescuers can and do use donated cash for capital improvements to their own property that they lease to the rescue while simultaneously operating lucrative boarding and training operations augmented by laundering donation money. Your tax dollars hard at work.
It never ceases to amaze me how gullible otherwise intelligent people are about buying pets. And yes, including rescues because although they may euphemistically call the sale price an adoption fee, if you pay for it you buy it no matter what the fee is called. For decades animal rights activists have spoon fed the population the notion that anyone who intentionally breeds dogs is a despicable cruel exploiter enslaving dogs to breed and live in squalor. “Adopt don’t shop!” is the rallying cry, followed by the untrue but catchy “For every dog bought from a breeder a shelter dog will die.” A rescue dog is, after all, the perfect vehicle for virtue signaling even if it’s not really rescued but bought from a Third World puppy mill and then brokered at a profit through transporters and dealers until it ends up at a retail rescue. Some breeds are so desirable that purebred prices from conscientious breeders approach or exceed 5 figures, so it follows that people who want to save money and virtue-signal by rescuing a dog of that breed happily pay $1200 or more.
Some examples of the fiction designed to part people from their money: Dogs that need to be saved (by cash donations) from the Asian meat trade. Yes, a few dogs are eaten as food occasionally in some remote areas of China and Korea but it’s a very tiny and shrinking number. Dogs are not bred nor farmed for the meat trade; it’s too small. Even more egregious: presenting popular breeds like Cavalier King Charles spaniels and French bulldogs as “meat dogs” saved from those horrid (even if mythical) meat breeders. Let’s look at a typical example. Frenchies are little dogs, and due to their large, brachycephalic heads and small bodies, puppies cannot fit through the birth canal so must be surgically delivered via c-section. Most can’t even be bred naturally; they require artificial insemination. You’d have to be really stupid to believe anyone would spend that kind of money to breed them for meat dogs.
Another whopper: purebred Golden retrievers rescued from the hills outside of a village in Turkey looking for adoptive homes, at a price of course. Seriously? Who believes herds of purebreds, much less popular breeds like Goldens, run wild in foreign countries, only mate with others of its breed, and become instantly socialized and suitable for house pets immediately upon importation to the U.S.? But calling it a rescue adoption even though the fee is $1500 for the so-called rescue from Turkey allows virtue signaling that paying $1200 to a breeder does not. There’s even a doozy making the rounds on social media raising funds to help with medical expenses of a burned dog that tried to save its owners from a fire. Only problem: the badly burned dog was really a doctored photo of a Golden retriever with a slice of ham laid across its face.
Of course, not all rescues are operated by thieves and scammers, there are plenty of good ones, just as there are also plenty of good breeders. Whether you go with a rescue or purpose-bred pet, it’s buyer beware. Do your research if you are planning to add a dog or cat that you may have for the next 10 or 15 years, before you drive out to look at cute puppies or kittens or view sad-eyed animals seeking homes. Expect to be closely questioned, even grilled; real rescues and breeders want this to be a good fit. If you want a specific breed of dog (especially a popular one) look it up and familiarize yourself with it and go to the national breed club—all breeds have them. Nearly all breeds have a rescue division to rehome dogs of that breed that have been fostered and evaluated by knowledgeable volunteers. With rescue organizations, ask if they are a registered charity and if so, request a copy of their form 990; they’re required by law to provide copies if asked for the 3 most current years. Look them up on charitynavigator.com and often you can view the 990 form online. If they refuse to provide this information, they probably have something to hide and you should look elsewhere.