If you have adopted a rescue dog you will have probably signed an adoption contract from the rescue organisation (RO) that included a statement on ‘Rescue Backup’ (RBU). However, did you truly understand what this meant?
RBU implies that the ‘rescue’ (as an organisation) provides ‘support’ (backup) to adopters, but what tends to be meant by RBU is that in the event of an adopter being unable or willing to keep a dog, it must be returned to the RO. Essentially, RBU exists to take back and rehome already adopted dogs, not to support adopters with, for example, training and behaviour advice. Some ROs do provide post-adoption support for settling newly adopted dogs into the home. Some provide adopted dogs with lifelong/ongoing behavioural support. Most though don’t have the resources or qualifications to provide anything more than taking back and rehoming adopted dogs. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, given the ambiguity of the term RBU, ROs should always clarify to adopters exactly what they mean by RBU, and honour this in a reasonable way if an adopter needs to use it.
Levels of support
In addition to RBU, large ROs such as Dogs Trust and Woodgreen clearly state on their websites that they offer free, professional behavioural support to adopters. This could be considered RBU ‘Plus’, meaning that the RO will take an adopted dog back if the adopter’s circumstances change, but will also provide post adoption support to help adopters settle in their new additions, and support adopters through any behavioural issues that may arise at a later date to help keep dogs in their homes (and therefore allay the need to put RBU in action). Even if adopters understand that RBU means that the RO will take back an adopted if circumstances change, ROs that state that they provide ‘Full’ RBU may mislead (perhaps not intentionally) adopters into believing that the level of support offered is higher than the RO intends or is willing or capable of providing above RBU. ROs that state ‘Full’ RBU but fail to specify what this includes may give adopters the impression that training and behavioural support from a suitably qualified professional is available through the RO for standard scenarios such as integrating a newly adopted with a resident dog, basic behavioural issues such as housetraining, and even common problems such as aggression towards visitors. Some ROs state on their websites that adopters will receive ‘ongoing lifetime support’, but does this mean ongoing training and/or behavioural support, or just basic RBU? The wording is vague and ambiguous.
is that the large majority of small ROs do not offer behavioural support from a
suitably qualified professional in addition to RBU, which is okay, as long as adopters
are not misled into believing that behavioural support is available. If an RO does
not or cannot provide at least a basic level of behavioural support to adopters
– and by this I mean the facility to speak with a qualified behaviour expert affiliated
to the RO – it really should not be claiming ‘full’, ‘lifetime’, ‘ongoing’ or
‘dedicated’ RBU. Flowering RBU with these and other words is undoubtedly a tactic
to make an RO look more responsible and experienced than others, but it is
unnecessary and gives adopters the wrong impression of what is actually being
offered, particularly given that the term RBU itself may be poorly understood by adopters.
Sadly, sometimes circumstances change in ways that make keeping an adopted dog impossible – things like having to move into accommodation that doesn’t allow pets, becoming terminally ill, or dying. Under these circumstances, ROs will usually honour RBU to take a dog back without too much fuss. However, what if an adopter requests to return a dog due to a behaviour issue such as disliking a particular family member, or for reasons that make it difficult to continue to meet a dog’s needs such as the arrival of a new baby, a relationship break-up, a change in working hours or unforeseen financial hardship? These types of scenarios are often viewed as poor reasons for wanting to return a dog because other avenues and solutions may be available. ‘You wouldn’t just give up your children’ is often a line that gets spun when adopters reach out for help in social media groups. In terms of ROs honouring their RBU in these situations, for adopters wanting to a return a dog for a behaviour issue, it is perfectly reasonable for an RO to ask for a behaviour report on the dog by a suitably qualified professional, along with evidence that the adopter has tried to resolve the problem. If the adopter cannot provide this, it is reasonable for the RO to request that the adopter seeks both veterinary and behavioural help for the dog first, as any responsible, caring owner would be expected to do for their animal. For any other reason for returning an adopted dog, recent photos of the dog and proof that vaccinations and routine treatments have been kept up to date are not unreasonable RO requests. However, what is unreasonable is the unprofessional way that some ROs treat adopters who feel that they have no choice but to return a dog, particularly when it involves problem behaviour. Often, adopters have already tried their best. They have spent money on trainers and behaviourists. They have made changes to their home. They have sacrificed holidays, family weddings, and having their friends and grandchildren to visit. Often, these adopters are stressed, exhausted and feel like they are out of options, but most of all, they just want what’s best for their dog. What they need is for ROs to be empathetic and supportive towards their situation, not to be spoken to rudely, interrogated, blamed, guilt-tripped or threatened. Not all matches work, and sometimes the best thing for a dog really is to move it to a home more readily suited to its particular needs. It’s not a failure on anybody’s part.
the rescue industry is unregulated and many adoption contracts are not legally
binding (and are therefore unenforceable), what can be done to help adopters understand exactly what levels of support ROs are willing to provide so that there is no
confusion about the help that will be available to them should they need to call on it? Defining and formalising terms would
be a start, and the following are my suggestions:
RBU – Rescue
agreement between the RO and an adopter that an adopted dog must be returned to
the RO if the adopter can no longer keep it. For how long RBU is provided (e.g.
for 3 years, lifetime of the dog, etc.), at what cost and to whom (e.g. fees
such as kenneling, vet exams, etc. and whether these will be paid by the RO or
the adopter), where the dog is to be kept until it can be returned (with the
adopter, the RO, a foster carer or in kennels) and at whose expense, who is
responsible for transporting the dog on its return to the RO, and what (if any) measures
are in place for RBU to be honoured should the RO cease to exist, should be clarified to adopters both prior to signing an
adoption contract and in the adoption contract itself.
Post Adoption Support.
The RO will provide adopters with advice and/or resources to help settle
adopted dogs into their new homes. What PAS covers (e.g. setting up a safe
space for the dog, house-training advice, collar/harness recommendations, basic
canine body language, dog-child safety, integrating the adopted dog with
resident animals, etc.), how and by whom it is provided, at what cost and to
whom, and for how long it is made available to adopters, should be clarified to
adopters both prior to signing an adoption contract and in the adoption
OBS – Ongoing Behavioural Support. The RO will provide adopters with ongoing behavioral advice and/or resources. What OBS covers (e.g. separation distress, ongoing house-training issues, problems with being handled), how and by whom it is provided, at what cost and to whom, and for how long it is made available to adopters, should be clarified to adopters both prior to signing an adoption contract and in the adoption contract itself.
If you have
adopted a dog from a rescue organisation that claims to provide ‘Rescue Backup’ I would
love to hear your answers to the following questions:
- Was your adopted/fostered dog rescued in the UK or overseas?
- If you adopted/fostered an overseas dog, in which country was the rescue organisation that imported your dog based - the dog's country of origin or the UK?
- Prior to reading this article, what did you think that RBU meant?
- What did you believe that your adopted/fostered dog’s RBU included?
- What did your adopted/fostered dog's RBU actually include?
- Did the rescue organisation use words in addition to RBU such as ‘Full’, ‘Ongoing’ or ‘Lifetime’?
- Do you feel that the rescue organisation was truthful about your dog's health, temperament and needs prior to adoption/fostering?
- Have you needed to seek support from the rescue organisation about a health or behaviour issue with your dog?
- If you did seek support from the rescue organisation about your dog's health or behaviour, was support forthcoming, and how and by whom was it provided?
- Have you needed to return your adopted/fostered dog to the rescue organisation?
- If yes, what was the rescue organisation’s response when you contacted them about returning your dog?
- If you did return your dog, how did you find the process? For example, were you treated courteously by the rescue organisation, did the rescue organisation make the process easy/difficult, etc.
The purpose of gathering this information is to explore adopters' and fosterers' experiences of RBU and to use it to look at the possibility of defining and formalising RBU and other levels of support for the benefit of adopters, fosterers, rescue organisations and dogs (and other animals).
Although this is an informal research project, all answer data will be treated confidentially and in line with data protection principles, and anonymised if used to produce qualitative and/or quantitative findings.
You can either fill out my completely anonymised Rescue Backup survey, or copy/paste the questions into an email and send me your answers and any other comments, experiences or suggestions you have surrounding RBU to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The images used to illustrate this article were generated using Bing AI Image Creator.