Animal Rescue: What It Is and Why You Should Get Involved

what is animal rescue

Animal abuse. The phrase likely sends shivers down your spine. Who wants to see an animal abused by a human being? That’s why we have animal rescue initiatives.

Unfortunately, some people don’t mind abusing animals when it serves their purposes. The good news is that you can help fight animal cruelty by understanding what it means and how you can help.

This is a tough topic to digest, but people who stand up against animal abuse send a strong message. Let’s talk about animal abuse and animal rescue, what they look like, and how you can help.

What Is Animal Rescue?

Animal rescue is a broad term that refers to any effort to save animals from cruelty and abuse. An animal rescue operation, whether law enforcement or civilian, identifies animal cruelty, recovers animals from substandard conditions, and makes every effort to give those animals better lives.

Most municipalities, for instance, have animal control units that answer calls about animal cruelty. They investigate perpetrators and help place animals in new homes. Civilian animal rescue operations accept abused, neglected, malnourished, or abandoned animals.

We’re not just talking about dogs and cats here, though they’re often the target of animal rescue operations. Many other animals need rescuing, including the following:

  • Horses
  • Cows
  • Goats
  • Rabbits
  • Reptiles

Some animals are easier to rehome than others. Distressingly, more than six million companion animals enter shelters every year just in the United States. Of those, 1.5 million get euthanized, either because they’re too ill or injured to help or because of overcrowding at shelters.

Remember, that’s just companion animals. Let’s look at the animals who suffer the most and how we can help with animal rescue efforts.

Animals That Suffer the Most

It’s difficult to quantify concepts like suffering. Additionally, statistics are available on some animals, but not on others.

However, we have to work with what we know. Animal rescue efforts often target certain species or even breeds. Among dogs, for example, there are many animal rescue operations targeted at pitbulls, Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and other specific breeds.

Dogs, cats, and other small animals are easier on animal rescue professionals. Larger animals, such as horses and livestock, take up more space.


dog shelters animal rescue

About half of the animals who land in shelters every year are dogs. They range in age from newborn pups to seniors.

Some arrive at shelters because they were found by the side of the road or running at large through a neighborhood. Others get surrendered by folks who unwittingly allowed their unaltered pets to spawn.

In some of the most horrific cases, animal rescue involves dogs and other pets who have been neglected and mistreated. They might have sores on their bodies, lesions, bruises, protruding ribs, and snarled hair that must be shaved.

Animal rescue operations often have veterinarians on staff who can tend to injuries, illnesses, and parasites. However, the so-called lost causes often find themselves euthanized.

One of the primary problems with rescuing dogs is that most people come to shelters looking for puppies. They want a clean slate and an adorable bundle of fur to take home. Luckily, there is a growing awareness of the need to provide a “forever home” to senior dogs, too, who can be even more grateful to the human who can finally provide them with safety and love.

Furthermore, biases against certain breeds, such as pitbulls and German shepherds, leave those animals without homes. People assume they’ll get an aggressive dog, so they turn to the more “acceptable” breeds.


cat shelters animal rescue

Animal rescue organizations bring cats in from the cold almost as often as dogs. Both kittens and cats get placed in shelters because they’re allowed to roam out of the house and got lost. Pet parents not wanting their cats or abusing their cats are other reasons why they are taken into shelters.

Cats are also often found in animal hoarders’ homes. In some cases, dozens or even hundreds of these animals must be placed in shelters and — with any luck — transferred to forever families.

Cats and dogs alike get surrendered for numerous reasons:

  • Housing restrictions on animals
  • Bringing a newborn baby home
  • Witnessing aggressive behavior
  • Getting frustrated with common pet problems like potty accidents

Animal cruelty can also come into play, especially when cats are turned out of the home with no access to shelter, food, or water.


rescue abused horses

Neglected, abused, and malnourished horses often go unreported because they’re housed on large parcels of land or kept in rural areas. Animal protection officers and concerned citizens don’t see them, so they can’t intervene.

The major problem with horses is that people buy these animals and assume the horses don’t need much care. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, horses who are stalled or pastured in their own filth or standing water develop thrush, a fungal infection that can lead to painful abscesses. Grass alone isn’t sufficient to meet a horse’s needs, so the absence of grain and hay take a toll on these animals’ physical health.

You also have to remember that horses were domesticated almost as long ago as dogs. They’ve been bred as companion animals. They need human interaction for emotional fulfillment.

Other problems animal rescue organizations face include matted hair, unchecked illness, and animal cruelty.

Unfortunately, the myth that horses need to be dominated has persisted over the years. Handlers use whips, chains, hobbles, and sharp spurs to force these animals into submission. The open wounds and scars left behind create additional problems as well as mistrust.

Livestock and poultry

rescue abused farm animals

This is by far the largest category of animal suffering. Primarily contained in factory farming, livestock and poultry can endure even more animal cruelty than cats, dogs, and horses. They are born, bred, and killed to produce money for their owners. Substandard living conditions, lack of opportunity to realize natural and instinctive behavior, inadequate food, and absent veterinary treatment lead to the need for animal rescue among livestock.

On farms designed for harvesting animal products, the animals’ needs come in second to the operation’s profitability. The less they spend on “luxuries” like food, veterinary attention, space, and water, the higher the profit margins.

Animal rescue cases can also involve situations in which people think they know what it takes to care for livestock as pets, but quickly become overwhelmed. Livestock can be domesticated, but it takes years of tender care and gentle training.

Why You Must Help Animal Rescue Efforts and Fight Against Animal Cruelty

It takes a strong conviction to confront the realities behind animal cruelty. People who work with animal rescue organizations often see things that disturb them.

However, the alternative to animal rescue is a world full of suffering, abused, neglected, or dangerous animals. We can’t have that. So what’s the answer?

If you’re not sure you want to get involved in animal rescue, consider these facts.

No Living Being Deserves to Be Treated Poorly

Maybe you have pets of your own. Or a child who depends on you. How would you feel if someone you loved was abused or mistreated?

It’s happening every day, all around the world, to billions (yes, with a ‘b’) of animals. We have the capacity to stop much of it, but only if people step up and find ways to prevent animal cruelty.

Abused Animals That Get Away Are Dangerous to Society

abused animals danger to society

You might have encountered a loose dog while walking your own pet through your neighborhood or in a park. It’s a scary situation, especially if you don’t have a bite terminator or some other form of defense with you.

Dogs, in particular, become extremely reactive once abused. They learn that their only recourse is to fight back, and when they’re abused by one person, they view all humans as potential threats.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t the dog’s problem. He’s only doing what he thinks is necessary to survive.

Reactive dogs and other animals sometimes bite people and pets. They can run in front of cars, terrorize people inside their homes and businesses, and create more unwanted animals through breeding.

Slaughtered Animals End Up on Your Plate

We mentioned factory farming above. It’s the practice of raising as many animals as possible for slaughter and sale.

In other words, a beautiful creature who might have otherwise enjoyed a lovely life endures a painful existence until it’s finally killed and dismembered.

That is the summary of how these animals often end up on your plate if you consume meat or other animal products.

Animal by-products end up in clothing, footwear, home decor, soaps, beauty products, and more. Animal testing can result in painful trauma, constant fear, and other defects, and eventually even death.

Ignoring the Problem Contributes to It

It’s easy to pretend animal cruelty and abuse don’t exist. If you have pets — or even if you don’t — you can assume that every animal gets treated like royalty.

Unfortunately, that’s very far from the case.

Let’s say you’re driving down a country road and see a herd of horses in a field next to the street. They’re skinny, you can see lacerations on their flanks, and they have nothing to eat.

You have two choices here. Continue your drive as if you didn’t see the horses or pull out your phone and call animal control. The former results in further animal abuse. The later takes about 10 minutes and could save horses’ lives.

Animal Cruelty Leads to Overpopulation

Animal rescue organizations can’t get to every neglected or stray animal. Those animals, when unaltered, breed with one another. That produces unwanted litters.

Until we can reduce the number of animals sent to shelters and find ways to teach people humane animal treatment, however, overpopulation will continue.

Poorly Bred Animals Suffer Serious Health Defects

From factory farming to designer breeding, attempting to alter genetics in animals inevitably creates defects. For instance, the toy dog fascination has led to animals with chronic pain, hip dysplasia, heart problems, pulmonary defects, and more.

In the world of farming, the goal is to produce as much flesh as possible. When a bull, for instance, weighs 1,200 pounds instead of 1,000 pounds, the farmer gets more money for its slaughter. The farmer doesn’t care whether the bull suffers from sore knees, poor conformation, or weak hip joints. Or perhaps even more tragically, the farmer might care, but the corporation marketing the beef doesn’t – unless the consumer votes with their dollars and stops paying for animal suffering.

The Worst and Most Common Types of Animal Abuse

Preparing for the worst can sometimes help us identify animal cruelty and respond to it effectively. Many types of animal abuse exist, and they’re not always easy to discover.


Slaughterhouses, as their name suggests, specialize in slaughtering animals for the purposes of harvesting meat, organs, pelts, and other animal parts. A cattle rancher, for instance, can outsource his slaughtering needs to such an operation.

The methods used in slaughterhouses vary. We won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say, it’s not a happy place.

What you have to understand is that a slaughterhouse is a business. The more profit made, the more successful the company. More and more in the U.S., slaughterhouses are owned by large meat corporations who are very efficiency-minded. Animal suffering is the least on their minds.

Consequently, slaughterhouses use the most cost-efficient way to “process” animals — not the most humane way. And what could be meant by “humane slaughter“, anyway? There is no humane way to kill anyone who does not want to die. Every single slaughtered animal fought for their life.

By purchasing meat and other animal products that – by definition – come from slaughterhouses, you contribute to their success.

Animal Testing

Scientists use many different animals to test consumer products, medications, and other things before they’re tested on humans. That might sound like a good thing for people, but it’s torture to animals kept in those labs.

Many people, including celebrities, vow to stop buying products that use animal testing. That’s a great way to promote animal rescue. Remember: You vote with your dollars.

Lab animals don’t just get infected with diseases or suffer skin reactions to beauty products. They’re kept in tiny cages, denied sunlight and fresh air, and given none of the love and attention that all social animals crave.

Hunting and Fishing

Many hunting and fishing aficionados pride themselves on catch-and-release fishing. They reel the animal to shore or boat, unhook the lure, take a couple of photos for Instagram, and toss the fish back.

But what happens to the fish then?

By definition, fishing requires removing an animal from its natural habitat and denying it the source of oxygen it requires, however briefly. Additionally, it now has a gaping wound in its lip. Research shows that the practice often leads to fishes whose trauma hinders their ability to eat and swim. They have been irrevocably harmed.

Hunting is often touted as a bonding experience. The problem is that it results in the death of an animal.

Not only does hunting require the animal to die, but many animals don’t die right away. They’re left to bleed out after a bullet or bow pierces its hide, and some hunters track their prey for miles before the animals succumb to their injuries.

Mass hunting and fishing aren’t in any way more ethical.


Torture is a nasty word, right? It might make you think of horror movies and military interrogation tactics. However, torture often fells animals, too.

Take, for instance, animal fighting. Dogs, roosters, monkeys, and other animals are often put in fight-or-die situations. Only one animal emerges victorious — and alive — and often with serious or even life-threatening injuries.

Think of the dog who sleeps at the foot of your bed. Can you imagine him or her having to fight another similar creature?

Other forms of torture include beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, and even more brutal behaviors. By speaking out against animal cruelty, you can help end it.


Some animals are starved because their owners can’t pay for their food. Others receive no meals as a punishment or because the owner wants them to remain docile.

Starving an animal causes serious harm in both the short- and long-term. Malnourishment, hunger pangs, inability to defend, dehydration, and vulnerability to illness are just a few of the potential ramifications.

Puppy Mills

A puppy mill is a breeding operation that produces as many puppies as possible in short time frames. The dogs aren’t well cared for, and the puppies receive no veterinary attention.

Like slaughterhouses, factory farms, and similar businesses, puppy mills exist purely for profit. They may not care about breed standards or bonding. They just want to produce as many puppies as possible.

The bitches are often treated cruelly, confined to tight spaces except when they’re breeding. They might also be malnourished, which resorts in nutrition-deprived puppies. People who buy from puppy mills often don’t know about the potential problems until long after the purchase.

Cruel Training Methods

Whether you’re training a dog, cat, horse, goat, pig, or any other animal, you must first build trust. The bond between human and animal makes or breaks the training process.

Unfortunately, some animal trainers don’t care about bonding or humane treatment — they just want the fastest way to get the desired result.

Outdated and abusive training methods still exist today. If you have a pet or animal, make sure you work with a trainer who uses a positive training approach without pain, fear, or unreasonable demands.

How Can I Help With Animal Rescue?

how can i help rescue animals

We’ve given you a lot to think about. You might now have a good idea about why animal rescue is such an important undertaking for anyone who cares about animals.

But what can you do to help?

There are lots of things you can do to stop animal cruelty and abuse in its tracks, many of which don’t require much effort on your part. Let’s look at the best ways to help with animal rescue.

Adopt an Animal (Or Three!)

animal rescue and adoption

If you’re an animal lover and you have room in your home, consider adopting an animal. As we mentioned, there are millions of animals without homes, and bringing just one into your life can not only save one of those animals but also bring your household immeasurable joy.

Pets like dogs, cats, and horses are bred for human companionship. They like to learn, they can show gratitude, and they help complete families all over the world.

In most cases, you can adopt a pet from any animal shelter or organization in your local community.

You might have to fill out some paperwork, but you’ll walk away with a new best friend. Not only will you save your chosen pet, but you’ll make room in the shelter for another animal who desperately needs saving.

Volunteer at Your Local Animal Shelter

how to volunteer at animal shelter

Maybe you love animals, but your home situation precludes adopting one. Instead of taking a pet home, give your time to your local shelter.

Most of these animal rescue organizations need help with intake, cleaning, exercising animals, and more. Some have gift shops that need manning, while others might need dog walkers or help to introduce prospective families to pets.

Donate to Trusted Animal Rescue Organizations

If you don’t have time to volunteer, consider donating cash or goods in kind instead. Nearly all animal shelters can benefit from money, supplies, and other donations so they can continue to do their good work.

Animal rescue operations run almost exclusively on the kindness of others. You can even make a practice out of it. Each time you go to the pet store for a bag of dog food, pick up a second one for your local shelter.

Foster Animals Until They Find Forever Homes

Foster programs are a major part of animal rescue. Shelters fill up fast, and foster homes expand each shelter’s capacity so they don’t have to euthanize as many animals.

You don’t have to foster an animal long-term if you’re not interested. Consider fostering a pet for a month, week, or even afternoon. Many shelters have programs that allow people to take shelter animals on walks or other adventures for the day.

Amplify Information About Shelter Animals

Animal rescue can be as simple as the tap of a button. Visit your local animal shelters’ websites to learn about incoming pets. Share the information posted on those websites with your networks on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Perhaps you don’t have any room for more pets in your home, but someone you know wants to bring home a new furry family member. By sharing animal rescue information, you might help facilitate that new family.

Stop Consuming Animal Products

Slaughterhouses and f depend on sales to keep running. If you don’t buy animal products, you can stop those organizations from mistreating and destroying animals who would otherwise live out healthy lives.

It’s not just meat. Refusing to buy eggs, dairy, leather, wool, hides, and other animal products will help, too. Lots of synthetic alternatives exist when it comes to consumer products, and you don’t need meat to survive. Adopting vegetarianism or veganism can be healthier and more sustainable.

Going vegan is the ideal solution. By becoming a vegan, you are also standing up against the cruelty of both dairy farming and egg farming.

Report Animal Abuse When You See It

Sometimes, animal rescue boils down to speaking up. If you believe that you’ve witnessed animal cruelty, such as abuse or neglect, report what you’ve seen to the authorities.

In most cases, you can report animal abuse anonymously. It only takes a few minutes, and even if you’re wrong, you’ll give the authorities the chance to investigate what you’ve seen.

Animal rescue requires people all over the world to use their voices for good.


Nobody wants to think about animal cruelty, abuse, neglect, or starvation. However, it happens all over the world.

You don’t have to start your own animal rescue operation to make a difference for pets and animals in your community. We’ve offered a number of options that allow you to give back and help save animals.

Creating a world where animals have rights and those rights are respected demands intervention. People skirt the laws that protect animals, but we can change how those laws are enforced.

How do you plan to help rescue animals?