Not all animal organizations are created equal. Most come into being because individuals care deeply about animals and want to do a good job of managing the health and well-being of the animals, and they understand the importance that animals play in our lives and in our communities. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of all animal organizations.
While this may seem obvious to some, the reality is, people choose to work alongside these animal organizations or “rescue” groups; sheltering agencies as the Alberta SPCA typically refers to them, because they want to help animals and assume all animal organizations have similar objectives. There is no legislation governing the operations of animal sheltering agencies and no oversight body to ensure animals in their custody are receiving appropriate health checks and vaccinations, housed in appropriate facilities with biosecurity protocols, have been assessed and provided with training to support their eventual adoption, and position the animal for success in their new homes. Albertans should be comforted knowing there are many good agencies who do operate at a high level, but Albertans should also be aware that not all adhere to the same standards.
Maddi found this out the hard way. She has three pets in her home. Maddi worked with a sheltering agency to adopt her first two pets and the experience went smoothly and was positive for both Maddi and her dog and cat. Maddi’s experience with the third organization, however, was quite troublesome. Maddi and her husband, R.J., agreed to foster a “fearful” dog, with little indication of how fearful she would be. When they went to the organization to pick up the Blue Heeler-cross named Candy, Maddi found the facility had a strong smell of urine and feces. And when they got Candy home, they found they were suddenly caring for a dog that would not leave its crate.
“When we got her home, she was dirty,” said Maddi. “She had yellow stains on her white fur. She had fecal matter dried on the back of her legs.”
Candy’s fear was so pronounced, Maddi and R.J. would have to carry the crate outside for Candy’s biological breaks. Candy would quickly do her business and jump right back into her safe place. It took three weeks of trust-building exercises before Candy trusted Maddi and R.J. enough that she would start coming out of the crate on her own.
Maddi later learned Candy had been feral before, and the group that had initially helped her had given instructions that Candy would need a trainer to work with her and help her adapt to people and new experiences/environments. This information was not shared with Maddi by the shelter, and she is not a trainer. At the same time, she felt pressure from the shelter to get Candy ready for meet and greets with prospective adopters, something Maddi believed Candy was not ready for.
The situation created significant stress for Maddi and R.J. Fortunately for Candy, the couple wanted to help THIS dog and made the decision to adopt Candy. This allowed Maddi and RJ to focus on building Candy’s confidence in timelines that prioritized Candy’s needs and not the shelter’s.
Today, Candy is still a fearful dog, but she has learned to trust enough to enjoy playing in the backyard with the family’s other dog, Gabby, and to climb up onto the bed for affection.
Maddi acknowledges there were plenty of red flags in her dealings with the animal organization, but she ignored them because she wanted to help animals; she wanted to help Candy. She says she would not put herself in that situation again. “I don’t go look at dog profiles and make up stories about them in my heart before I realize the organization is flawed.”
Maddi now makes sure to do a thorough google search on any organization she deals with, checking out their website, social media posts and google reviews. She adds, “When you see the word “shelter” when you see the word “rescue” it comes with a lot of assumptions.” Maddi doesn’t want to support an organization she feels is cutting corners or does not have the health and welfare of the animals as its first priority.
The Alberta SPCA is not surprised to hear Maddi’s story. We know there are many great animal organizations that do a wonderful job of connecting good homes with adoptable animals. But we also know that not all groups operate at a high level. With the lack of legislation there is no oversight; the onus on prospective adopters and foster families to do their own research.
We recommend people look at the following criteria before making a decision on adopting or fostering from a sheltering organization. The following list are issues that could be considered red flags if the organization does not have appropriate answers or will not co-operate.
- Does the organization adhere to the ABVMA Code of Practice for Canadian Kennels?
- Will it allow you to tour their facility where they keep the animals?
- Do the animals receive appropriate time exercising and socializing with people and other animals?
- Does it ensure the animals have been seen by a veterinarian? Have they received their vaccinations and been spayed or neutered before adopting?
- Will it share vet records with you?
- Will it allow their vet to talk to you about the animal’s health care?
- Does it have a process for evaluating prospective adopters to ensure the animals are going to a good home?
- Does it have appropriate staff to animal ratios?
- Are the staff organized?
- What do others say about the organization on social media?
Most of all, we recommend prospective adopters trust their gut. If an organization is sending out red flags, do not ignore them. Many people will still engage with the animal organization because they want to help the animals involved. Unfortunately, this ensures the organization remains financially viable. It’s up to Albertans to invest their time and money with groups doing the good and hard work of helping animals find homes at a high standard. This is the only way to ensure animals are treated with compassion on their journey to living their best lives.