New Mexico's Pet Resource WINTER 2005


By Ardeth Baxter

What do Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary in Bernal and Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary (formerly Candy Kitchen) in Ramah have in common? They are the only accredited animal sanctuaries in New Mexico. It sounds impressive. But what exactly does accreditation mean, and how important is it?

Countless surplus, abused, stray, and abandoned animals, wild and domesticated, end up in sanctuaries, shelters, and rehabilitation centers every year in the United States. They come from a variety of sources (exotic and wild animal dealers, the factory farming industry, research laboratories, roadside zoos and attractions, and private individuals). Some facilities specialize in one type of animal, while others rescue and house a number of different species. There are sanctuaries for farmed animals, horses and burros, exotic hoofed animals, elephants, primates, bears, wildcats, wolves, reptiles and amphibians, exotic and native birds, companion animals, rabbits, pot bellied pigs, and other wildlife. For many species, such as horses and farm animals, no laws govern the animal’s welfare or require a minimum quality of care. And many “sanctuaries” are really just excuses for individuals to collect, breed and make a profit off animals.

Currently, two organizations help sanctuaries rescue and improve the quality of life for rescued animals, accredit qualifying sanctuaries, and work to improve public awareness of the plight of homeless, abandoned and abused animals (a third group, the American Zoo Association, accredits zoological parks). The Association of Sanctuaries (TAOS), founded in 1993, and the American Sanctuary Association (ASA), founded in 1998, oversee the voluntary accreditation process for 501(c)(3) sanctuaries, shelters, and rehabilitation centers. The groups vary in their methodology, but they share a similar mission. Both set measurable standards of animal care and organizational management while helping members obtain grants and public recognition, as well as aiding in rescue and placement efforts.

Compared to the number of animal sanctuaries in existence, relatively few are accredited (ASA accredits approximately 40 and TAOS 45, with 18 having dual accreditation status). Vernon Weir of ASA believes that as many as 120 sanctuaries could qualify. Among the reasons he gives for the low numbers are that some sanctuaries are unknown and have not been solicited, or are known but not yet solicited; some already have such an excellent reputation that they don’t need accreditation (e.g., Best Friends and the International Primate Protection League); and others don’t make the grade because they may not meet all the accreditation criteria. These are summarized as follows:

• No breeding (both groups make exceptions for highly endangered animals who may become extinct).

• No use of animals for entertainment, commercial activities or personal gain.

• No trafficking in the sale of body parts.

• Public access monitored or restricted.

• No exhibition of animals except for certain educational presentations.

• Must have all permits and licenses and 501(c)(3) federal non-profit tax-exempt status, and abide by local, state and federal regulations.

• Lifetime responsibility for animals, or until rehabilitated animals can be returned to the wild or moved to another member or non-member sanctuary if appropriate.

• Proper veterinary care must be provided, and humane euthanasia utilized if the quality of life is threatened or the prognosis is bad.

• Must work cooperatively with other sanctuaries in rescue and placement efforts.

• Emergency plan for disasters that provides for the safety of staff as well as the well being of the animals.

• Must maintain high standards of animal care, including keeping facilities in good repair in a humane, natural, and spacious environment that provides for individual and social needs of the animals and enrichment activities.

• Must not take in more animals than it is possible to care for.

• Professionalism in business activities and maintaining financial records.

• Practical issues of effective fundraising, hiring well-compensated and qualified employees, soliciting community support and volunteers, and offering public education on animal welfare must be addressed.

• Provision for the animals in case of the death or disability of the people running the facility.

Accredited facilities are subject to periodic site inspections to ensure that they are continuing to meet the standards of ASA or TAOS. Some 60 criteria are reviewed and rated. These include:

• Qualifications of the director and staff

• Financial situation

• Sewage and garbage disposal

• Heating, air conditioning, lighting, and plumbing

• Availability of fire department in emergencies

• Use of capture equipment for escaped animals

• Knowledge and availability of first aid for animals and humans

• Public access and education policies

• Quality, safety and size of enclosures

• Diet, appearance and psychological health of animals

• Availability of veterinary care and quarantine facilities

• Use of controlled drugs

• Adoption policies

• Rehabilitation policies if any

• Breeding practices if any

• Collaboration with other groups

Both ASA and TAOS recognize that some sanctuaries may not meet all the criteria for accreditation, but if they maintain acceptable animal care standards, they may be approved for temporary or permanent placement of animals if no accredited facility is available. For example, some of the surviving neglected tigers and other wildcats rescued from a hellish Colton, California “sanctuary” and rehabilitated in 2002 by the Fund for Animals were sent to various accredited animal sanctuaries. But the remaining tigers will live out their lives at the new and as yet unaccredited Ark 2000 sanctuary run by Pat Derby of the Performing Animal Welfare Society.

So how important is it to be accredited? Vernon Weir sums it up: “To be accredited has to mean something.  ASA is certifying that the sanctuary meets all of what a donor or foundation or rescue group would want to know.”

Visit the TAOS and ASA websites for more information: TAOS; ASA

Ardeth Baxter is a writer and publisher, and the guardian of four dogs and five cats.

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