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What is 'animal rescue'?

It sounds so simple – get an animal out of a bad situation and find it a home. How hard could it be? Well, the answer depends on whether or not the rescue puts the welfare of the animal first while understanding and complying with the business and legal facets of being a rescue.


Let’s start from the beginning. Rescues are businesses and there are rules to follow. A legitimate rescue is registered with the State of Michigan. The rescue is required to have an Employer Identification Number issued by the IRS, a Board of Directors, and is required to file annual returns. Being registered with the state DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE GROUP IS TAX EXEMPT, NOR ARE DONATIONS TAX DEDUCTIBLE! This brings us to becoming a federally registered non profit organization most often known as becoming a 501(c)(3).


Becoming a 501(c)(3) can be a lengthy and expensive process depending on how knowledgeable a group is and what their gross receipts are. Becoming a 501(c)(3) requires properly filed state paperwork and a rather long IRS application which includes financial data. Some rescues choose to skip the 501(c)(3) process and instead go under the umbrella of another group that is registered on the federal level. This is perfectly legal but if the group is unable to provide a Letter of Group Exemption (which must be on file with the IRS), chances are that they are not truly operating under a tax exempt organization. Donations to non tax exempt groups are not tax deductible. There is nothing wrong with being a private rescue. However, the money brought in by such groups is typically fully taxable as income. If a group tells you their 501(c)(3) status is ‘pending’ ask to see a copy of their application. ‘Pending’ means the application has been filed with the IRS. It DOES NOT mean ‘we’re thinking about applying’.


Depending on gross receipts, state registered non profits are required to apply for tax exempt status with the IRS within 27 months of organizing. Organizations that normally have annual gross receipts of $5,000 or less are automatically considered tax exempt. Once annual gross receipts begin to exceed $5,000 per year, the organization is required by law to apply for tax exempt status. Otherwise, all fees and donations received are fully taxable as income.


A note on the term ‘non profit’: This does NOT mean that the organization can’t make any money. What it does mean is that the money brought in is not to be used to benefit the individuals running the organization. While it’s legal to receive a salary from a non profit, it is NOT legal to just take the money to pay personal expenses.


Why does any of this matter? It matters because you deserve to know whether your donations are truly tax exempt or not. It also matters with regard to the group’s integrity. Organizations that don’t bother with the paperwork likely won’t bother paying taxes on the many thousands of dollars of income they bring in each and every year. This affects each and every one of us.


Let’s move on to the differences in rescues with regard to adoption processes.


There are two basic types of small or foster-based rescues – those that do it right and those that don’t.  (Large rescue organizations [MHS, etc.] and animal control facilities are not included for purposes of this discussion.)

It’s not always easy to tell the good from the bad but asking questions is a good place to start. Find out where they get their animals and how long they keep them before allowing them to be adopted. Many diseases, including Parvo and Kennel Cough can take 10 days to four weeks before the symptoms begin to show. If a rescue is hauling animals up from Ohio shelters (or puppy mills) on Wednesday or Thursday and offering them for sale on the weekend, there is no way for the ‘rescue’ to know if the animals are truly healthy. Sending a dog to an adoptive home 48 hours after surgery is also an extremely poor practice. It’s the rescue’s responsibility to make sure the dogs have fully recovered from surgery and to cover all costs should complications arise.


All dogs brought into Michigan from other states are REQUIRED to have an Interstate Health Certificate but you need to know that health certificates are NOT a guarantee of good health by any means. The health cert only states that at the very moment the vet saw the animal he or she didn’t see any apparent signs of illness and that the animal has received required vaccines.  


Request to see the Interstate Health Certificate and make the appropriate phone calls to verify that it wasn’t forged. Joe Yaquinto of the now defunct Forget Me Not pseudo rescue (and Sporting Dogs Unlimited and so many other aliases) was notorious for doctoring paperwork and other illegal acts. Although Joe is now doing time in Jackson prison, his colleagues are still ‘rescuing’.


The Michigan Department of Agriculture requires the following:

Dog Regulations

1.       Official interstate health certificate or official certificate of veterinary inspection.

·         Certificate is valid for 30 days.

·         Airline certificates are valid for ten days.

2.       Rabies vaccination by a licensed veterinarian within one year/three years (according to vaccine label directions).

3.       Puppies less than 12 weeks of age from a rabies quarantined area are not allowed entry.

Dogs And Cats (Puppies and Kittens) For Sale at a Pet Shop (For Sale by Non-Owner [applies to rescues])

1.       Animal must be eight weeks of age and have teeth visible.

2.       Official interstate health certificate or official certificate of veterinary inspection.

 3.       Rabies vaccination by a licensed veterinarian within one year/three years (according to vaccine label directions) if 12 weeks of age or older.

4.       If less than 12 weeks of age and from a rabies quarantined area, entry is not allowed.

5.       Dogs: Vaccination against distemper, hepatitis, letospirosis, and parainfluenza at least seven days before importation.

6.       Cats: Vaccination against feline panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calici virus at least seven days before importation.

7.       Animals must be free of external parasites, including fleas or ear mites. If an animal had external parasites, it must have been treated at least seven days before shipment.

Request proof of the above if the dog or cat you’re interested in came from outside the state of Michigan. Note that every dog and cat brought into Michigan when 12 weeks of age or older must be accompanied by a valid rabies certificate. Based on the above, groups that bring animals directly from an out of state shelter into Michigan must be able to prove that the animals were vaccinated at least seven days prior to importation.


The animals must have been vaccinated by the original shelter or the group must hold the animals in the originating state for seven days. Check the dates on all records provided by groups that import. If the animals were pulled from an Ohio shelter on Wednesday and vaccinated/spayed or neutered in Michigan on Friday, it’s clear that the law was ignored.


Groups that flip animals a few days after getting them are just that, flippers, they are NOT rescues. These groups will adopt any animal into any home without any consideration for the needs of the animal or the adoptive family. They have a tendency to change their group name once the public realizes who and what they truly are. They don’t network with any other groups and they are not respected in the rescue community.


Good rescues take their time to get to know the animals in their care, understand the type of home each of them needs, and make sure the animals are healthy before allowing them to be adopted. This simply can not be done in a few days time. Good rescues are honest about their animals and strive to match each animal with an appropriate family. We don’t place dogs with kid issues into homes with kids. We don’t put high energy dogs into tiny apartments with inactive adopters and we certainly don’t lie about an animal’s personality or health.


Good rescues do pre-adoption home visits and post-adoption follow ups. We either spay/neuter prior to adoption or require sterilization by a specific date. If the group does not have the resources to follow up on spay/neuter contracts then every animal should be spayed/neutered prior to adoption. Good rescues do not do same day, on the spot adoptions. It simply isn’t enough to say, ‘oh, they look like good people’. Really, what do ‘bad’ people look like?


When you go to a meet and greet or adoption event pay attention to how the animals look and act and how the group interacts with their animals. Do any of the animals appear lethargic? Are they coughing? Do they have runny eyes or noses? Are they constantly scratching and biting? Are they clean and in good weight and condition? How does the rescue interact with their animals? Are the animals treated with kindness or as income producing property? It’s completely unacceptable for a group to show dogs that are underweight, dirty, or showing signs of illness. Is the rescue group able and willing to answer questions or do they become defensive?


If you would not seek out the rescue for help with rehoming your own beloved pet, why would you want to adopt from them? Would you want your beloved pet sold to the first person who showed up with cash or would you want potential adopters appropriately screened?


Unfortunately, there are many individuals and groups pretending to be actual rescues. Every time another faux or poorly run rescue makes the headlines, it reflects on every good rescue which makes it even more difficult for us to find homes for our animals. 


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Just like buying an animal from a pet store that sells puppy mill dogs, giving your hard earned money to a scam rescue only perpetuates the cycle of irresponsible behavior if not outright abuse.

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