Jayne Nelson, executive director of the Patti Dale Animal Shelter, is one of a group of Lower Mainland shelter workers trying to create province-wide standards for shelters and animal rescues. (Langley Advance files)

Standards sought for B.C. animal shelters and rescues

Lower Mainland animal rescue groups are working together on a major project.

Animal welfare groups from Langley and around B.C. are working together on a new project to set standards for animal rescue organizations.

The Animal Welfare Advisory Network of BC (AWANBC) was established by Kathy Powelson of Paws for Hope, and the Langley Animal Protection Society and other groups have since joined.

The group’s goal is to set standards for animal rescue groups, provide help to communities where animal rescue is underserved, and help low-income pet guardians afford basics such as pet food and veterinary care.

LAPS executive director Jayne Nelson sits on the steering committee of the new group with Powelson and Wendy Riley of R&R Ranch in Chilliwack.

They’re working to develop standards of practice for rescue groups.

There are a wide range of rescue groups operating in B.C., from government-backed shelters including LAPS’ Patti Dale Animal Shelter and a variety of BC SPCA shelters, to small volunteer-driven not-for-profit groups. They take in everything from dogs and cats to rabbits, birds, and reptiles.

Some of the operations run on a shoestring budget, and may depend exclusively on volunteers. Some are one-person operations.

“I think the need has been obvious for many years,” said Nelson.

“Anybody can set themselves up as a rescue,” said Powelson.

There are no regulations, and no accountability for rescue groups operating in B.C., she said.

But there has also been a huge amount of growth in the field, with new rescues appearing all the time.

Some rescue groups have practices that can put animals at risk, or even the public if they are bringing in aggressive animals, said Powelson.

While many rescue operations have high standards, others have found themselves overloaded with animals, or even facing raids by the BC SPCA.

In 2016 and 2017, the SPCA seized more than 100 animals, including dogs, cats, birds, and goats from a Langley property. The animals were in the care of a woman running a rescue society.

Three animals were euthanized after the initial seizure, and the SPCA said that many of the dogs and cats were underweight.

The SPCA recommended charges, but none have been filed by Crown prosecutors.

One aspect of the AWANBC is that it can help people who want to adopt an animal know that the shelter’s animals are well cared for.

“They’ll know any organization that belongs to the Animal Welfare Network of BC will meet certain standards of care,” said Nelson.

It will take six months to a year to create standards, Nelson said. The committee is looking at what’s taking place in other provinces and cities that are undertaking the same process as well.

Much of the time will be spent consulting with rescue groups all over the province, said Powelson. They want to make sure they have buy-in from the majority of the groups working with animals.

After that, Powelson isn’t sure what the next step is.

She would personally like to see the province mandate the rules. But not all animal rescues want provincial regulation.

The other project for the new group is aiding smaller, often rural communities that don’t have their own shelter.

“I think there’s definitely a desire to help underserved communities,” said Nelson.

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