Humane society hopes dog rescue seizure leads to regulations

Animal welfare advocates are questioning whether animal rescue groups in Manitoba should be subject to some kind of regulation after one dead puppy and a number of dogs, some sick and in need of care, were seized from a local dog rescue director’s home.

Animal rescue groups need to set aside their differences, focus on animal welfare, says humane society

On August 9, Manitoba's Chief Veterinary Office removed four dogs and one dead puppy from a home that belonged to an animal rescue director. (Supplied)

Animal welfare advocates are questioning whether animal rescue groups in Manitoba should be subject to some kind of regulation after one dead puppy and a number of dogs, some sick and in need of care, were seized from a local dog rescue director's home.

"This particular situation has shaken the rescue world, and it has exposed the need to make sure people ask questions as to how things are going and that we provide support to rescues," said Javier Schwersensky, CEO with the Winnipeg Humane Society.

"It's unfortunate what happened with one individual running one rescue, but the bigger picture is that most of the rescues do great work," said Schwersensky.
Rescue groups must must comply with provincial animal welfare legislation, but are not subject to any regulations or inspections. (Supplied)

While the work that rescues do is acknowledged in the animal welfare community, Schwersensky says attempts to regulate how they operate have gone nowhere. 

"There's no consensus in the community as to what that should look like," said Schwersensky.

Schwersensky says in the past few years there have been plenty of conversations among rescue groups about developing an association or set of common standards and practices – but all have been unsuccessful.

Enforcement and criteria are the main stumbling blocks, he said. 

"Who is going to be in charge of regulating? And how is that going to work? And do you need to apply for a licence? And if you do, who is going to inspect that you actually are complying?" he said.

Currently. anyone in Manitoba can start an animal rescue group and solicit funds or donations in order to operate.

A rescue is not subject to the same inspections as a shelter because they do not usually house the animals in a central location, but instead rely on volunteer fosters to temporarily care for the animals until they can be adopted.

In the Valley Gardens case, the woman who ran the rescue was keeping the animals in her home. 

Schwersensky says while rescues may not agree on policies or practices, there should be a focus on having minimum standards when it comes to issues of health, housing and behavioural issues.

"We need to find common trust between the rescue world, government, and shelters, that we will develop rules… that really are about the safety and health of humans and animals," he said.

Who should be leading the discussion?

Schwersensky pointed to Saskatchewan where their Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced in 2015 the development of a program to improve the welfare of rescued animals in that province.

So far they are in the early stages of developing a code of ethics, registration process, program implementation, and resource development that they hope will be ready for a consultation process by 2017.

Schwersensky says other provinces in Canada also lack regulations. Alberta and British Columbia both have a list of standards available, but they are not enforced.

Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association says they would like to see the province review and update its regulations to specifically include animal rescues and that current regulations do not adequately capture animal rescue organizations – allowing many to fly under the radar.

Schwersensky says he hopes the province will lead the way on setting standards.

"In a perfect world [the province] would lead the development of some standards and then provide funding to train anyone that is willing to go through that process," said Schwersensky.
Javier Schwersensky with the Winnipeg Humane Society says there should be some minimum standards in place for animal rescue groups when it comes to the issues of health, housing, and behavior of animals. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Manitoba's Chief Veterinary Office (CVO) says it's willing to work with stakeholders in the community and would like to enhance public awareness about what to look for in a reputable rescue organization. 

The province also says that even with regulations or licensing, identifying those who don't comply will still pose a challenge.

"Individuals who operate sub-standard rescues would likely not participate in a licensing program, or voluntarily identify themselves to enforcement authorities like the chief vet's office," said a spokesperson with the CVO.

The province says they would continue to rely on the public to report cases where animal welfare is a concern.

Schwersensky says any regulatory process must be a community-based effort in order for it to be effective.

"Hopefully things like this [recent case of animals being seized] and the exposure that it's getting will get all the rescues together to have a meaningful conversation and set aside their differences in terms of approach, and say, 'Let's think about the animals and let's think about the public perception of rescues and see if we can come up with something," he said.