There are a number of lessons to be learned from the conviction of a woman who ran a self-described animal rescue with more than 100 cats, according to the program director for the Saskatchewan SPCA.
Last week, a provincial court judge found Dolores LaPlante guilty of putting animals in distress — a regulatory offence under Saskatchewan’s Animal Protection Act (APA). The judge determined LaPlante’s 400 square-foot home in Elrose, Sask., had both unsanitary conditions and poor air quality.
“I think the number one lesson is that caring about animals isn’t enough. You have to have resources to care for those animals 24-7,” said Sandra Anderson, program director for the Saskatchewan SPCA.
The January 2019 seizure and recent conviction highlight the gaps in animal protection regulations. The provincial animal welfare organization is now creating an “animal rescue standards” document.
Once complete, it will outline recommendations and best practices for caring for rescued animals. Areas would include feeding, veterinary care and public exhibitions like adoption events.
“What we’re trying to establish is the baseline level of care that is required for animals,” Anderson said in an interview.
Currently, there is no governing body for animal rescues in Canada. Shelters and rescues are held to the minimum standards outlined in the APA. The offences with which LaPlante was convicted of are the same type of violation that would be levied against a general animal owner.
There are also no special requirements for rescues like training or licensing.
“You could be a rescue right now. If you say you are, then you are,” Anderson said.
Saskatchewan SPCA officials hope to complete the animal rescue standards document and provide it to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture by the end of the year.
If adopted, Anderson said the recommendations could serve as an education and enforcement tool.
“It is our hope that ministry will include these standards of care in the animal protection regulations,” she said.
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Humane Canada, the federation of SPCAs and Humane Societies in Canada, has a set of national standards of care in animal shelters. Its members include the Saskatoon SPCA and Regina Humane Society.
The document sets out guidelines in areas including sanitation, facility design and record-keeping.
Earlier this year, Humane Canada launched a voluntary accreditation process. The Ottawa Humane Society has since become the first organization to sign on.
“It’s an opportunity for us essentially to professionalize the industry in the sector, increase the care for those animals, ensuring that there are certain standards of care,” said Tara Hellewell, the organization’s director of donor relations and national engagement.
While Humane Canada does have some rescue groups, Hellewell acknowledged there are often financial barriers for rescue groups to pay for certifications.
Ultimately, she said the best way to address animal overpopulation, especially for cats, is to encourage affordable veterinary care and increased spaying and neutering.
One way to deal with overpopulation is for municipalities to enact cat and dog licensing regimes that include “significantly higher fees” for unsterilized animals, according to Don Ferguson, executive director of Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan.
Revenue from the fees could then be directed to pay for spay and neuter initiatives.
“So that we can reduce the animal population and we don’t have situations where we have people accumulating over 100 animals in a residence,” Ferguson said.
He said local and provincial governments also need to engage the community to ensure spaying and neutering are accessible for everyone.