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    How To Create An Effective Rescue Policy For Your Animal Sanctuary

    An older metal vane against the sky.

    If your sanctuary is known in the community as a place where rescued animals are treated compassionately and with dignity, it’s inevitable that you will receive numerous requests for rescuing or rehoming animals in need (including from those who aren’t necessarily fully aware of the challenges involved in rescue). In the late spring and early summer, when rescue requests seem to come in most frequently, you might end up fielding two or more requests a day!

    While, like us, you would undoubtedly like to see all animals treated with compassion and dignity, it’s unfeasible for one sanctuary to give a lifetime of care to every animal in need. As such, it’s important to reflect on your sanctuary’s mission and think carefully about the scenarios in which you’d consider taking in an animal if you haven’t already. Maybe you’ve had ideas but haven’t been entirely consistent in your approach to rescue. Creating a written policy can help clarify many aspects of your organization, its scope, and ultimate mission.

    Ask yourself:

    By crafting an accessible policy explaining your criteria for taking in an animal, you can also help the public understand your side of the story. A detailed explanation of why your policies are in place can lessen any backlash you might receive for refusing what seems like a reasonable request from a concerned community member. Making your policy easy to find will also cut down on the number of unrealistic propositions sent to your team in the first place!

    Scenarios To Consider Crafting Policy For

    Paying For Rescues

    Would your organization pay to save lives (or accept an animal who was paid for by a sympathetic community member), such as at a stock show or chicks at a farm supply store? Some organizations endorse this practice, considering the individual life being saved as ultimately more valuable than the cost; other organizations say no to all pay-for-rescue scenarios, believing that a paid rescue would not incentivize reduced animal exploitation from the seller.  Paying an adoption fee for animals coming from an animal shelter or rescue organization is typically considered different from pay-for-rescue as the money does not go to an industry that commodifies animals.

    Our Two Cents

    Although an individual animal may be spared through their purchase, either by an organization or a compassionate community member, The Open Sanctuary Project does not advocate for this practice generally. “Pay-for-rescue” often perpetuates the cycle of animal exploitation by directly funding its continuance if agricultural operators are given money without a guarantee that they will stop harming additional animals. There are countless animals in need of sanctuary who do not need to be purchased. Of course, there will always situations where money may come into play during a rescue that are more nuanced, and we would never fault a sanctuary for making the judgment call to save a life for some sort of financial exchange if deemed necessary.


    Would your organization accept rehomed animals? That is, animals who were treated as a companion until the human caring for them decided they no longer could or would? Again, there is not an easy answer to this question because the individual animal needs to be cared for regardless of how they got into their current situation. Edgar’s Mission in Australia has a nuanced policy statement explaining why they do not participate in rehoming situations:

    “if we are truly advocates for animals, we must ensure people realise that animals are not like library books that can simply be put back on the shelf or passed to another when we have finished with them. Animals are living, breathing, thinking and feeling creatures who require a lifetime of care and commitment. Taking in an animal someone no longer wants may well take the place of an abandoned animal who has no one looking out for them. We do, however, encourage people to take ownership of their situation and we will work with them in finding ways to assist with the rehoming process of their animal – after all they are in the best position to know the needs and nuances of the animal in their care.” – Edgar’s Mission

    Rescue With The Intent Of Adopting Out

    Would your organization consider taking in animals with the intent to place them into loving forever homes as soon as they are healthy?  If your sanctuary has appropriate quarantine space and has the resources to responsibly care for the newly rescued animals short term, you may decide to say yes to certain animals even if your sanctuary is technically at capacity.  This scenario allows your organization to save more animals in need without the additional cost and resources required to provide lifelong care to them.  If your organization decides to rescue with the intent of adopting out, you must have a plan in place for the unexpected.  What will you do if the newly rescued animal(s) has serious health or other issues that make them more difficult or inappropriate to adopt out?  What if the home you had lined up falls through?  Ultimately, the animals who come onto your sanctuary grounds are relying upon you for their health and well-being while living under your roof, however long that ends up being. It’s important to keep this responsibility in mind when bringing in animals under this circumstance.

    Species Outside Of Your Organization’s Mission

    Would your organization accept animal species outside of your organization’s original scope? Would your animal sanctuary accept a parrot or a dog? Why or why not?

    Animals With Special Care Requirements

    Would your organization be willing and able to accept an animal who had special care requirements such as a chronic illness or injury that requires a daily checkup? If so, under which circumstances? What if they were traumatized and could not safely live with your existing residents? Saying no in these situations can be especially heartbreaking, but it’s always important to weigh the sustainability of your sanctuary and the needs of your existing residents when considering taking in an animal who has a host of challenges.

    Animals Of Unknown Origin

    Would your organization accept an animal whose origin was unknown or uncertain? Why or why not?

    Animals Who Could Potentially Live Well Elsewhere

    Would your organization accept animals who another sanctuary or community member may be willing to accept? Some sanctuaries will take in any animals looking for a home who fit the rest of their policies; other sanctuaries are only willing to accept animals who are trapped in the most dire of situations.

    Writing A Policy For The Public

    Once you’ve determined your internal policy for rescues, you can choose whether you’d like to develop a clear, concise document for the public to understand your position. If you do write a public-facing rescue policy, make sure to put your compassion on display here, even if some readers may find refusing needy animals a less-than-compassionate endeavor. It’s always hard to say no to a living being in need, but it’s important to emphasize the risk to your sanctuary and your mission that comes with stretching your resources too thin. If you can, offer explanations and alternative solutions for each “no” scenario. For an excellent example of a public-facing rescue policy, take a look at Edgar’s Mission’s policies below.

    Not all sanctuaries have public-facing rescue policies, believing it’s better to leave room for possible rescue exceptions to the policy rather than drawing strict lines in the sand that may have to be walked back. It’s up to your sanctuary whether you’d like to go public with your policy or not, but you should have an internal policy developed in either case!


    Can You Take My Animal? | Edgar’s Mission

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