What Is a Rescue Dog? And Why They Are The Best Pets

Are you thinking about getting a dog? Maybe a rescue dog? What exactly is a rescue dog anyway? While it may seem like a straightforward question, there’s more to being a rescue dog than being a mixed-breed shelter pup. There are actually plenty of purebred rescue dogs out there too.

We spoke with  Emily Verna, an animal rescue expert and president of Furry Friends Rescue in Fremont, California, to find out more about rescue dogs. Learn the true definition of what a rescue dog is, what makes them so resilient, and how you can help them.

What is a rescue dog?

A rescue dog is a dog available for adoption from a rescue group or shelter who has been saved from mistreatment, neglect, or abandonment. They may be surrendered or brought to shelters or rescue organizations to receive care, attention, and rehabilitation. These incredible dogs come from various backgrounds, but what unites them is their need for a loving home and caring family.

What types of dogs are rescues?

Rescue dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and breeds — from purebreds to mixes, puppies to seniors, young pregnant moms to moms with litters, and everything in between. Many dogs in shelters have not been provided the chance to show that they can be well-behaved and loving companions.

Dogs of all breeds

“We see more young adult dogs, especially large dog breed types,” Verna says. Some of the most common dogs at shelters are also the most popular breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, and Dachshunds. “This year [there are] tons of German Shepherds — smart and loyal working dogs — and Huskies — cute and fluffy as pups but need more as adults.” The majority of shelter dogs, however, are mixed breeds — up to 80 percent, according to some studies.

Dogs of all ages

Despite popular misconception, there are many puppies at shelters. They may be brought in with their mom and littermates or born in shelters when pregnant dogs are surrendered or found as strays. But oftentimes, most dogs at shelters are adolescents. According to one study, around 47 percent of dogs across 12 U.S. shelters were between five months and three years of age when they arrived. The majority of the dogs in the study (37 percent) had only been with their pet parent between seven months and one year. At Furry Friends Rescue, they estimate up to 90 percent of their dogs are puppies or adolescents.

Is a rescue dog the same as a shelter dog?

While both rescue dogs and shelter dogs often come from challenging situations, whether as strays or as surrendered pets, there are some distinctions between the two. Shelter dogs typically reside in facilities — these can be municipal shelters run by the government or private shelters managed by nonprofit organizations. Shelter dogs are usually housed in kennels (enclosed areas with easy-to-clean concrete floors) with limited outdoor time, playtime, and human interaction due to the sheer volume of animals.

On the other hand, rescue dogs may be housed in kennels but they are more often placed in foster homes. Rescue organizations, often nonprofit groups, provide a network of temporary foster care, offering a more home-like environment for these dogs while they wait for their forever homes. “The impact is real home training, holistic quality foods, and TLC.  Many shy and scared dogs rescued from a shelter, relax at a foster home and feel safe, then happy and lovable,” says Verna.

Rescue organizations might offer supplementary services such as medical care, training, and behavioral support, ensuring that both the dogs and adopters receive more personalized attention and assistance throughout the adoption process. “Due to the high triple overload of dogs at shelters right now, we are [saving dogs from euthanasia] by paying for emergency boarding at private kennels. The goal is to give the dog time to find a foster home or adopter,” Verna says. “[It’s] very costly for us.”

Where do rescue dogs come from?

Over three million dogs enter shelters every year. Rescue dogs come from many backgrounds, but 48 percent of dogs come into the shelter as strays who roam without a home, often found wandering the streets by Good Samaritans or brought in by animal control. Dogs also might be rescued as:

  • Owner surrender. Nearly 25 percent of dogs find their way to rescue organizations or shelters after being surrendered by pet parents facing difficult circumstances, such as financial struggles, moving to places where pets aren’t allowed, or unexpected life changes. 
  • Accidental litters. “Many puppies are the result of accidental litters due to lack of low-cost spay and neuter clinics,” Vern saysa. People often underestimate how soon a young dog is able to become pregnant — as early as six months.
  • Puppy mills. A significant number of rescue dogs are seized from puppy mills. These are unethical commercial breeding facilities where dogs are often kept in poor conditions for mass production. These dogs might end up in rescues after being abandoned due to health issues or when they’re no longer deemed profitable. 
  • Breeders. There are also instances where breeders surrender dogs to rescues for health or behavioral reasons.

Research shows that the majority of dogs surrendered had not been trained when they arrived at the shelter. “Most are not spayed and neutered, have been neglected and not trained, thus we know they were not [previously] adopted from a rescue or shelter,” Verna says. Regardless of their origins, rescue dogs have an incredible amount of resilience and eagerly await the chance to become cherished members of new families.

Why rescue dogs are the best

Rescue dogs have an unparalleled charm and bring a tail-wagging enthusiasm to our lives. Here are a few reasons why they often become the best companions.

Unwavering gratitude

Rescue dogs are unmatched in their ability to show gratitude and loyalty. They know what it’s like to face tough times, and that gratitude shines through in their love for their new families. Their loyalty is off the charts — they’ll stick by your side through thick and thin.


Rescues have faced diverse environments and circumstances. They’ve seen a lot and learned to roll with the punches, making them perfect pals for any lifestyle or living situation.

Charming personalities

Rescue dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and their personalities are as unique as their paw prints. Whether they’re goofy, cuddly, or a mix of everything, their individuality brings a lot of fun surprises to your day.

Saving a life

By adopting a rescue dog, you’re not only giving them a second chance at a better life, but also gaining a loyal companion who will bring boundless joy and love to your life. The act of rescuing a dog becomes a rewarding experience for both the adopter and the adopted, creating a positive impact that ripples beyond the home.

Are you ready for a rescue dog?

Thinking about welcoming a rescue dog into your life? It’s a big decision, but one that comes with an immense amount of joy and love. Before taking the leap, it’s essential to assess whether you are ready for it. “Dogs are family members and their adoption is for life,” Verna says. It’s important to look for a match to your lifestyle and activity level. “Giving the once neglected and abandoned dog a second chance with the right quality care, food, training, and love, and they’ll be your devoted and loyal best friend.”

Here are some key signs that you’re prepared for the rewarding journey of bringing a dog into your home.

  • Stable lifestyle. Your routine is relatively consistent, allowing you to provide the necessary time and attention for a dog.
  • Financial preparedness. You’re ready to cover expenses for food, veterinary care, grooming, and unexpected medical costs.
  • Space and environment. Your living space is pet-friendly, with enough room for a dog to move around comfortably.
  • Time commitment. You have ample time to spend with a dog, ensuring they receive the exercise, training, and companionship they need.
  • Patience and flexibility. You understand that rescue dogs might have specific needs and require patience, love, and support as they adjust to their new environment.
  • Understanding of responsibility. You’re ready for the long-term commitment of caring for a pet and recognize the responsibilities that come with it.

Adopting a rescue dog is an incredibly fulfilling experience, but ensuring you’re prepared for the commitment is crucial for both you and your potential new pet. If these signs resonate with your current situation, you might just be ready to offer a loving home to a deserving rescue dog.

Where can I adopt a rescue dog?

If you’re ready to adopt a rescue dog, the next step is knowing where to find one. From local shelters and breed-specific rescues to online platforms like Adopt a Pet, there are plenty of options to ensure every rescue dog gets a second chance.

  • Local shelters and rescues: Your nearby animal shelters and rescue organizations are fantastic places to find a wide variety of rescue dogs. These facilities often have a diverse range of dogs of different breeds, ages, and sizes. They work tirelessly to give abandoned or surrendered dogs a new home.
  • Breed-specific rescues: If you have your heart set on a particular breed, breed-specific rescues might be your best bet. These organizations specialize in rescuing and rehoming a specific breed. They have in-depth knowledge of the breed’s characteristics and needs, ensuring a great match between the dog and the adopter.
  • Targeted rescues: There are rescues specifically dedicated to certain types of dogs, such as smaller breeds or senior dogs. These organizations focus on the unique needs of these dogs, providing them with specialized care and attention while searching for the perfect homes that can meet their specific requirements.
  • Online platforms like Adopt a Pet: Websites, such as Adopt a Pet, serve as an online platform connecting prospective pet parents with rescue organizations and shelters nationwide. They provide a wide database of available dogs, allowing you to search based on location, breed, age, and other preferences.

Each of these options offers a fantastic opportunity to find a dog that suits your lifestyle and preferences. Whether it’s a local shelter, breed-specific rescue, targeted rescue, or online pet search tool, there’s a wide range of avenues to explore in your quest to give a rescue dog a forever home.

How much does it cost to get a rescue dog?

Adoption fees for dogs vary depending on the shelter or rescue, the dog’s age, and current health conditions, but you can typically expect to pay between $50 and $300. Opting to adopt not only costs less than buying one from a breeder (which can cost thousands of dollars) but also extends a helping hand to an animal in need.

Following the adoption, the first year of being a dog parent involves other expenses, such as  vet visits, spaying or neutering, microchipping, licensing, and the essential supplies for your new companion — estimating these costs — the initial year could range between $420 to $3,270. To be financially prepared, it’s advisable to budget a minimum of $2,000 for your first year as a dog parent. This range accounts for the necessities while ensuring you can provide the best care for your new family member.


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