Indie Simulation

To The Rescue! – Review | Manage a Dog Shelter

Management simulation games have always been an avenue for individuals to try running different kinds of business ranging from restaurants to airports. With To The Rescue!, a management sim developed by Little Rock Games and published by Freedom Games, players have the chance to manage their very own dog shelter and help the dogs find their perfect homes.

Released for PC on 2 November 2021, To The Rescue! aims to inform players of the reality of running a dog shelter. As such, euthanasia is included in the game with an option to turn it off. Other content warnings for this title include animal injury and illness, and needles. In terms of visual effects, screen shakes and moving patterns can be toggled on/off under the gameplay settings.

More Bugs Than Barks

While To The Rescue! has the potential to be a fun educational game, it is unfortunately riddled with way too many bugs as of v1.0.7 (at the point of writing) to be fully enjoyable. Bugs specific to game elements will be discussed in later sections. For now, three major issues encountered at the system level shall be listed.

First of all, the save system does not work as intended. Although saving and loading are more stable in v1.0.7 (compared to v1.0.0 where I’ve had my progress totally wiped by irrecoverable save files), several game stats are still not carried over properly in between saving and loading. One example is the milestones, such as the number of a certain type of dog adopted, which always gets reset upon loading the save file. Unless one can play without having to exit the game at any point, trying to complete all milestones is impossible at the moment. Another example is the euthanasia option. Players may start a new game with the euthanasia option turned off but once they exit the game and load the save file the next time, the option resets itself to be included. The only good thing I’ve gotten out of the current buggy save system is the cheats it unwittingly gives, making it easy to make a quick buck for the dog shelter.

To The Rescue - Itchy Dog

Second, the game stutters at random moments. The gameplay in To The Rescue! may not be significantly affected by the random stutters, but any game that does not run smoothly most of the time is going to be quite annoying to play. On a related note, the game is also prone to freezing for a few seconds at the start of each new in-game day when it is auto-saving.

Third, the mapped keys do not always work. The return or “Enter” key is bound to general interaction and advancing dialogues by default, but the key only advances certain dialogues and not all of them. The alternate key mapped to the same functions is the left mouse button, which would sometimes erroneously skip a dialogue line. During persuasion scenes when players can select a particular dog to emphasize its Adoptability level, the selection cursor cannot be moved by any directional keys or mouse scroll wheel. Furthermore, keys used in playing mini-games with the dogs are occasionally swapped without warning; the on-screen instructions would always instruct players to use WASD keys but the mini-game would sometimes respond to arrow keys only and at other times, to WASD keys only.

With these system-level issues covered, it is time to talk about the game in detail, along with its other bugs. To The Rescue! has two game modes: Story Mode and Sandbox Mode. Starting a new game in either mode will first bring players to the character selection menu.

To The Rescue - Companion

Choose Your Character and Companion

Here, players are presented with a few pre-built characters and companion dogs to choose from. Once players have made their selections, they only have to type in a name for their player character and companion dog, and they will be ready to go.

A total of 5 character models and 36 dogs are available for players to pick from. Other than the small library of character models, the bigger issue I have with these character models is that the exact same ones are reused for helpers whom players can hire later on in the game. Technically, running a dog shelter together with a few helpers who are clones of the player character is not a problem. The problem arises when the player wants to fire a particular helper in the group but cannot tell who is who based on their identical looks. Piling onto the difficulty in identifying helpers is the fact that none of them are given any names.

As for the companion dog, the range of variety is nice. Unfortunately, the dog is given very little purpose in To The Rescue! Most times, I forget I have a companion dog. It provides hints to players when interacted with and shows players the ropes in Sandbox Mode. However, when players understand fully how the game works, there is practically no reason to interact with their companion dog anymore. Unlike the other dogs in the shelter, the companion dog does not need — nor can it be — fed, bathed, or played with. Even in the final scene of the Story Mode, players cannot play with their companion dog in spite of the scene suggesting this possibility. I really do not understand what is the purpose of adding a companion dog just for the player character to openly neglect it throughout the whole game. After all, those hints and tutorials could have been carried out without the companion dog.

Story Mode: Welcome to Yawning Falls

As the name suggests, Story Mode guides the player through with a story. It is a straightforward story that has clear goals set throughout the entire duration. Generally, Story Mode acts as a starting point for players who are new to To The Rescue!

The story begins with the player character moving into their new house in Yawning Falls. When they found a stray dog outside of their house, they quickly took it to the nearest dog shelter, Sunny Paws Shelter. After the stray dog found its owner, the player character was invited to help out at Sunny Paws Shelter for two days, during which they were taught the basics of running a dog shelter. Then, they were nominated to run the newest open-admission dog shelter in Yawning Falls and entered an eight-week pilot program to help make this new shelter the best dog shelter in town.

A game over is triggered when the dog shelter is constantly at least 1000 dollars in debt or hits a reputation of -100. Instead of returning players to the main menu, clicking on the confirmation button on a game over notification box exits the game immediately. And this may not be the intended behavior, but the game lets players continue playing the same save file that supposedly ended with a game over. This way, players do not have to start over with a new game, though it essentially removes the need to adhere to the given rules that have set a baseline for a meaningful challenge.

To The Rescue - Dogs in Kennels

Meant as the starting point for beginners, the Story Mode in To The Rescue! is in fact not beginner-friendly. It throws players into Sunny Paws Shelter with at least 24 dogs to handle straight away. New players are not told in the game they only have to work at Sunny Paws for a mere two days, and there are no other helpers around to help them. When I first played the Story Mode, I could not keep up with filling all the water and food bowls, bathing all the filthy dogs, cleaning all the endless poop, and attending to all visitors on my first day at Sunny Paws. It was a truly overwhelming introduction to the game not because of the amount of new information to take in but the unreasonably huge amount of work thrown on the total newbie’s shoulders. The time spent at Sunny Paws Shelter made me feel so disheartened that I soon exited Story Mode to try Sandbox Mode instead. Only when I felt more confident with the gameplay did I go back to Story Mode again. It is a shame that the opening segment in Story Mode easily deters new players, though, as its following segment is actually a comprehensive and logical walkthrough that would benefit beginners greatly.

Management Sim: Funds and Reputation

Players will be managing two key stats in To The Rescue!, namely the shelter’s funds and reputation. Funds are used for the dog shelter’s everyday operating costs, such as stocking up dog food, purchasing new kennels or land expansions, and paying bills and wages. Reputation gauges how well the dogs are taken care of and how many successful adoptions have taken place, and determines whether the dog shelter is qualified to stay open or not.

Reputation tends to be easier to build than funds since funds are always used on a daily basis. Nevertheless, it is relatively easy to keep the dog shelter afloat with careful spending and strategizing — well, unless players have an exceptionally bad Random Number Generator (RNG) roll on a particular day. Factors controlled by RNG in To The Rescue! include the number of new dogs coming into the shelter, the number of visitors looking for a dog to adopt, the chance of a dog falling ill, and donations received. With a bad RNG roll, players could find themselves getting way more new dogs than the number of kennels or kennel rooms they can afford to buy at that moment. Disease is another random event that can quickly dry up the shelter’s funds if players cannot quarantine the affected dogs fast enough to stop the spread, thereby having to buy more of the expensive medicine and possibly clock in more overtime hours to cure all ill dogs, or face hefty fines for each neglected sick dog.

To The Rescue - Finances

Due to its design, working overtime is one of the fastest ways to deplete the shelter’s funds. The dog shelter opens from 8 AM to 6 PM by default every weekday. Players are expected to clock out as soon as the dog shelter closes at 6 PM. Otherwise, overtime hours will start accumulating, with each passing hour sapping away 50 dollars as the player character’s overtime wages. The funny thing is the number of overtime hours one can work in To The Rescue! is infinite; I remember the first time I played the Story Mode, I ended up accumulating over 80 hours of overtime on the first day and nearly bankrupted Sunny Paws Shelter.

As for avenues to gain more funds for the shelter, there are donations, adoption fees, weekly grants, and milestone achievements. Donations come from two channels, both of which are regulated by RNG: the first is donations that come in at random times throughout the workday, and the other is collected through a scheduled donation drive. Adoption fees are fixed and guaranteed as long as dogs are successfully adopted, either by random visitors to the shelter or at a scheduled adoption event in the community. Grants are a one-time lump sum given to the shelter at the end of the week as long as the grant’s stated target goals are met, but players may only apply for only one grant per week when they do not have any other active grant at that moment. As of v1.0.7, there is no way to withdraw an applied grant even when its goal trackers are bugged and therefore render that particular grant impossible to complete. Grants are supposedly time-sensitive and have to be accomplished within the week, but incomplete grants have always stayed active for weeks in my playthroughs. Milestone achievements award funds for different activities, such as using the pooper-scooper a specific number of times. Because they reset with each game load, it is possible to use this loophole as a cheat to get more funds quickly.

In comparison, there are fewer avenues for players to increase their dog shelter’s reputation in To The Rescue! until they unlock some of the player skills. At first, reputation is raised with each successful adoption and later the scheduling of some community events. With enough skill points, players can subsequently unlock special skills, mainly one that allows players to like the adopter’s photo of the adopted dog to gain one reputation point, and another that awards one reputation point every time the visitor’s desired dog trait is matched by the dog shown to them.

To The Rescue - Grants

Visitors Always Looking for Something

Naturally, for a dog shelter, one of its main goals is to ensure every dog finds their home sooner or later. However, visitors to the dog shelter may not always be looking to adopt a dog. Sometimes, they are looking for their lost dog who has ended up at the shelter, and other times, they are looking for something else. In my playthroughs, I’ve encountered three individuals who stood out from the regular visitors, which is a pleasant surprise. Nonetheless, every time I exit the game, those individuals’ storylines get reset, so I cannot get to the end of most of their stories at all. I would keep getting the first meeting scenario with them and not the subsequent follow-up scenarios.

Between visitors who are looking for a dog to adopt and for their lost dog, I prefer to attend to the latter group. Those looking for their lost dogs will provide three traits for the players to base their search on. Accessing the Dog Log from the shelter’s computer to find the dog(s) that matched all the given traits is quite an easy task with the various sorting filters (by size, by breed, etc.) implemented. However, because the Dog Log lists every dog that has ever been in the shelter, including those that have long been adopted, it can get tedious scrolling through the pages when the list gets lengthy. In addition, this little search-and-identify game feels kind of weird with how it is designed in To The Rescue! visitors are able to describe in detail the dog’s appearance and traits but they never could provide their dog’s name. It makes me wonder if they are indeed those dogs’ actual owners.

In terms of frequency, visitors who are looking to adopt a dog appear most frequently but they are also the biggest time wasters in To The Rescue! Players can show up to five dogs to each potential adopter, and boy, do the visitors take their own sweet time looking at every dog on display. During the whole time when the visitor is deliberating over the dogs, there is nothing for the player to do except to wait patiently. There is no fast-forward function to speed things up either. Watching the visitor strolling slowly from kennel to kennel gives a sense of anticipation at first, but soon grows incredibly boring after having to go through the same process with more of them slowpokes.

To The Rescue - Second Thoughts

Every potential adopter has a certain level of reluctance that players have to overcome in order to secure a successful adoption. The level of reluctance generally increases as players progress further in the game, though the progression seems to be tied to the number of in-game weeks passed instead of how many skills the players have unlocked to make adoptions easier. This means two situations become possible. One, it is possible for players who have not been investing skill points for the relevant branch (or worse, cannot do so due to bugs) to find it increasingly difficult to the point of impossible to secure successful adoptions later in the game. Two, conversely, adoptions become easy-peasy for players who invested in the relevant skill branch very early on. In other words, the difficulty level for adoptions is not as fairly meted out as it seems.

LeashedIn and BarkBook

LeashedIn and BarkBook are two creative elements in To The Rescue! that stood out to me. On top of the fun puns in their names, I find their integration into the shelter’s computer to be brilliantly natural. LeashedIn is where players will be able to upgrade their character’s skills as well as hire and manage helpers. BarkBook provides the dog shelter with an in-game social media presence and a clever way to schedule community events. Both are pretty nice additions to the game that are unfortunately tarnished by bugs at the moment.

Under LeashedIn, there are four skill branches players can invest skill points into. Skills are grouped under different branches according to their type. For example, the Handling branch contains skills that help the player character work more efficiently, such as the starter skill of a faster movement speed. Most skills are useful and I especially like those that enable shop discounts and lower utility bills. Nevertheless, the Scooper Trooper skill that supposedly lets players scoop up two poop in a kennel with each click never worked for me. Moreover, I’ve found myself locked out of the Public Relations branch multiple times when all its skills were suddenly marked as unavailable, thereby disallowing me from investing any more skill points into the rest of the Public Relations skills.

To The Rescue - LeashedIn

Another issue with the Player Skills screen is its lack of a helpful prompt for those times when the player had invested points but did not click on the “Confirm” button to confirm the changes. Initially, I thought the system in To The Rescue! would auto-save all skill changes and was pretty confused for a while when I noticed my character was walking at the same slow speed despite having put in points for the speed boost. I then realized I totally missed clicking the small “Confirm” button before exiting the screen.

LeashedIn is also the place where players can hire helpers. Unless a helper specifically stated in their resume that they will not do a particular task, these helpers can help players to fill up water bowls, feed the dogs, bathe filthy dogs, clean up poop, quarantine sick dogs, or catch dogs. Apart from the first three tasks, however, helpers are not great. Helpers often do not pick up poop even when there is plenty plainly in sight, and I do not know what the catching task even entails because I have not seen anyone assigned with that task doing anything. As for quarantining sick dogs, helpers tend to be so slow in bringing the affected dogs to the medical room, they actually make the situation easily worse rather than better. As helpers can only take one dog on their leash at a time, when they dillydally on their way to the medical room with an affected dog, the disease would have spread to more dogs within the shelter already.

On top of not carrying out their assigned tasks well, helpers in To The Rescue! can sometimes become frozen and basically do nothing. Or they can get stuck in a wall while trying to get to a place with a dog on a leash. Their positions can be reset by reloading the game save, though those who become frozen at a particular spot are beyond help. For the permanently frozen helpers, they do nothing at all but still count as a hired helper who will continue to receive wages on a daily basis. The last resort is to fire these frozen helpers. But when the Staff Management screen happens to erase all helpers’ records and make it impossible to fire anybody, then all I can say is it is a truly badly bugged component.

To The Rescue - Staff Management

BarkBook functions similarly to an actual social media site and I’m fascinated with how the BarkBook posts would change according to what happens at the shelter. Sure, the same posts and captions are reused over and over, but the whole setup has successfully shown me that what I do at the dog shelter has a visible effect on the community at Yawning Falls. It is also wonderful that various community events can be scheduled each day, though which events one gets for the day is purely RNG-based. Still, it would be nice if BarkBook’s Events page did not incorrectly include events that could not be scheduled.

Let’s Shop and Furnish the Dog Shelter!

Dog food, medicine, and upgraded leashes and aprons can be bought from Riberta’s shop. The interface is easy to use but for a long while, I did not notice I could scroll down to see more items on sale. While I expected the skill that gives a ten percent discount at Riberta’s shop is going to help save some money, I totally did not expect the skill to also mark all dog food to be free of charge.

Players can buy new kennels, add new rooms, and purchase land expansions for their dog shelter via Shelter Construction. There is a range of items to buy but on the whole, the extent of customization players can make to their dog shelters in To The Rescue! is quite small. Functions that could have made customizing the shelter’s layout fun, like the ability to tear down walls to join two separate rooms into one big area, are not present. The orientation of certain rooms and items cannot be changed at all, and kennel rooms have fixed sizes that do not always line up nicely the way I want. Wallpaper and flooring can be changed once players have invested skill points in the relevant skill, but they either do not work when applied to some rooms or annoyingly reset with every game load.

Several types and sizes of kennels can be installed in the shelter’s kennel rooms but personally, I always purchase the smallest that can house only one dog. Bigger kennels can hold several dogs in the same space, but when I’ve to get one of them out, I’ll have to use the mouse scroll wheel to change the pointer’s target until it lands on the particular dog I want. Needless to say, I’m not fond of using this method since it is easy to scroll too much and accidentally have the pointer fly past the dog of interest. In addition, when the dogs are all cramped near the food bowl, it becomes difficult to read their overlapping name labels.

Doggos: A Chaotic Mess

Dogs are both cute and a nightmare in To The Rescue! Their happy faces as they have fun playing in the play space are adorable. Yet, back inside the dog shelter, they give all sorts of trouble — through no fault of their own, though. Some of them would end up mysteriously outside of their kennels or inside another occupied kennel, and cannot be interacted with by normal means. A few perfectly healthy dogs might suddenly neither eat nor drink despite their food and water bowls being filled to the brim. Many dogs lose all their traits sooner or later. And plenty would magically poop a lot in their kennels upon a game load, as if to show their displeasure at the player who dared to exit the game even for a little while.

Sandbox Mode

Unlike Story Mode, Sandbox Mode is unstructured. All functions are available to the player from the start, so it is relatively easier to play; it is possible to hire helpers from day one and delegate time-consuming chores to them. Unfortunately, bugs that are present in the Story Mode are encountered in Sandbox Mode too.


If everything works properly, To The Rescue! is an average casual management sim with really cute art and chirpy music. I appreciate the work put into this game, including settings that allow players to fine-tune various aspects of the game to get the optimal difficulty level for themselves. The game could be more fun if its Shelter Construction provides players with more creative freedom. Including more unique visitors with meaningful or educational storylines could have been impactful too.

However, as it stands (v1.0.7), To The Rescue! is so buggy that the bugs have overshadowed the actual game content. But all is not lost; the developers have been hard at work squashing the bugs since release. Thus, for those who wish to check out this dog shelter management sim, especially in its intended form, I’d advise waiting a bit longer.


Platforms: PC (Steam)

If you would like to read about Simulation games, you might be interested to read this review of Space Crew. Interested in another dog-themed game? Best Friend Forever might be worth a look.

Many thanks to Freedom Games for a PC review code for this title.

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