11 September 2016

WELFARE - Are More Regulations Needed for Animal Rescue Groups?

Rescue groups are a godsend to thousands of animals across North America.

(CBC.ca, Winnipeg seizure)
But all too often disturbing stories surface about animals being mistreated while in the care of rescue organizations – raising questions about whether there are enough safeguards in place to protect against everything from abuse to neglect.

Many critics argue the answer is no.

Rules vary from one jurisdiction to the next but often it seems cases where animal-welfare officials get involved stem from complaints bringing a situation to their attention.

For the most part, groups which typically see pets fostered in private residences, are not subject to inspections nor required to adhere to any minimum sets of standards of care.

And while common sense most often prevails there are times when volunteer-run organizations – faced with limited resources, at times overwhelmed by animals' needs or sheer numbers and given a lack of outside oversight - can run into serious problems.

In a Tennessee case, more than 40 dogs were rescued from a so-called animal rescue group and taken in for medical care.

In Nashville, the owner and operator of a rescue was investigated after complaints he “routinely failed to provide basic shelter, food, water and veterinary care to dogs” kept on his property and handed misdemeanour animal cruelty charges, according to a News2 WKRN-TV report.

Across the border there are similar, terrible tales of directors or owners of rescue groups gone wrong.

Not long ago, animal-welfare peace officers in Calgary laid charges under the Animal Protection Act against a rescue organization and its president after allegations “distress was caused to a dog over a three day period.”

Not far away, in another case dozens of cats and dogs were seized from a rescue farm with founding members of the group charged with causing or permitting animals to be in distress and failing to provide animals with adequate care when injured or ill.

Officials said one cat was found dead while 19 others were later euthanized for a variety of illnesses.

In one case, which crosses borders between Canada's Lower Mainland and Washington state, a rescue shelter's owner was accused of wearing a vest with the words 'Animal Welfare' while stealing a dog from a B.C property as well as allegations she had stolen dogs she then put up for adoption.

In Kentucky, an animal rescue owner was charged with animal cruelty after more than 170 dogs were found living in unacceptable conditions.

Across the continent, there have been cases ranging from hoarding to neglect resulting in everything from malnourished to gravely ill animals but many, many rescue groups do a lot of good in caring for animals until they are adopted.

But when issues arise it can be ugly.

And according to the Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University, there aren't a lot of rules in place to prevent issues from arising and they often are only discovered when someone raises the alarm - quite often the damage is done.

“While some states require rescues and foster care providers to be licensed and regulated under state and local laws, each of those states and cities may have slight variations on what is specifically required,” the center stated.

“However, a majority of the states have not created regulatory regimes that specifically define rescue organizations or foster homes separately from shelters and kennels. In many states, rescues will be lumped into the legislation along with shelters and kennels instead of recognizing the nuanced differences between these types of organizations. Foster care is usually less regulated than rescues and often monitored by the shelters, which have few resources to begin with. Many issues with rescue and foster care do not surface unless someone files a complaint with authorities.”

The lack of rules and regulations becomes even more of a concern as the number of rescue organizations appear to climb.

Brad Nichols with the Calgary Humane Society says he hears of a new rescue group almost weekly and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, according to Macleans magazine has recorded a spike in recent years of adults dogs imported annually for commercial use – typically by rescue shelters - the numbers going from 150 to 922 over a five-year period.

In Alberta, for instance, there are many laws to protect animals but not provisions for animal-welfare officials to keep close tabs on day-to-day operations of rescue organizations.

“While peace officers with Animal Protection Act appointments do have warrantless inspection authorities for any business with animals for sale, hire or exhibition...this does not extend to private dwellings,” Nichols, senior manager/animal cruelty investigations with the Calgary Humane Society tells InfoStream.

“Most rescue organizations operate on a foster basis solely from homes.”
While the rescues are subject to the same laws as any pet owner (from Animal Protection Act to Criminal Code,) “beyond that, there is very little regulation,” Nichols says.

In a recent Winnipeg case, more than a dozen dogs were found in horrible conditions, many in poor health and at least one deceased puppy.

The location was the home of a rescue group director.

That case is just another example for some of the need for more rules in the animal rescue realm.

“In Canada, there are no regulations at any level of government specific to foster-based (meaning in private homes) animal rescue groups. Anyone can set up an animal rescue, take in animals, and solicit donations,” a columnist recently wrote in the Globe and Mail.

“Canada does have a set of recommended guidelines for standards of care in animal shelters but those pertain more to bricks and mortar operations like humane societies and SPCAs. Each province also has their own general set of animal welfare laws but they often lack the financial resources and manpower to enforce them. And for home-based animal rescues, there are simply no rules and no governing bodies overseeing their practices, and thus, as it seems, things can easily get out of control.”

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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