Understanding the pet store-puppy mill connection, most animal lovers get their new dogs from reputable breeders or rescue organizations. The number of rescue groups has escalated during recent years, but sadly, not all “rescues” are legitimate, and with photos of adorable animals and sad stories told, it is not always easy to spot the signs of a con waiting to happen. Scams target people of all backgrounds, ages, and income levels, and they look like the real thing, using many clever techniques to con people into donating money…..scammers are professional at convincing people that they are helping dogs that, without their help, may not survive. When animal lovers give money to a group and later find out they have been duped, the most common comment is “But they are such NICE people.” NO, they are not such nice people….they have learned to be smooth and charismatic, and know that the “nicer” they appear, the more successful their scams will be, and the more money they will bring in.

Knowledge is the strongest defense against scammers posing as rescues, so learning the red flags can help protect you from fraud. Just because a person flashes a not-for-profit authorization does NOT necessarily mean it is a trustworthy group; most scammers have somehow obtained not-for-profit status, and will usually have an official looking folder filled with official looking documents. They may be members of the highly respected Petfinder.com organization. However, I was very disappointed last week when Kristen Winterhalter, Outreach Coordinator for Petfinder.com confirmed that “Petfinder doesn’t get involved with members’ operations,” which sadly means that it is up to the individual adopter to sort out the good from the bad. Beware: a slick, sophisticated web site does not guarantee integrity!

Legitimate rescuers will request references as well as information about your living situation and experience with pets. Many require a home visit to help determine that the animal’s needs will be adequately met, and they emphasize their willingness to take the pet back if you are unable to care for him. Animals are spayed or neutered prior to adoption, and, although animals, like humans, can have minor health issues despite having received appropriate medical care, an attempt has been made to identify any illnesses, and documentation from a veterinarian is given to the adopter. Legitimate groups do not regularly change the name of their organization or claim various associations. They do not suggest meeting at the local convenience store, or random places to transact business. They provide paperwork to verify any statements made.

Fraudulent rescue groups may have a heart-wrenching sob story with the scammer “pushing your buttons” to convince you that the poor animal may never find a home unless you take pity on her. Often they claim that they have spent a great deal of money on medical treatment, but will give you a “special deal” if you will take her. Ask to see vet records for medical expense and ask specific questions. Insist on documentation, and don’t accept vague answers, or a promise that the papers “will be sent to you.” Check with neighbors, veterinarians, and other rescue groups IN THE AREA where the group is located. If your gut feeling tells you something is not right, check with the local authorities.

The overwhelming majority of rescue groups are dedicated, compassionate people who give their time and resources to improve the plight of unfortunate animals, and they provide a valuable service to the pet community. They don’t do what they do for money or personal recognition. THEY CARE about the welfare of the animals. It is unfortunate that a few unscrupulous people have discovered that the plight of a needy pet is almost too much for animal lovers to ignore…one look at a sad, furry face begging for love makes us easy marks, . Do scammers care? You better believe it. They care about money and personal recognition, NOT for making life better for unfortunate creatures, so it is important to recognize and avoid rescue scams.