Does the Word “Rescue” Give Shelters a Bad Name?

The Humane Society's Animal Care Expo 2012Guinea Pig Today

Animal Care Expo's seminar on "Messaging Your Mission To Donors: How Branding Impacts Fundraising Results" featured presenters Katherine McGowan Shenar (standing left), President/CEO of Asheville Humane Society and Jim Tedford (seated right), Director, Animal Welfare Initiatives & Alliances for PetSafe.

In the ongoing struggle to place unwanted guinea pigs into loving, new homes, those of us who work in rescues and shelters might feel we have a common goal, but the terminology we use every day may be working against that united front. Guinea pig lifestyle and care might be a unique situation that brings shelters and rescues together, but in the world of dogs and cats, there’s a bitter battle going on.

At the recent Humane Society Animal Care Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada, a couple shelter workers spoke out about rescues in general during a seminar about branding and marketing. “They come in and take animals that are perfectly fine and tell us we aren’t set up to care for them properly,” one shelter worker explained. “We work hard to get pets adopted but they need to be ‘rescued’ from us.”

Is the word “rescue” as much to blame for the resulting tension as the struggle to care for and place animals themselves? Those of us who work in rescue might believe we’re “rescuing” pets from the unfortunate circumstances they were found in a home where they were unwanted or abused but, the attitude that rescue organizations are rescuing them from “high kill” shelters is carrying over into the animal care community as well.

animal care presentation slideGuinea Pig Today

A photograph of the slide that began the discussion on shelters vs. rescues.

This branding through key words is important in the animal care world as we give the media and the public an idea of how to discuss topics important to the survival of unwanted pets. In much a similar way, Animal Care and Control is no longer referred to as “the dog catcher” because of the negative image portrayed in television and film for many years. The phrase “no kill” is also highly debated as both positive and negative to different parts of the industry. Animal care terminology carries with it a special brand of politics that might speak for your organization before you ever introduce yourself to another animal care worker.

At the 2012 Animal Care Expo, the conversation continued outside of the seminar. Shelter workers expressed their frustration with rescues that pick and choose animals to match their image but leave difficult and hard to adopt animals at the shelter, later pointing the finger at the shelter when those animals need to be euthanized. “Don’t take the golden retriever puppies to your golden retriever rescue because we can find them a home quickly and easily. Help me place this senior black lab!” another anonymous shelter worker told Guinea Pig Today.

What can be done about this situation in the guinea pig world? There is a lot of industry terms in the field of animal care that often speak for us about guinea pig care. Pay close attention to those terms and be sure they match your message. The phrase “guinea pig rescue” might be universally understood but it carries with it a lot of baggage across animal care outside of guinea pigs. When a word is found to have too much baggage, it’s time to find a new word that matches our goal and work that into our brand.

If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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One Response to “Does the Word “Rescue” Give Shelters a Bad Name?”
  1. tammy says:

    I’m so happy you wrote this! I have long seen this tension between rescues and shelters, the latter often limited by sheer numbers and lack of space and budget. Rescues appear to operate at a more “independent” level (to put it far too broadly), and while both provide a wonderful and much-needed service to the pet-loving population, the tension between the two is just sad. I’m happy that there’s a dialogue around it, at least….

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