Getting Started in Rescue



As our national effort evolves, your input will also shape what becomes the Ideal ASC Cocker Spaniel Rescue. Notably, we have not included here guidelines for fundraising, either locally or on a national level. We have not made hard and fast rules for intake, placement and screening – this is intended for use as a general guide as American Spaniel Club Cocker Spaniel Rescue develops. 

How do you rescue a cocker spaniel? All you do is motor on down to the pound,get yourself a cocker spaniel, place an advertisement and BINGO! You’verescued your first dog, right? Well… this dog has a background to evaluate, veterinary needs to address and a requirement for a safe, comfortable home. How do you find not just a home, but the IDEAL home for this dog? How do you weed out the people who think a cocker’s place is at the end of a chain? What if he bites someone? How on earth can you afford to help all the dogs you know need you? 

It’s enough to give you pause, if not make your head spin! So, here’s our first attempt at describing an Ideal Cocker spaniel rescue. We’ve provided a checklist of things to address as you proceed with your rescue efforts. As needed, we provide sample contracts, applications and release forms. But, don’t forget, your best resource is just talking with other people doing rescue – not just cocker rescue, but also those dealing with completely different breeds or even species! Ask questions! 

Cocker rescue, like any dog rescue, will require resources – time and money are the most obvious. This paper is merely a resource and guide – nothing beats talking (in real time!) with experienced cocker rescuers when you must deal with an anxious rescued cocker. In dealing with shelters, owners and potential adopters, you need to prove to them that you are a legitimate rescuer – not just some bleeding heart dog lover. You can’t “do it all” – there is no point in losing dogs in need because the humans were “burned out” or overloaded. You MUST recognize that you’ll need help – there is strength in numbers. Lastly, and very importantly, you also must recognize that there are serious liability issues that you must address (like placing a dog that later bites at its adopted home). We highly recommend that you affiliate yourself with an established, local rescue organization and set yourself up as their local cocker expert. Several members of ASC have already banded together locally to begin organized rescue efforts.

Before you join an established group, you should be clear about HOW they do rescue and whether the “system” we propose is acceptable to them. You can find these organizations by checking the Internet, with your local shelter, calling your local AKC or obedience clubs. If you are an ASC member and/or will subscribe to the ASC rescue policy, you can apply to join their rescue network. 

Summary: Join an organized rescue organization to:

  • gain coverage under their liability insurance
  • tap into the knowledge base developed by local rescue experts
  • have access to funds to cover emergency expenses
  • gain credibility in dealing with shelters and potential adopters
  • educational Materials 

Notice that a cocker in need of rescue comes from many sources: a shelter, a desperate owner, a veterinarian, another rescue worker and, now, the Internet. You, the local cocker rescue expert, are contacted. You should return the call, call the shelter, or otherwise make direct contact with the person or organization holding the dog within 24 hours.  

1. Is the dog safe? For how long? (You are trying to find out if the dog is in immediate danger of euthanasia, if the dog is sick, if the desperate owner will be placing the dog in a shelter tomorrow if you can’t help) 

2. How can you offer assistance? (Do they want to surrender/foster the dog? do they want referrals? do they just want general or behavioral information about cocker spaniels?) 

At the end of the conversation you make a decision on whether the situation described is a 1) rescue, 2) an owner give-up or 3) a training/management problem. You will also know whether the time frame for this dog is urgent/immediate or a non-emergency. we feel very strongly that this kind of “first contact” is the very least that an organized cocker spaniel rescue organization can do. A prompt, courteous, helpful phone call is much appreciated by the hassled shelter worker or rattled novice owner. This simple, short communication establishes that there may be a “safety net” for this dog and support for the people already involved.

 Once you know what is needed, you can proceed more efficiently to the next step:

  •  Counsel owner on how to place the dog themselves
  • Get the dog to a foster home/vet/boarding kennel immediately
  • Work with shelter or person who currently has dog on options

Questions about behavior or obedience issues you may be able to handle or you may have an expert in your group to whom you can refer the caller. If the caller wants to surrender the dog, you must proceed on down the checklist. 

If you’ve established that a shelter or other party holding a cocker wants you to rescue the dog, you’ll need to start  collecting background information. Let the person with the information talk & ramble – oftentimes the most important details will come out that way rather than having you ask all the questions. Find out:

  • Name, address and phone number of owner or shelter.
  • Name or case number of dog in need of rescue.
  • Is it pure bred? Is it registered? If registered, who was breeder?

Has the dog bitten someone? (Depending on details of bite, these dogs cannot be placed by many rescue organizations due to liability reasons – follow recommendations of your rescue organization. We must realize that people aggressive dogs are a liability both morally and legally. In most cases these dogs should be euthanized.) 

Has the breeder of the dog been notified? (Reliable, reputable breeders will always take back, foster and place their own dogs – ideally this is the way it should be. Alternatively, they will help you find a home for the dog from their lists of people looking for dogs, or at the very least provide financial help to place the dog) 

What is the age/gender of dog? neutered or spayed?

Are shots up to date? Is it healthy?

What is reason for surrendering dog? If you are talking to owner, try and let owner talk so that you can dig past simple reasons of surrendering dog like: moving, divorce, death of owner, no time for dog, dog is too big for yard or house. If these reasons really are basis for surrender, these cockers should be fine to place. How ever, listen for stories or indications that dog has climbed out of 6 foot or over kennel, fought with other dogs, killed cats or wildlife, challenged some members of household, has been over-protective of food. These stories can either reflect care less ownership or much more serious problem dogs. You’ll need to evaluate each situation and decide whether to proceed based on guidelines set out by your rescue organization.

 What kind of training has dog had? (Obedience, hunting – what commands does it know – come, sit, stay, down?)

 Housebroken? Inside or outside dog? (does it ride well in automobiles?)

 Is it socialized? (With adults, children, other dogs, cats, puppies?)

 Is dog free or is a price involved? (many shelters will still require rescue to pay a release fee. Others will waive the fee, usually under the condition that you spay/neuter the dog.) 

First, proper evaluations can take days or weeks. In person, you are there to confirm the reported health and temperament background information you have. But…when you go to the shelter or a home to evaluate a dog – you have at most an hour to evaluate temperament since the shelter staff is busy or the owners can’t be bothered. It is best that a person knowledgeable about cocker spaniels does the evaluation. Talk to the dog in the crate or run and judge how responsive or interested it is in you. Being a cocker, he may not bound to the front to see you, but you don’t want to see snarling either. The best thing you can do is take the dog out of the crate in the shelter (or at the owner’s) on a choke chain and leash that you’ve brought along. Take the dog outside if possible and walk it around for a bit. The dog will likely be very excited at its freedom and will yank and lunge – don’t let this color your perception of the dog’s obedience training – remember dogs are extraordinarily stressed at shelters or tied out back at an owner’s. (This also isn’t the type of visit you want to show up for in business clothes!) Try and walk and talk quietly to calm the dog. Look for eye contact, desire to please, ability to trust. Report what you find honestly to your organization or judge carefully if you are in charge of rescuing the dog on your own. While you are at the shelter, confirm with them what you will need for them to release the dog to you. Credentials? Letters of reference? The dog’s case number? Sign release forms? A spay/neuter agreement? A fee? An appointment with the shelter manager? Are there particular hours/days that the shelter does “adoptions/rescues?” Report this back to your organization or person actually transporting the dog in a rescue. More about shelter relations: Remember, shelter staff do not want to euthanize dogs. They don’t want to place a cocker in an unsuitable home either – many would rather that a purebred organization does the placement so it’s done correctly. They also know that many purebred shelter dogs are adopted for the wrong reasons. They are often overworked, under-funded and nearly burned out. They may, however, have very strong feelings (understandably!) about spay/neutering. You will not impress them if you show up without credentials or references and demand to see or have the cocker in their possession. They have the dog so that means they have current ownership – no matter what series of misunderstandings havehappened to end with the dog in the shelter. No matter how impressive your credentials are in the cocker world – it means squat to them (in fact it may hurt your relationship!). They will likely want assurances that you’ll spay/neuter the dog and want to know that you understand what is involved in rescuing a dog. Again, if you are affiliated with a rescue organization, you gain credibility. If you want them to call you in the future with any cockers that end up in their shelter, you’ll treat them with respect, courtesy and in a professional manner. Lastly, rescue is, at its very heart, powerful advocacy for our breed. We are trying to tell the public that these dogs are special. This will not be the impression left after a shouting match over a dog in the shelter. 

So, as reported, the dog is a cupcake and you think, with a little work, this guy will make someone a great companion. You’ve decided that you’ll take the dog out of the shelter or owner’s possession. 

You will need:

  • choke chain collar, an ID tag, and a leash
  • crate (lined with newspaper and a blanket/towel)
  • rescue credentials (letter of introduction from your organization, reference letters from a veterinarian, a business card)
  • copy of your license an owner release form –
  • gift and relinquishment of rights a medical release money for a spay/neuter deposit an appointment at a veterinarian’s a clearly outlined destination with isolation facilities a file or envelope to hold forms and records make sure you leave with a shelter or owner release form saying that you are legally in possession of the dog!
  • As an extra bonus, do your best to get veterinary records from the owner or shelter.
  • An extra, extra bonus would be the registration papers on the dog.

This dog will likely be hyper, stressed, nervous and anxious. Walk him around outside as long as you can so that the dog can stretch his legs, eliminate and sniff freedom before you put him back into a crate. Talk firmly and gently to him so he learns your voice. Once in the car, the dog will maybe cry with nervousness, or keen with sadness upon separation.  

Your first destination should be the veterinarian’s office. If you have done a good job of setting up a rescue group, you have identified a rescue-friendly vet who will do work for you at a reduced fee. If you have been super-organized you coordinated your rescue with a standing weekly appointment your organization has with this saintly veterinarian. If you need to wait a couple of days for a veterinary appointment, you have had the dog in isolation. No matter how forward thinking, clean and sparkly the shelter was that you rescued this cocker from; you MUST treat this dog as contagious (at worst, with parvo or kennel cough, at least with fleas!). The vet will tell you whether you need to quarantine the dog away from other dogs. You do not want to infect your own precious dogs, the foster home’s dogs, and absolutely not the adopting home’s resident dogs! Wash your hands a lot and use 10% bleach solution to disinfect crates and carpets. the vet visit will ensure that the dog is current on its vaccinations, will give you a baseline evaluation of its health at that point (often very sad), and may highlight health problems that the evaluators missed. You need to know up front, as soon as possible, the likely medical expenses this dog will incur.  


Most dogs rescued are not puppies. Rescued cockers are most likely 1.5 to 3 year old dogs that got “too big,” “too rambunctious,” or “stubborn.” Most of these dogs have not had effective obedience training as puppies – so as they grew, they did not know their place in the “pack order.” Foster care is the most effective way to fully evaluate the rescued cocker, to bring the dog back to health and to teach some basic house manners and obedience. In the ideal cases, foster care should extend only as long as six weeks – remember, cockers bond very tightly to their families (especially families that have given them their first taste of a good dog-person relationship). After six weeks another move can be very hard on them, making the chances they will bond to yet another family tougher and tougher. Our job is to minimize the disruption in their family lives. Foster families should know the cocker spaniel. Maybe they already have one in residence. In addition, they should understand the special behavior problems that will come with a newly rescued cocker and be able to attend to its health needs. Some organizations use a Foster Home Application to screen foster homes and try and set out a clear understanding of the arrangement.

Foster homes typically do not have ownership of the dog – the rescuer or rescue organization does. Some organizations ask the foster home to screen and place adoptive homes; some organizations use the foster home just as a complete evaluator with no say on placement. These terms need to be fully communicated. Very often, the foster home ends up being the adoptive home. Nice, happy ending for the dog – but maybe the loss of a good foster home for the organization! These issues should be addressed before foster care (and an emotional attachment) begins.

After about a month in foster care, it is the foster family’s responsibility to fully evaluate the dog for placement. The dog’s level of protectiveness, aggression, socialization, and obedience training should be fully described so that the proper home can be found – or in some very unfortunate cases, recommend that the dog must be put down. Remember, there are both moral and legal implications behind placing a  people aggressive dog. It should be avoided. Fostering a rescued cocker is a remarkably rewarding experience. Many of these gangly teenagers are fun and goofy and annoying as all get out at first – but a month of loving, safe family interactions and firm obedience training can transform them into attractive, responsive dogs.

It’s time. The rescued cocker is fully evaluated – shows no sign of aggression, tolerates cats, makes good eye contact, is housebroken and has fairly good manners. Your organization decides it’s time to find this deserving dog a home. The ideal outcome for each dog should be a safe, loving, permanent home. 


Internet postings of rescue dogs have changed the adoption process completely. In a recent placement, four people responded to Internet postings, two to an ad in the paper and two from word of mouth. The dog was adopted by one family who responded to the Internet listing on a rescue home page. They live in the same state – but about 2 hours away. The features of the listing that caught their attention were 

  1. it was a cocker (they had owned cockers before)
  2. the area code of the contact phone number located the dog within a reasonable drive and
  3. that the dog was older and neutered.

The establishment of the Cocker Spaniel Rescue Home page will provide one a free opportunity for advertising your rescue contact information. List your geographic location and a contact person – the ASC will post regular features of rescue dogs so you can even send a color picture (or a .jpg file). The advantage to listing the dog on the World Wide Web is that it’s free, takes very little time, reaches a surprisingly large, focused audience and you can be quite descriptive. A nice, generic advertisement in the newspaper works well too. Many newspapers and “Pennysaver” publications will run free ads for non-profit organizations. Something like:

Cocker Spaniel Rescue has great dogs needing good homes! Adoption fee and contract required. Please call: Your Name, phone number, IF ou are associated with a local, organized rescue group, they likely have monthly adoption clinics. If your rescue dog is up to the public, social setting – this can be a good way to generate interest in the dog. More likely, you’ll do good public relations – establishing that purebred cockers need rescue and that you are a good contact person for interested adoptive families. Lastly, you can post flyers in veterinary offices, pet supply stores and on community bulletin boards – ask permission. 

The first contact with a potential adopter is usually a phone call – and increasingly, an email letter! The initial screen usually helps you separate serious inquiries from those just calling for information on the breed (this happens a lot, actually – this is the part about rescue also being an advocacy for cocker spaniels!) The phone screen should result in this information trade:

  •  Name, address, and phone number
  • Have you ever owned a cocker? Male or Female? (If you have never owned one, it is best to get a male)

If you have never owned one, why have you decided to own one?

Cockers must have obedience training and must be kept under control, in fenced yards or in crates and kennels – they are house dogs – they DO NOT do well tied up or kenneled outside all the time. They make exceptionally good housedogs because they want nothing better than being with their owners. hey must never be encouraged to become aggressive.

The goal here is to trade important information about cocker spaniels as a breed and screen out people just interested in those sad-eyed, floppy-eared dogs like their neighbor has. If the interested party is still interested, you can:

  • send them an Adoption Application
  • explain the mechanics of an adoption (application, home visits, contracts)

The adoption application serves as a way to get potential adopters to think about the responsibilities underlying dog ownership. If possible, you should include a home visit and always provide a contract with any rescue. Many potential adopters are dismayed at these requirements – and should be screened out consequently. If the family interviews well on the first phone call and is eager to see the dog, you can set up a meeting and get them to fill out an Adoption Application when they arrive before seeing the dog.

It is important to keep control of the situation and be able to say NO to people who aren’t suitable or ready for a cocker spaniel. It helps to have “hoops” for these families to jump through so they understand the importance and permanence of their decision. It is not something that should be decided one evening because the dog is cute. But, remember, for that ideal family – this is an exciting, wonderful experience – being too harsh or judgmental may turn them off or cause them to be wary of future rescue contacts.

You’ve screened through your adoption applications. You’ve found the perfect home! Now you must ensure that the dog stays in the ideal home that you’ve found for it. This is a two-way street – you must educate the new family about the dog (the general cocker characteristics and the individual dog’s behavior and health), you must evaluate the home, and you must place the dog with a contract. We highly recommend home visits before placement. If this is not possible, get a colleague to stop over and visit. Again, you’re justtrying to confirm in person what the evaluations indicate. The Adoption contract usually covers transfer of ownership of said dog (name, age, sex), issues of liability, any spay/neuter obligations, special health needs will be provided, and that the dog will be returned to you if the adoptive home can no longer care for it. Again, using a contract stresses the seriousness of placing and adopting a dog. When you deliver the dog to its new home – make sure that these items are available:

  • collar, identification and leash
  • current food so that new owner can use it or mix to transition the diet
  • veterinary records and forms outlining transfer of ownership
  • detailed instructions on any special veterinary care
  • your name, phone number for any consulting necessary as the dog adjusts
  • literature that you’ve written up specifically for this dog, or general guidelines to rescued dog behavior
  • referrals to local obedience trainers or schools (depending on the situation, I like some homes to provide evidence that they are registered for an obedience class)
  • a camera (to record your happy ending!)

You should do an adoption follow-up. Some organizations require follow-ups 30, 60 and 120 days after adoption to ensure that the adoptive home is working for all concerned. These contacts often serve as “consulting” opportunities for behaviors encountered. Keeping the lines of communication open will likely increase the chance that the new home is permanent.

If you have been scrupulous in following these guidelines, in using the disclaimers and forms and contracts in the proper order, and in screening it is likely that you have carried out the IDEAL COCKER SPANIEL RESCUE! You have found a happy ending for a deserving cocker spaniel. You have represented the cocker spaniel breed admirably. You have probably converted some unsuspecting family into cocker enthusiasts. You may have advertised your efforts well enough to raise more money for cocker rescue efforts.