‘To The Rescue!’ is a dog shelter simulator that’s striving to make a real difference

To The Rescue! is an animal management sim with a whole lot of heart, capturing the joys and struggles of running a dog shelter as you strive to find a forever home for every pooch (while also helping real shelter dogs get that opportunity).

Every dog-lover with a Nintendo DS has probably played The Sims: 2 Pets at some point to live out their classic childhood fantasy of running a vet clinic and nurturing beloved pets back to full health, but there hasn’t been much space for less-loved mutts in the simulation genre so far. To The Rescue! is here to change that, all while making a real difference for dogs in need.

This upcoming dog shelter simulator developed by Little Rock Games focuses on a less romanticised aspect of animal care, aiming to capture the realities of working in a shelter in an all-too-adorable fashion. The impacts of the game don’t just end at educational fun, either – a percentage of the profits will also go towards real dog shelters.

To The Rescue Screenshot
Image: To The Rescue! / Freedom Games

To The Rescue! began as a a hobby project for developers Olivia Dunlap and Tanner Marshall when a stray puppy unexpectedly came into their life while they were completing their undergrad studies together at the University of Arkansas. In an ultimate cliché, the dog showed up at their door while they were up late playing video games on a snowy night, and this scenario eventually became the hook of this very game.

Also having friends who were fostering dogs at the time, they soon realised the rescue system was the perfect match for the mechanics of a management sim game. They began working on a prototype as their first digital game back in 2016, and have further developed their vision of “portraying the harsh realities and joyous moments of running a dog shelter” in the years since.

The simulator became a Little Rock Games project after the company’s first game, Galactic Scoundrels, was released in 2018, and a Kickstarter campaign was then created in 2019 to fund continued development. 1,241 backers raised over $35,000, allowing the project to keep working towards its impending 2021 release in partnership with publishers Freedom Games.

The game that has emerged is a charming simulator where you work through the daily challenges and rewards of running a dog shelter. The developers have emphasised the reality that “it’s not all cuddles and snoot boops” – a lot of hard work goes into maximising the chances of every dog finding the right forever home for them.

The gameplay of To The Rescue! involves matching each unique dog with prospective adopters’ needs, upgrading the shelter, making economic choices to keep the shelter open, holding fundraisers, and managing infectious diseases. The hard truth is there’s always more dogs and never enough room, with certain dogs being more desirable than others, but your mission is to keep trying to find the perfect home for every hound in need.


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The topic of euthanasia naturally arises alongside this harsh reality, with the developers of To The Rescue! choosing to boldly tackle the issue. In a statement posted within their website’s FAQ, they explained the choice to feature euthanasia:

“It can be hard for ‘no-kill’ shelters to take in every animal that might need help. Those that may be hard to adopt, rehabilitate, or find room for may eventually end up at other shelters that have no choice…

No one ever wants to have to euthanise. But since we want to raise awareness, we don’t want to pretend it’s not potentially part of the job. It’s not glorified or presented as an easy way out, but it’s an important part of the experience.”

Those who aren’t comfortable with facing this issue don’t have to avoid the game entirely, however. The developers have ensured that there will be an option to opt out of the euthanasia mechanic, for those who wish to experience the game without it.

Regardless of your choice, you can feel some comfort knowing that proceeds from To The Rescue! will be going directly towards a charity with the mission to stop euthanasia happening just because there are no homes available.

From the very beginning, Dunlap and Marshall knew they wanted to donate 20% of the game’s profits, and their publisher recently connected them with the Petfinder Foundation to help send grants to shelters all across North America.

To The Rescue Screenshot
Image: To The Rescue! / Freedom Games

Dunlap told GamesRadar about the team’s ongoing conversations around donating funds right from the start of the game’s development:

“[The idea was] to make a game that was fun, that was cute, and that raised awareness for some of the harsher things that happened in real-world shelters, like how hard it can be, but also just let people live vicariously and enjoy that experience. We really felt like if we were trying to raise awareness for this, it was also important for us to try and make a real-world difference if we could.”

The creators’ ambitious dream is that some players might even be inspired to adopt a dog or join their local shelter’s foster network, but ultimately every player can know they are helping real dogs in a small way by playing the game and enjoying helping virtual dogs.

To The Rescue! is set for release during the third quarter of 2021 on PC and Mac via Steam, as well as on the Nintendo Switch. If you head to Steam within the next week, you can even try the demo that became available as part of Steam Next Fest after the game featured in Freedom Games’ segment at this year’s E3 conference.

The easiest way to support the game is to add it to your Steam wishlist, or you could even join Little Rock Games’ Discord to connect with developers and fans if you want to hear all the latest development news.