The conflict between a Regina man and a rescue dog has highlighted issues within the rescue community.
Mitchell van Seters began fostering a dog from Lucky Paws Dog Rescue on April 24.
He said the dog, Tanner, was in poor condition when he arrived and van Seters feared the dog had been mistreated by its previous owner.
“[He had a] really hurt in the neck and below, they thought it was a severe case of scabies,” van Seters said.[He was] dull in color, no life in his eyes, hunched over, afraid of being left outside.”
After a few weeks, van Seters was instructed by dog rescue to return Tanner, as the dog had been taken from its previous owners without proper surrender documents.
Lucky Paws said in a CBC interview that incidents where a pet is mistakenly taken are rare, but they happen because rescues are unregulated and there is no legislation in place to support them. He said he would like to see appropriate federal, provincial and municipal laws that support and regulate dog rescues.
Roseanne Cole, chief financial officer of Lucky Paws, said the rescue helps dogs in the Regina, Moose Jaw and Fort Qu’appelle areas.
“We try to work with the human society as much as possible, but at the end of the day, they’re local, they can’t help us out of town,” Cole said.
“Something has to change, the rules and regulations and some of the funding has to come to the rescue to help as well.”
Saskatchewan Animal Humane Services said in a statement that the Saskatchewan SPCA has sent the provincial government a framework for rescues, called the Saskatchewan Animal Rescue Standards, in hopes that it will be included in the Animal Welfare Act 2018.
The guidelines cover population management, medical health, record keeping and other areas of concern for rescues. Currently, the guidelines are voluntary for rescues in Saskatchewan.
The document indicates that rescue policies must take into account the resources and legal/contractual obligations of organizations.
“Protocols should be developed and written in sufficient detail to achieve and maintain the
standards set by Saskatchewan Animal Rescue Standards and updated as needed to ensure they reflect current industry standards and relevant legislation,” he says.
It also states that provincial and municipal legislation must be adhered to by rescues regarding pet holding times.
The Animal Welfare Act 2018 makes no reference to rescues and states that animal welfare officers are permitted to remove a pet from its home, with a warrant, if the environment is deemed unsuitable.
While pet rescues often work with protective services, Lucky Paws Dog Rescue and other nonprofits like it are not permitted to employ protective officers.
Tia Laurans, foster care coordinator for Lucky Paws, said not always being able to save dogs from bad situations is a terrible feeling.
“It sucks when you reach out to people who are there to help you and they can’t do anything, or don’t,” she said.
“There are times when we don’t know what to do unless we literally want to risk the name of the whole rescue and have them turned down and help no more dogs or put ourselves in jail.”
Laurans added that for any potential law to make a difference, pets will first need to be seen as their own entity and not just the property of the owner.
Rescue says dog was taken in and adopted due to miscommunication
Van Seters said that before he started adopting Tanner – his first foster animal – he received a call from Lucky Paws saying the dog was in “extreme distress”. Tanner appeared “quite malnourished” when he arrived, van Seters said.
Tanner, a golden retriever, was brought to Lucky Paws from Pelican Narrows. Van Seters was told the dog was “on the loose” in the community, located 388 kilometers northeast of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
Van Seters said the rescue told him some negative things about Tanner’s former owner, including allegations of neglect.
“They didn’t want that dog to come back to him and [said they] are doing everything in their power to make sure the dog doesn’t come back,” van Seters said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m not familiar with the foster family,’ so we just taking care of Tanner.”
Van Seters said he heard from relief about halfway through Tanner’s three-week stay that the previous owner had threatened legal action if Tanner was not fired.
Lucky Paws said he was in contact with van Seters throughout Tanner’s stay, and the dog had regular visits to the vet and needed to be spayed.
Cole, chief financial officer of Lucky Paws, said Tanner had no symptoms of malnutrition when he was brought to the rescue and veterinary records show he was in good health apart from his skin condition. She said neither she nor anyone else at the rescue knew much about her family of origin.
“He was a very friendly, very obedient dog and the first thing that came to mind was that he obviously belonged to someone at some point,” Cole said.
Cole confirmed that Tanner was removed from the community without proper documentation by a third-party rescue.
The third-party rescue, North of 54, said in an email to CBC that it has permission from Cree Nation Peter Ballantyne to pick up untethered dogs from community yards.
“Sufficient notice has been given to members of the community that this rescue is in progress and their owner’s dogs should be restrained,” the rescue said in a statement. “One of the band council members had to approve all dogs removed, but unbeknownst to [us], none of them were in the community on the day of the rescue. No one had informed us.
“A number of people found us and got their dogs back, but this particular owner didn’t pick us up and if he had, the dog would have been returned at that time.”
Laurans said Lucky Paws would change its process to prevent pets from being mistakenly taken in the future.
“There were no surrender papers there and that’s what we’re changing now, I don’t care where the dog is from, there will be papers with someone signing it,” he said. Laurans said.
As for Tanner, van Seters did not want to return him to Lucky Paws. He said friends, family and other foster parents told him not to let Tanner back after seeing the dog’s condition when he arrived.
“We offered to just go with it if that was an option. It wasn’t an option,” he said.
Van Seters said he tried every means possible to prevent Tanner’s return, including speaking to the Regina Police Department, animal protection services and an attorney.
“Essentially everyone said, if the case is that they didn’t have the papers and they took this dog anyway, that’s considered theft,” van Seters said.
Cole said she spoke with Tanner’s original family and found out he belonged to a 12-year-old girl. Cole said the daughter used the dog, whose original name is Laser, as a support animal to help deal with the loss of her mother.
“It’s become clear that we have to see what we can do,” she said. “I tried to convince him to give up the dog at all costs, I didn’t want to send him back because he had such a bad neck problem.”
She said if someone wants their dog back, normal rescue practice is to try to convince the original owner to let the dog stay with the foster family.
“We try to tell them that [he] probably has a better life here, it’s a long commute to get him back, we already have his vet here,” Cole said. “I did this for three weeks, he still wanted his dog back.”
Van Seters said the Regina Humane Society told him to bring the dog to surrender. He said an officer there said she would investigate Lucky Paws Dog Rescue with the information van Seters had gathered.
“I showed him the pictures [of the dog] and she gasped,” he said.
Van Seters said he phoned the Humane Society to ask why he bothered to save the dog if they were just going to send him away.
“The first day we had him, I leaned over him and said, ‘You’re safe now, we’ll take care of you,’ and I couldn’t keep that promise,” he said. van Seters said.
Shortly after being brought to the humane society, the dog was released to Lucky Paws and eventually returned to his family.
Lucky Paws foster manager Linda Leslie said the dog was delighted to be reunited with his family. She said he was enthusiastically jumping on them.
“If it was a dog that didn’t want to be with this family, we would notice.” she says. “You can tell Laser is very well loved.
“If he had been abused, you would definitely have seen the signs in his ways and there were no signs.”
Lucky Paws currently unregistered non-profit
One of the first things the Saskatchewan Animal Rescue Standards state is that rescues must be registered as non-profit organizations through Revenue Canada Charities.
According to the Government of Canada website, Lucky Paws Dog Rescue had its nonprofit status revoked in November 2021 for failing to file a tax return. Cole said he was in the process of reapplying for nonprofit status.
“It was a comedy of errors,” she said. “Our accountant is currently dealing with it.”
According to the Government of Canada website, Lucky Paws is not registered meaning it cannot issue official charitable receipts and is not exempt from income tax as a charity. It states that if charitable status is not re-approved within one year of revocation, it will have to relinquish all of its assets to another qualifying charity or pay a tax. revocation of the same amount.
The Lucky Paws Dog Rescue website currently has instructions on how people can donate by check, PayPal, ETransfer and via Sarcan Drop and Go.
On the page it says: “At this time, LPDR is unable to provide receipts for donations. We are currently working with [Information Services Corporation] To fix this problem.”