It may be subversive to say so but not every shelter or rescue organization is worthy of your patronage. There are rescues and there are…well, less-respectable rescues. All have good intentions, if my experience is exemplary. But that doesn’t mean they all do a good job. If you’ll pardon my saying so, some just plain stink—and not just literally.

Most mom-and-pop rescues are hampered by their patron’s funds. And too many are unable to “just say no” with each and every pet. This makes them susceptible to overcrowding, disease and worse—neglect.

Anyone who’s been around the block in this biz knows it happens—but no one likes to talk about it. Why? Because we all know how much people in the rescue game care…and how hard they try. But, as we all know, “love is not enough,” you’ve got to have the funds to back it up or you end up doing a disservice to the animals who might be better off in the streets—or euthanized—than locked up with no food or water in filthy conditions.

Still, hobby rescues don’t tend to be the worst offenders. Our large, municipal shelters, funded with public money, are often the worst—if only because they purport to do the most, have the most funds to work with, and yet still manage to break all the animal-care rules (because, as they say, they’re under-funded).

I have no doubt that large-scale shelter operations lack funds. After all, we live in a society with millions of unwanted pets on our streets. And shelters are in a tight spot, no doubt. Yet I can’t help thinking there’s a better way than holing animals up in unsanitary conditions only to watch them die of the diseases they give each other by virtue of their confinement. Aren’t they better taking their chances on the streets in some cases?

Still, some places manage far better than most. They get pets in and out. They keep things clean and orderly. They turn people and new pets away, if need be. At least the animals in their care are kept comfortable and clean—and that’s all I ask, really.

Is it wrong for me, then, to choose to patronize these above others? When people ask where they should go to adopt a new pet, should I urge them to go to the shelter with the greatest need or to the one with the best practices and healthiest animals?

I’ve read all your past comments diligently. I know a lot of you have worked in shelters and I’ve absorbed your pro and con commentaries, alike. From shelters that euthanize identifiably microchipped pets to those that implement socialization and training programs for their potential adoptees, you’ve made yourself heard. So how do you weigh in now?

Am I wrong to urge caution and direct my clients to the healthiest, cleanest, best run places? Am I damning the others unfairly for their lack of funding? What’s a vet to do?