A Regina man's conflict with a dog rescue has brought to light issues within the rescuing community.
Mitchell van Seters started fostering a dog from Lucky Paws Dog Rescue on April 24.
He said the dog, Tanner, was in rough shape when he arrived and that van Seters had concerns the dog had been abused by his previous owner.
"[He had a] really bad neck and underside, they thought it was a severe case of mange," van Seters said. "[He was] dull in colour, no life in his eyes, cowered, was scared to be left outside."
After a few weeks, van Seters was instructed by the dog rescue to give Tanner back, as the dog had been taken from his previous owners without proper surrender paperwork.
Lucky Paws said in an interview with CBC that incidents of a pet being wrongfully taken are rare, but they do happen since rescues are not regulated and there is no legislation in place to support them. It said it would like to see proper federal, provincial and municipal laws that support and regulate dog rescues.
Roseanne Cole, the financial director for Lucky Paws, said the rescue helps dogs from in and around the Regina, Moose Jaw and Fort Qu'appelle areas.
"We try to work with the humane society as much as we possibly can, but at the end of the day, they're local, they can't help us outside of the city," Cole said.
"Something has to change, rules and regulations and some of the funding needs to come to the rescues to help out as well."
Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan said in a statement the Saskatchewan SPCA had sent the provincial government a framework for rescues, called the Saskatchewan Animal Rescue Standards, with hopes it would be included in the Animal Protection Act, 2018.
The guidelines cover population management, medical health, record-keeping and other areas of concern for rescues. As of right now, the guidelines are voluntary for rescues in Saskatchewan.
The document says rescue policies must address resources and the legal/contractual obligations of the organizations.
"Protocols must be developed and written down in sufficient detail to achieve and maintain the
standards set out by the Saskatchewan Animal Rescue Standards and updated as needed to ensure they reflect current industry norms and pertinent legislation," it states.
It also states provincial and municipal legislation should be upheld by rescues when it comes to holding periods for pets.
The Animal Protection Act, 2018 makes no reference to rescues and states animal protection officers are allowed to remove a pet from its home, with a warrant, if the environment is deemed unfit.
While pet rescues often work with protection services, Lucky Paws Dog Rescue and other not-for-profit organizations like it aren't allowed to employ protection officers.
Tia Laurans, foster co-ordinator for Lucky Paws, said not always being able to rescue dogs from bad situations is a terrible feeling.
"It sucks when you reach out to the people who are there to help and they can't do anything, or don't," she said.
"There's times where we don't know what to do unless we literally want to risk the name of the whole rescue and get it turned down and help no more dogs or put ourselves in jail."
Laurans added that in order for any potential laws to make a difference, pets will first have to be considered their own entity and not just property of the owner.
Rescue says dog was taken and fostered due to miscommunication
Van Seters said that before he began fostering Tanner — his first foster animal — he got a call from Lucky Paws stating the dog was in "extreme distress." Tanner appeared to be "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, which is 388 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert, Sask.
Van Seters said the rescue told him negative things about Tanner's previous owner, including allegations of neglect.
"They didn't want this dog going back to him and [said they] are doing everything in their power to make sure the dog isn't going back," van Seters said. "I said 'OK, I'm not familiar with fostering' so we just went about taking care of Tanner."
Van Seters said he heard from the rescue about halfway through Tanner's three-week stay that the previous owner had threatened legal action if Tanner was not returned.
Lucky Paws said it was in contact with van Seters through the duration of Tanner's stay, and that the dog had regular vet visits and was scheduled to be neutered.
Cole, Lucky Paws' financial director, said Tanner did not show symptoms of being malnourished when he was brought to the rescue and that vet records show he was healthy aside from his skin condition. She said neither she or anyone else at the rescue knew much about his original family.
"He was a very friendly, very obedient dog and the first thing that came to our mind was that he obviously belonged to somebody at some point," Cole said.
Cole confirmed Tanner was taken from the community without the proper paperwork by a third-party rescue.
The third-party rescue, North of 54, said in an email to CBC it had permission from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation to come and take dogs not tied up in yards from the community.
"Ample notice was given to the community members that this rescue was happening and owned dogs were to be tied up," the rescue said in a statement. "One of the Band Council was to sign off on 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 come looking for us and if he would have, the dog would have been given back then and there."
Laurans said Lucky Paws will change its process to prevent pets from being wrongfully taken in the future.
"There was no surrender paperwork there and that is what we're changing now, I don't care where the dog comes from, there will be paperwork with someone signing off on it," Laurans said.
As for Tanner, van Seters did not want to give him back to Lucky Paws. He said friends, family and other fosters told him to not let Tanner go back after seeing the dog's condition upon arrival.
"We offered to adopt him outright if that was an option. That wasn't an option," he said.
Van Seters said he tried every avenue he could to prevent Tanner from being returned, including speaking to Regina Police Service, animal protection services and a lawyer.
"Essentially everyone said, if the case is they didn't have paperwork and they took this dog anyways, it's considered theft," van Seters said.
Cole said she spoke with Tanner's original family and discovered he belonged to a 12-year old girl. Cole said the girl was using the dog, whose original name is Laser, as a support animal to help cope with the loss of her mother.
"It kind of became apparent that we need 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 practice at the rescue is to try to convince the original owner to let the dog stay with the foster family.
"We try telling them that [he] probably has a better life here, it's a long transport to send him back, we've already got 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 in for surrender. He said an officer there said she would open up an investigation into Lucky Paws Dog Rescue with the information van Seters had gathered.
"I showed her the pictures [of the dog] and she gasped," he said.
Van Seters said he phoned the humane society to ask why he went through all of the trouble of saving the dog if they were just going to send him back.
"On the first day we had him, I leaned into him and I said, 'you're safe now, we'll take care of you,' and I couldn't follow through on that promise," van Seters said.
Soon after being brought to the humane society, the dog was handed over to Lucky Paws and eventually returned to his family.
Linda Leslie, the intake director for Lucky Paws, said the dog was elated when reunited with his family. She said he was excitedly jumping all over them.
"If it was a dog that did not want to be with that family, we would notice it." she said. "You can tell Laser is very much loved.
"If he had been abused, you would definitely see the signs in his mannerisms and there was no sign."
Lucky Paws currently unregistered not-for-profit
One of the first things Saskatchewan Animal Rescue Standards state is that rescues should be registered as non-profit organizations through Revenue Canada Charities.
According to the Government of Canada website, Lucky Paws Dog Rescue had its non-profit status revoked in November 2021 for failure to file a tax return. Cole said it is in the middle of re-submitting an application for non-profit status.
"It was a comedy of errors," she said. "Our accountant is actually dealing with it right now."
According to the Government of Canada website, Lucky Paws not being registered means it cannot issue official charity receipts and is not exempt from income tax as a charitable organisation. It states if charitable status is not re-approved by one year from revocation, it will be required to forfeit all of its assets to another eligible charity or pay a revocation tax in the same amount.
The Lucky Paws Dog Rescue website currently has instructions on how people can donate by cheque, PayPal, ETransfer and through Sarcan Drop and Go.
On the page it states: "At this time, LPDR is not able to provide receipts for donations. We are currently working with [Information Services Corporation] to rectify this issue."