question: Where do your animals come from?
Shelters or rescues get their animals as rescued strays or owner surrenders. At a minimum, groups should have a process to have stray pets checked for microchips to try to reconnect them with their families and a mandatory wait time to give owners time to come forward.
Some shelters or rescues will exist primarily to transport animals in from other areas within North America or other countries. This is increasing in popularity and may be a sign that the pet population locally is under control. It is important for this to be done safely for the animals being transported and those in the destination area, with the main concerns being the potential spread of infectious diseases and behavioural issues not accurately disclosed.
Shelters/rescues should be transparent with their policies and procedures for transporting animals, including:
Method and length of transport
Rest period policies
Safety during transport
Veterinary care provided before and after transport
Behavioural evaluation processes before transport and before adoption
Canadian Border Services import requirements only specify that a rabies vaccine is required and in some situations a microchip is also needed. Any obviously sick animals will be refused entry, however some illnesses are not outwardly apparent. These minimum requirements do not provide enough reassurance and organizations importing animals should have their own processes that at a minimum before transport includes:
Testing appropriate to the region (such as heartworm)
Veterinary check prior to transport
Veterinary Certificates of Health detailing treatments given
Flea, tick and worm treatments
Veterinary care details and behavioural evaluations should be available and provided or disclosed to adopters.
Question: What is the structure of your organization?
Most shelters and rescues are set up as charities or not-for-profits. One is not necessarily better than the other, but they should be incorporated or registered in some way. Ideally, the organization should have a Board of Directors to guide the governance of the shelter/rescue and a defined set policies.
By being registered with the Canadian Revenue Agency, the organization has some accountability and oversight on its financial processes, but this registration does not evaluate any operating policies.
Organizations may still do great work and not be registered, but this requires that you are comfortable with the people operating the rescue or shelter, and reassured of their reliability and trustworthiness. The animal rescue field is unregulated, so there is no authority or governing board to which you can report concerns regarding operating practices. Therefore you should ask questions to ensure you are comfortable with the policies and support the shelter or rescue provides.
question: How is your organization funded?
Transparency in any organization is a good sign of ethical practice. Shelters or rescues should provide information on funding and donations they receive and how that money is spent. Charitable organizations should have audited financial statements available to the public, as well as operating budgets that are adequate for caring for their animals.
Reputable organizations may have calls for donations to help with challenging medical expenses for animals, but care is not delayed or declined to the animal nor are they euthanized due to financial need. At the same time, organizations should have policies on euthanasia for quality of life/compassionate reasons and aggressive animals for the safety of our community.