by Vernon Weir, Director, American Sanctuary Association (ASA)
The Avian Welfare Coalition (AWC) requires its avian shelter, adoption, and sanctuary facilities to be accredited by an animal care accrediting organization. This policy has prompted some AWC participants to ask how accreditation can or will benefit their organization. To answer this question, it is helpful to understand the circumstances that led to the formation of sanctuary accrediting associations.
Offering an alternative to the killing of surplus animals with no place to go, the sanctuary movement took hold during the 80s, though a few sanctuaries existed prior to that time. Today, hundreds of animal care facilities that label themselves as "animal sanctuaries" exist all across the U.S., and they provide "refuge" for nearly every species of animal — from exotic big cats, bears, elephants and primates, to farm animals, pigs, horses, and wolves, to exotic birds, reptiles, rabbits, amphibians, dogs, cats, and ferrets.
Unfortunately, all sanctuaries are not created equally when it comes to operating procedures, policies, standards of animal care or ethical philosophies and positions. While many organizations label themselves "sanctuaries" on the grounds that they will accept displaced animals, their real mission is to breed, sell, trade, or use animals commercially. Many of these facilities operate legally as nonprofit, charitable organizations when, in reality, they are entrepreneurial businesses. Others provide animal care and housing far worse than the conditions from which the animal was rescued.
As the sanctuary movement grew, animal protection groups, government agencies, and individual activists were caught in a quandary: they wanted to be certain that the animals they placed were going to good facilities, and that their donations were sent to those deserving of their support. But sanctuaries were often located hundreds or even thousands of miles away, making it impractical for these individuals or organizations to physically inspect each facility; this is precisely why a sanctuary association was needed — so that individuals, groups, agencies, and funding entities could depend on an independent organization to evaluate sanctuary facilities on their behalf.
The mission and activities of sanctuary associations fulfills this need. The accreditation process and site visit checklist look at dozens of standards and practices before granting accreditation: the quality of care and housing, veterinary protocols, policies that prohibit animals from being bred, sold, traded or used for commercial purposes, long-term financial stability, legal non-profit status and accounting practices, maintenance of required licenses and permits, an active board of directors, and more.
As an accredited sanctuary, an organization has the distinction of being part of a select group of animal care facilities that do not exploit animals in any manner but instead provide a safe refuge where animals can live out the rest of their lives. Accreditation also certifies that sanctuary facilities have been independently reviewed and verified to meet the highest standards of quality and ethical animal care — a significant factor in gaining public recognition and expanding your donor base.
In addition, the network of like-minded professionals created by a sanctuary accrediting association enables member organization directors to share ideas and expertise and obtain assistance with animal placements. Accredited member organizations may also be eligible to receive discounts for goods and services that are frequently used by sanctuaries, and to apply for emergency assistance to fund large-scale rescues and/or difficult placements.
A sanctuary that is not accredited is not necessarily substandard. For whatever reason, some sanctuary directors have decided not to join an association at this time; others have yet to be been recruited and/or have an application currently being completed or evaluated. Conversely, accreditation does not guarantee that organizations are free from problems or concerns. Sanctuary associations do require re-inspections every few years to determine that the organization is still financially sound and maintaining or improving the level of animal care required under the accreditation process. Nevertheless, being accredited does increase the likelihood that organizations will continue to achieve their goals in providing the highest standards of animal care simply because of the support and resources available to them as part of a distinct group. This is the primary reason why foundations, donors, and those involved in animal rescue have come to depend on sanctuary associations when making grant funding or placement decisions.
Not all organizations applying for accreditation will be approved, however, the goal of a sanctuary association is to encourage and promote quality animal care and professionally operated facilities. The accreditation application, site visit checklist, and policies are available for review on the web sites of both the American Sanctuary Association (ASA) and The Association of Sanctuaries (TAOS). If an organization does not meet accreditation standards, the organization's director may take steps to correct sub-standard facilities or practices prior to the applying for accreditation. Concerns, questions, or clarification regarding specific requirements may also be addressed prior a site inspection.
And finally, sanctuary associations are not in the business of making lists of sanctuaries that are deficient. Our primary interest is to create lists of sanctuaries that meet our qualifying standards. Sanctuary accrediting boards have adopted a confidentiality resolution. Application materials and site visit reports are held in the strictest confidence. If an organization does not pass accreditation we will say only that the sanctuary did not meet our guidelines at this time. Nothing more.
If you have additional questions, or would like to call or e-mail, I'd be happy to answer any specific questions you may have.
Vernon Weir, Director, American Sanctuary Association
All material Copyright © 2002–2010 Avian Welfare Coalition, unless otherwise noted. Contact us to request reprint permission.
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