For those of us involved in animal welfare/rescue, without a doubt, this work defines who we are. Often our frame of reference for almost any social issue, is how it will impact the welfare of animals. In my 20 years of working in the social services, I can honestly say that I have never worked with such a passionate group of individuals, as I have in the animal welfare and rescue community. Sometimes that passion can trump logic and reason, but most often, that passion has been the catalyst for change and the saving of lives otherwise forgotten.
But for all its good intentions, our drive to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and to respond to often horrific acts of cruelty and neglect has not created a united front of individuals and organizations who work together to advance the welfare of animals. But rather, we are a fragmented entity, that despite similar goals, are often inhibited in the development of valuable partnerships and alliances.
The result of this fragmentation is due to many factors.
Domestic pets are the only living creatures that do not have governing bodies regulating their welfare. All levels of government have abdicated their responsibility for the welfare of animals to the community. With no provincial or federal funding to support the protection and well-being of animals, the responsibility lies upon individuals to organize themselves to respond. Not only are animal welfare and rescue organizations expected to sustain their operations without financial support from our governments, they also operate without any formal regulations and accountability. This includes the BCSPCA, the only organization in the province with the legal authority to conduct cruelty investigations and remove animals from people’s homes. And while the provincial government has granted this ominous power to an external organization, they have done so without providing any financial support or requiring any form of accountability.
This has created a system where individuals and organizations ‘police themselves’ and in extreme cases, take matters into their own hands. Without a doubt, with no formal system of regulations in place to which organizations must abide to and no mechanism to address complaints, people will fight among one another. There are no criteria in place that rescue organizations must meet in order to conduct this life saving work. Further, the inconsistency and diversity of municipal bylaws creates additional chaos. Municipal shelter policies and protocol are established within the confines of each city limit and are no doubt impacted by budget and knowledge constraints. From one city to the next, the quality of care and control of animals varies greatly. Whether an animal surrendered to a shelter is given a second chance at life can depend on which city and shelter that animal is surrendered or abandoned. Whether a Pit Bull type dog is faced with arbitrary restrictions on its movements and freedoms, whether feral cats and rabbits are captured, neutered/spayed and released, and whether you can purchase a puppy in a pet store, again, depends on the city.
It’s no wonder many of us are “crazy”, for we have had to adapt to work within a crazy system. It’s no wonder the rescue community has been criticized for being unprofessional, for who has the time to set up efficient business systems when there is so much crisis to respond to? Without a formal complaint system, any concerns about organizational practices and conduct have no where to go but back into the community in hopes that our peers will hold one another accountable.
Despite these conditions,our rescue community does amazing work, both in saving lives and advocating for change. Some shelters and SPCA offices do work very closely with volunteer run rescue organizations in their efforts to give animals a second chance. Allied rescue organizations do work together to ensure animals needing homes are networked as far and wide as possible; that urgent funds are raised to provide life saving medical care, and to advocate for change. The rescue community is as resilient as the amazing animals whose lives they save every day. Can you imagine what could be done if they were adequately supported?
At the turn of the 19th Century, animal welfare laws were the first protectionist laws created in our country. In fact, child protection laws were model after our initial animal welfare laws. Fast forward 150 years, our animal welfare laws have remained the same, while our child protection laws continue to evolve and are solely regulated by government. Animals, like children, are incredibly vulnerable and depend on us to protect them. This task should not be the duty of a select few, but rather, should be the responsibility of society as a whole and should be a priority for all levels of government.