British Columbia

Regulations around B.C. animal shelters overdue, advocate says

An animal advocate says there needs to be formal regulations around who can set up an animal rescue organization in the province.

Under existing laws, anyone can open a shelter as long as animal cruelty laws are followed

Kathy Powelson, with Paws for Hope Animal Foundation, says there are not enough regulations around who can start and operate an animal shelter or rescue foundation in B.C. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

After a Langley animal rescue society was raided earlier this week for the third time since 2012, one animal advocate says it's time for the province to regulate who can own and run these operations.

Currently, anyone in British Columbia can operate an animal shelter or rescue society if they follow municipal bylaws surrounding animal control and abide by the B.C.'s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Most municipal bylaws around animal control focus on regulating the behaviour of pets in public spaces — like requiring dogs be leashed and owners properly dispose of animal waste.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act outlines the basic level of care required by the law for animals like adequate food, water and shelter.

Kathy Powelson, the executive director of the Paws for Hope Foundation, says the lack of regulation means it's far too easy for people to misuse the system.

"Most people go in for the reasons they love animals and they want to help," she said.

"Unfortunately, there's been such an increase in the number of organizations over the past few years. It feels like it's gotten out of control." 

Difficult to get recourse

Some of these organizations are of widely varying quality and some aren't doing what they say they're doing, Powelson said, and often nothing can be done to shut these organizations down.

The main problem, she said, is B.C.'s SPCA — which is empowered to investigate animal cruelty abuses and enforce the province's animal cruelty act — cannot investigate unless there is a specific report of an animal in distress.

"Some of these [rescue organizations] don't often meet the standards of cruelty under the current laws so the SPCA doesn't have any power to go in and do anything," she said.

When the SPCA eventually gets involved, the situation has often escalated.

"When the cruelty investigations department gets involved, it's typically more of a situation where animals are being kept by an individual who either does not recognize their needs or is not able to meet those needs or doesn't recognize when to stop," explained Marcie Moriarty, the B.C. SPCA's chief enforcement officer.

"We tend to have people border-lining on a compulsion to collect animals and to hoard and keep them without attention to their basic needs."

Community-generated standards

Powelson's group has joined together with other animal welfare organizations — including the B.C. SPCA — to create a network to address issues in the animal welfare community.

One of the first step of the Animal Welfare Advisory Network of B.C. has been outlining a number of standards for rescue organizations to abide by.

These include ensuring animals have health checks, behaviour assessments, and that they are vaccinated, spayed and neutered before going out for adoption.

The SPCAs Moriarty says the public would be able to ask whether a rescue association is affiliated with the network and follow the community standards.

Unfortunately even if the network were able to implement such standards, Powelson admits they wouldn't be binding.

B.C. SPCA officers seized 45 dogs, 18 cats and 24 farm animals and one turtle in its 2016 raid of an animal rescue organization in Langley. That same organization has been raided by the SPCA three times since 2012. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

"Our standards wouldn't prevent [the Langley seizure] from happening again because these are not regulations," she explained.

Instead of a self-policing industry, Powelson said she hopes the province would be open to creating a regulatory body to specifically hold animal rescue organizations accountable.

"Our hope is that we can start to begin to identify the good work that's being done and provide an opportunity for discussions for an actual regulatory body to help prevent stuff like that."

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the segment, click on the link labelled Regulations around B.C. animal shelters overdue, advocate says