The issues around responsible rescue, rescue standards, and importing are divisive ones. They are issues that spark strong emotions. Calling for organizations to operate under a minimum set of standards is interpreted by some as a position that is anti-import. But it is not that. It is simply a call for organizations to be responsible in their life-saving efforts—to be transparent and to not cause more harm than good no matter the location of the animals being helped.
Each time we speak out about this issue we risk opening ourselves to criticism. But that is a risk we are willing to take given how important this issue is. Because without any form of sector regulation, there is a very real risk of unethical rescue practices and absolutely no way to hold organizations accountable. The stakes are high. Many people are afraid to come forward or speak publicly about these issues out of a fear of being bullied, harassed, or even sued.
A true story
In July, Karen and her husband adopted what they were told was a one-year-old Chihuahua from a rescue based in the Fraser Valley. The organization did not provide any background checks on Karen and her husband. They paid a $600 adoption fee and took the pup home and named her Velma. When they adopted Velma, she was wearing a little dress. Once they got her home and removed the dress, they realized how bone-thin she was. They quickly realized that she did not seem well.
The next day they took her to their veterinarian where Velma was diagnosed with eye infections in both eyes, an ear infection, and a heart murmur. She had no muscle tone, was underweight, and severely dehydrated. Blood work revealed she had been bitten by a tick, so she has been on doxycycline for well over a month. She was in need of major dental surgery. And the veterinarian also indicated she was likely a senior dog, not one a year old pup.
To date, the rescue has provided no financial support to cover the $1,000+ veterinary bill, nor have they even refunded the $600 adoption fee. Once her health has improved, she will need to get dental surgery, which will cost an additional $1,500-2,000.
Velma is lucky because she ended up in a home that has the financial means to provide her with the veterinary care she needs. But what if she hadn’t? Karen has tried to hold this organization accountable, but beyond sharing her story with you, what can she do? There is nowhere for her to go.
She could take this case to small claims court. But when you make the decision to save a life—to adopt a dog from a rescue—you should not have to consider whether or not you have the time and resources to sue the organization if the adoption goes wrong. You should be able to trust that the organization has done its due diligence, that the dog has had a thorough medical examination, and that the organization knows enough about the dog’s behaviour to ensure your home is the right fit. And, if something does go wrong, the organization should be there to fully support you and your dog.
But this is not what happened. Karen and her husband were left completely on their own.
Changing the system
Calls for a more professionalized animal welfare sector have been coming for many years. And it was because of these calls that the Animal Welfare Advisory Network of BC was created.
The Network is a member-based initiative that enables organizations to work together on specific strategies, projects, and initiatives associated with companion animal welfare. One of the first projects the Network is undertaking is our Rescue Standards of Practice with the long-term goal of turning the standards into an accreditation program.
And the change that will bring cannot come soon enough. In the meantime, we have partnered with our colleagues at HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society to create a checklist of what people can look for to ensure they are working with a reputable rescue organization. (No Puppy Mills Canada also provides a helpful checklist.)
It is unfortunate that the government does not see animal welfare as a priority and that, as a result, we have been left to police ourselves and raise our own funds for this kind of important work. But thankfully, there are compassionate people in our society that can and will take a stand for animals. Because no person should have to go through what Karen and her husband went through. No animal should have to go through what Velma went through. With your help, we’re working towards a future free of these unfortunate adoption woes.