1. Is the group a 501(c)(3) charity? Are they a municipal animal control facility? If either answer is yes, they may be a good group to work with.
Becoming a charity takes time and dedication and also requires that the group stay above board with money management. But be careful, use sources such as Charity Navigator or Give.org or GreatNonprofits.org to verify and check reviews. Municipal Animal Control Facilities are overseen by government appointed officers. They are often underfunded and understaffed, but they may be a good option.
2. What method or methods are used to ensure the animals they are placing are placed appropriately?
Temperament tests will not tell you everything about a dog, but it will give you insight into how the dog may behave in a home, as well as if the dog can become dangerous in certain situations. SAFER is a common testing system developed and used by the ASPCA in New York. Most systems should be similar, but you should ask if they check for food aggression, as well as handling difficulties.
Groups that have foster homes can let you know how a dog adjusts to living with a household and what problems he or she has displayed. If you have small children, it may be best to seek out dogs through groups that use foster homes. Some groups build profiles of dogs and families in an effort to make sure they are making the best decisions possible for the dogs in their care.
3. If the group has a facility, are you allowed to visit?
If they use foster homes, can you set up an appointment to visit with a dog where he or she is being fostered, or can you speak with the fosterer on the phone or by email?
Generally speaking, you should be able to see public areas of any shelter facility and see that it is clean and kept in good repair. In many municipal facilities, you cannot walk near the animals because some animals are in quarantine and some animals are not yet available for adoption.
Some foster homes are uncomfortable with having members of the public visit them, but there should be alternatives already in place for visiting with a dog they foster, as well as options to communicate with them directly by email or phone.
If a group will not let you visit their facility or arrange meetings with foster homes, you should take a second look. It’s one thing if they have a legitimate reason such as a disease outbreak or remodeling, but if they refuse everyone one the grounds that it upsets the dogs, or causes too much trouble, you should reconsider working with them. They may have something to hide.
4. What veterinary care is given to the animals while they are in the care of the rescue group?
If the group is a municipal facility, the answer may be not much, but they should have a plan in place to help you get the dog vaccinated and spayed or neutered at a lower cost.
Other rescue groups and shelters should provide a minimum of basic care including, spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, heartworm and lyme testing, fecal testing and treatment, and a veterinary exam looking for obvious issues.
Rescue groups that bring dogs from other states MUST have at minimum, a signed veterinary waiver stating that the dog appears to be free of disease, and the dogs MUST be vaccinated. It is also a very good idea for the dog to be quarantined for a few days before or after entering the state, to ensure he or she will not pass on disease.