British Columbia

Adopting a furry friend? Unregulated animal rescues could cost you thousands, advocates say

A Vancouver animal-rights group says unregulated rescues might cause more harm than good, and wants to set up an accreditation process to end an upwards trend in unqualified shelters.

Lack of oversight, transparency means anyone can start a rescue

Paws for Hope says unregulated animal shelters have popped up all over the Lower Mainland. (Shutterstock)

A Vancouver animal-rights group says unregulated rescues might cause more harm than good, and wants to set up an accreditation process to end an upwards trend in unqualified shelters.

The crux of the problem, says Kathy Powelson, director of Paws for Hope, lies in regulatory gaps that allow anybody in B.C. to form an animal rescue without needing to worry about rules, transparency or oversight.

"What we, the rescue community, have seen over the past five years or so is a massive increase in the number of groups and individuals that are setting themselves up to rescue animals, primarily dogs," Powelson told On the Coast.

Good intentions, the group says, only go so far.

In 2016, a botched rescue operation led to the seizure of 88 dogs, cats, birds and goats from a property in Langley, B.C.

The B.C. SPCA raided a rescue operation in Langley in 2016 — just one example of unmonitored shelters causing harm to adopters and animals alike, Powelson says. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

A woman had been running a rescue operation on the property, but her wards were underfed and three were euthanized after the intervention.

"Some rescue groups have practices that can put animals at risk," Powelson said. And, if problems do arise, "there is nowhere to go to hold that rescue accountable."

Oversight needed

Crowding and inadequate medical care could mean suffering for animals while they're at an unregulated rescue, Powelson said, and a caregiver's negligence or inexperience could lead to fat veterinary bills after adoption.

Rescues aren't currently obligated to check for medical problems or notify adopters of problems with the animal.

Advocates say a voluntary accreditation system could help prevent mistreatment. (Shutterstock)

"So you've just found out that the dog you've adopted is really sick, and in order to treat that illness it's going to cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars that you didn't sign up for," she said.

In lieu of hard-and-fast regulations, a voluntary accreditation system could help prospective adopters evaluate rescuers — whomever they might be.

"My preference would be that the standards would be adopted by a governmental regulatory body...and there would be requirements that organizations follow," she said. "We don't have the jurisdiction or authority to make that happen."

Instead, a set of voluntary standards embraced by serious rescuers would reassure adopters, she said.

"My hope is that [rescuers] will sign on," Powelson said.

"We'll have a compliance process in place, so then when the the average person wants to adopt an animal, they can go to the network website and see a list of organizations that have met these standards."

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Coast