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SPCAs, Humane Societies, Shelters, Rescues and Pounds

Taking a closer look at Alberta's animal welfare scene

Over the past 20 years, the network of groups, organizations, and individuals working towards the collective goal of improving and protecting animal welfare in Alberta has grown substantially. To the public, the landscape can seem confusing, as scope and objectives of animal welfare efforts occasionally overlap.

Related article: Animal Welfare vs Animal Rights

Humane Society/SPCA

Generally speaking, humane societies and Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCAs), are the largest animal welfare organizations operating in the province. Within this category, there’s a spectrum related to vision, mission, size, operating budget, and services. While there is no common definition of the two terms that differentiates their activities, any organization referred to as a "Society" should be expected to be registered as a "Society" under provincial or federal legislation. To be considered a charity and to issue tax receipts for donations, the Society must also be approved by and registered with Canada Revenue Agency.

In Alberta, two of the largest humane societies are Edmonton Humane Society (EHS) and Calgary Humane Society (CHS). Each of these organizations operate as animal shelters, with animal hospitals to provide veterinary care to animals in their custody. These organizations also have well-defined adoption programs, barn cat programs, foster programs, subsidized spay/neuter programs, public education programs, and additional services such as pet daycare, grooming facilities and behavioural training. They also engage peace officers who enforce Alberta’s Animal Protection Act within their respective municipalities. Organizations such as these also commonly have working relationships with municipal animal control departments.

Related Article: What to look for in Animal Shelters

Most humane societies will take all breeds and species of companion animals into their care.

Larger humane societies often operate as hubs within the province’s network of animal welfare organizations. Through agreements with rescues across the province, animals are transferred in and out of care, on a case by case basis, to ensure optimal access to care and re-homing.

The largest SPCA in the province is The Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (The Alberta SPCA). The Alberta SPCA plays a major role in compliance with and enforcement of the Animal Protection Act throughout the province and regarding all species of animals (pets and livestock). A number of regional offices provide support to the team of Peace Officers employed for this task. Their programs also include public education for both adult and school aged audiences. Recent years have seen significant growth in the Pet Safe Keeping program that provides services to animals belonging to persons fleeing domestic violence situations. Animal taken under the care or custody of The Alberta SPCA are sheltered and cared for through a series of contractual agreements with other organizations, veterinarians and private businesses. This arrangement facilitates regional access and avoids potential long distance transportation of animals in distress to a central location.

Many other organizations across the province incorporate “humane society” or “SPCA” into their trade or operating names and, while they do offer some similar services to their larger counterparts, their scope of services and the facilities from which they operate are often much smaller.

Animal Control/Pound

Animal control services and pound facilities are typically run by counties, municipal districts, and municipalities under the authority of municipal bylaw. Because municipal bylaws vary greatly, their authority, services, facilities and activities vary also. In larger cities like Edmonton, the Animal Care and Control Centre (ACCC)  and Calgary, Animal  Services operate kennel facilities for lost and stray pets, as defined by the local municipal bylaw. As well they operate veterinary hospitals where veterinary care is provided for the animals in their custody. These cities also employ community peace officers who respond to public safety concerns as they relate to animals and who can enforce the Animal Protection Act. Their responsibilities include taking animals into their custody who are deemed lost or stray, or in violation of prevailing bylaws. Smaller animal control operations often work with partner organizations and veterinarians to ensure the welfare of animals who are temporarily in their care.

The key distinction between animal control services and their rescue, humane society, and SPCA counterparts is that animal control protects people from animals, while their counterparts protect animals from people.

Rescue organization

The number of rescue organizations in the province has grown exponentially over the past 15 years. There may be many reasons for this but their existence expresses the desire of Albertans to help animals in need and may reflect changes in our attitude to animal welfare. While there is no regulatory oversight of these operations, if they are a Society or a Charity, they must adhere to the requirements of the relevant legislation. The Animal Protection Act does not direct their activities, although it is an expectation that animals under their care are treated in accordance with this statute.

As determined by their resources and the vision and mission of their directors, rescue organizations plot along a spectrum of size and scope of their operations. Some are brick-and-mortar operations, while many are operated out of the home of a single organizer or a network of organizers’ homes. Some rescues choose to focus on rescuing a specific breed or type of companion or livestock animal.

Rescues who lack facilities for their operations often rely on foster networks to manage day-to-day care for the animals they take in. Medical care is typically provided by a local veterinarian, often at a no charge or a discounted rate.

Related Article: What to look for in Animal Shelters

Satellite Adoption Centre

Satellite adoption centres are a partnership between a humane society or rescue organization and a retail pet store. The purpose of these partnerships is to provide expanded opportunities to showcase and adopt homeless animals under the custody of the partner organization and to eliminate the need for pet stores to source inventory from disreputable breeding operations