Please note: Our position statements are in the process of being reviewed internally. The date of the last update is given for recently revised statements. Those without a date indicated will be reviewed in the coming months.
As Canada’s federation of SPCAs and humane societies, Humane Canada drives positive, progressive change to end animal cruelty, improve animal protection and promote the humane treatment of all animals. We are the convener and representative of the largest animal welfare community in Canada, advancing the welfare of animals with a strong national voice by promoting animal welfare interests and concerns to government, policy makers, industry and the public.
- Humane Canada believes that each animal possesses intrinsic value, remarkable complexity and inherent dignity and, as such, is deserving of respect and moral concern.
- Humane Canada advocates universal humane treatment, care and protection of all animals.
- Humane Canada insists that all animals used by humans be provided with high levels of care to ensure their health, comfort and behavioural needs.
- Humane Canada advocates habitat protection and enhancement for the well-being of animals in the wild.
HUMANENESS TOWARDS ANIMALS
Humaneness means treatment of an animal in a manner that ensures its welfare and well-being in circumstances where a human is or should be exercising care, custody, control or use of an animal. A person responsible for an animal must provide living conditions, necessities of life and care suitable to the circumstances and in accordance with the normal psychological and physical needs of the animal.
Humane treatment of an animal precludes cruelty and involves every possible effort to avoid or reduce pain, suffering or injury.
A humane death occurs when an animal is killed in a manner whereby it dies instantly without panic or pain or whereby it is rendered instantly unconscious with inevitable subsidence into death without regaining consciousness.
Humaneness involves sensitivity toward all life in compliance with ethical, moral and legal principles. Human members of the animal kingdom have the responsibility to be humane in the ways they act or fail to act with respect to other animals. Humans who have care, custody, control or use of animals must be diligent in exercising this responsibility.
Humane Canada has established detailed position statements on the following animal welfare issues:
Animals as Prizes and Gifts
Humane Canada believes that the acquisition of an animal should be a deliberate and conscious decision as this impacts the immediate and future well-being of the animal. Humane Canada is therefore opposed to the awarding of any live animal as a prize or unsolicited present.
There are some competitions, raffles and other fundraising initiatives that give away animals as prizes. Examples of animals given as prizes include pigs at a pig scramble and bulls at agricultural shows.
Humane Canada is opposed to awarding animals as prizes since this makes a person responsible for an animal without due preparation or planning for the care of the animal. Careful planning and consideration must be made prior to acquiring an animal and this should always be accompanied by long term commitment.
Gifting a pet may be appropriate if it has been ensured that the recipient of the gift or the ultimate caregiver (for example, a parent) has a desire for the animal, clearly understands the responsibility involved in caring for the animal and is committed and able to do so in the long-term. Animals should come from ethical and trusted sources (see position statement on responsible sourcing of companion animals).
Community Cats (Free-roaming abandoned and feral cats)
Humane Canada encourages and supports evidence-based initiatives to address the issues associated with community cats—to reduce unowned cat numbers, improve the welfare of the cats themselves, and minimize any potential public health risks. Humane Canada believes that well-managed trap, neuter, and return (TNR) programs are an important strategy in the management of community cats. Managed cat colonies should not be located in wildlife refuges or breeding areas, or near habitats of threatened or endangered species. Humane Canada encourages continued research into the dynamics of cat populations and TNR programs.
Community cats include unowned neighbourhood and barn cats, strays which were previously owned but are now lost or abandoned, and feral cats. Feral cats are descended from domestic animals that have been forced to fend for themselves and are not sufficiently socialized to be handled by people. As such, their care is society’s responsibility.
Humane Canada recognizes that cats (particularly females) will live in groups (colonies) where resources are available. Thus, colonies may be comprised of both feral and more-or-less socialized cats. Given the poor quality of life that unsterilized (male and female) colony cats typically lead, as well as broader concerns about environmental impacts and potential public health risks, the goal of colony cat management programs should be to gradually eliminate cat colonies by sterilizing (spaying and neutering) a high proportion of the colony and “aging out” their members. In this scenario, colonies will be maintained in a healthy state and prevented from reproducing, leading to the eventual attrition of members.
Humane Canada supports a multi-faceted approach to dealing with community cats, including regular colony monitoring; trap, spay/neuter, vaccinate and release; removal of suitable cats and kittens for rehabilitation and adoption; permanent and visible identification of all cats; and, where appropriate, monitoring for disease and the euthanasia of sick animals whose health is deemed by a veterinarian to be unrecoverable or whose illness poses jeopardy to other cats.
Based on the advice of shelter medicine specialists, it is not recommended that TNR programs and shelters routinely test healthy cats for the retroviruses feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). In addition to low rates of disease, low likelihood of transmission between adult cats, and poor survival of the virus in the environment, the cost of testing is substantial. Moreover, the chance of a false positive result increases when testing a healthy cat. FeLV/FIV tests are more useful when used on cats with clinical signs consistent with FeLV or FIV, in which case the test results are more reliable. [For further explanation, please click here.
Humane Canada believes it is essential to address the underlying reasons for the existence of cat colonies. The incidence of abandoned and feral cats can be reduced through ongoing public awareness and education initiatives that emphasize, among other things, the importance of sterilization and the consequences of allowing cats to roam freely.
Companion Animal Overpopulation
As a result of overpopulation, many companion animals suffer each year in Canada. The vision of Humane Canada is that every companion animal is part of a family or community where they are valued and provided with knowledgeable care that meets their physical and behavioural needs. Humane Canada supports the use of multi-faceted strategies to identify and address the root causes of companion animal overpopulation, including spaying and neutering cats, dogs and rabbits at an early age, as appropriate, by licensed veterinarians.
Humane Canada promotes the use of best shelter management practices, including those for managing the shelter population size, such as feline Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR). Such practices entail accepting an animal into the shelter only when resources and housing capacity allow for care in a manner that is conducive to a positive outcome for that animal. Humane Canada recognizes that
situations will arise where some shelters must temporarily stretch their resources and capacity for care. Shelters in such situations must endeavour to responsibly manage resources to humanely care for the animals in their facility, following best practices. Shelters that are obligated to accept animals must make all reasonable efforts to return the population to an acceptable size as soon as possible.
Promoting responsible companion animal guardianship and the sourcing of companion animals through adoption or a responsible breeder are effective ways of addressing pet overpopulation and reducing the burden on organizations that rehome companion animals. At the same time it’s crucial to prevent irresponsible breeding (see Responsible Companion Animal Sourcing position statement).
Humane Canada believes it is vital for shelters, rescue groups, TNR groups, municipal animal control services, community leaders, and citizens to work together to address companion animal overpopulation. Sheltering organizations play an important role in providing care for animals in their communities. Humane Canada supports these groups and joins them in promoting companion animal adoption and responsible pet ownership, which includes early-age spay/neuter, as appropriate; permanent identification; lifetime veterinary care; appropriate nutrition, grooming, and shelter; adequate physical exercise and human/animal socialization; and overall recognition and meeting of the animals’ physical and behavioural needs.
When shelters are at risk of overcrowding from taking in too many unwanted and homeless animals, the welfare of all animals in a facility may be threatened due to stress, which can result in suppressed immune systems and increased risk of disease transmission. However, shelters can apply best management practices to ensure that animals are accepted to the shelter only when permitted by the shelter’s human, financial, and physical resources, including a housing capacity that meets the Canadian Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. Organizations can provide ongoing support to members of their community with resources regarding animal behaviour and training, alternatives to surrendering animals to a shelter, access to veterinary care, Trap-Neuter-Return programs, and other companion
animal welfare topics.
The indiscriminate breeding of companion animals leads to overpopulation: too many animals and not enough homes. Without community education and support, the absence of animal sheltering services can lead to abandonment. Abandoned companion animals without shelter and human care can suffer from dehydration, starvation, exposure to injurious heat or cold, disease, parasites, wildlife predation,
and many other conditions to which they are not habituated, and may be subject to abuse from the human population. Abandoned companion animals also have impacts on other species.
Humane Canada opposes laws banning individual breeds. Furthermore, Humane Canada believes that the most effective way to address public safety concerns is for humane organizations, other animal stakeholder organizations, provincial governments and municipalities to work together on multi-faceted strategies that identify and address dangerous dogs of all breeds. Humane Canada recognizes that aggression by dogs against people and other animals may be a threat to public safety, and that this issue must be addressed if we are to create humane and responsible societies where people and dogs co-exist and enrich each other’s lives.
Owners of all breeds of dog must understand that any dog can bite, depending on the circumstances. In particular, close supervision is essential when children are in the presence of a dog.
There are many contributing factors to most dog bite incidents, including a genetic propensity to aggression, inadequate or inappropriate socialization and training, health or behavioural issues, inadequate supervision and/or control of the dog, and inadequate recognition of behavioural stress in dogs.
Apart from the issues noted above, consistent and fair enforcement of laws banning specific breeds is difficult due to the challenge of reliably identifying the breed or breed mix. Breed specific legislation cannot take into account the issue of developing or newly introduced breeds or breed mixes. In any event, determination of a dog’s breed or breed mix is not necessarily indicative or determinative of an
individual dog’s temperament or propensity to aggression. Owners who choose breeds or mixes of breeds that have been historically used for guarding, fighting or chasing prey must understand and
appropriately manage the potential risks associated with these dogs.
Humane Canada supports legislation and programs that encourage informed, responsible dog ownership including spay/neuter, licensing, visible and permanent identification, animal control laws, socialization and humane training, and evaluation by certified specialists for dogs reported as dangerous. Humane Canada believes dog owners should know the requirements of the municipal bylaws to which they are subject and should be held accountable for any harm or damage their pets do to people, property or other animals.
Humane Canada accepts that euthanasia is considered when an animal is in significant distress or poses a serious public or animal health or safety concern. Humane Canada also acknowledges that euthanasia decisions are considered when an animal is suffering from mental or physical illness or behavioural problems that cannot be treated in the shelter and no other viable treatment options exist.
No matter the reason for euthanasia, Humane Canada only supports the use of humane methods of euthanasia carried out by trained personnel to ensure the animal experiences the least possible pain and distress. (See also Companion Animal Overpopulation position statement.)
Farmed Animal Welfare
Humane Canada believes that at every step of their lives – from birth to death – farmed animals must be treated with respect and compassion and must be protected from both physical and psychological suffering. Humane Canada therefore considers acceptable only those housing systems and management practices that meet animals’ physiological and psychological needs, provide for the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, and provide the animals with a good quality of life.
Humane Canada advocates the elimination of all farming practices that cause stress or suffering to animals and encourages practices that provide opportunities for animals to enjoy positive experiences and express behaviours that promote their well-being, including access to the outdoors when it is safe and the climate allows. Humane Canada encourages farmers to consider and use the Five Domains Model for Assessing Animal Welfare1.
Humane Canada believes that farmed animal welfare can be improved through humane farming, transport and slaughter methods. Humane Canada supports the application of food labelling that enables consumers to choose humane animal products. Any labelling system must include third-party verification. Humane Canada reminds producers to consult the relevant National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) Codes of Practice, referenced in animal protection legislation in several provinces, for requirements and recommendations regarding farming practices.
Humane Canada is opposed to any farming practices that lead to injury, stress or any form of suffering in farmed animals. This includes the following:
- Raising animals of any species at high stocking densities which compromise animal welfare, or raising social species in isolation;
- Breeding and/or genetic manipulation of animals of any species to accentuate certain physical or behavioural characteristics when the outcome compromises animal welfare;
- Housing any animal in an environment with flooring, lack of bedding, penning/fencing or caging that might lead to injury; with poor ventilation, inadequate temperature control or lighting; or with poor sanitation;
- Housing any animal in an environment that does not allow the expression of natural behaviours that promote well-being;
- Feeding diets that are inappropriate for the species or the animal’s stage of production and may compromise welfare;
- Extended periods of feed and/or water withdrawal, such as before and during transport;
- Use of pharmaceuticals for non-therapeutic treatment or to support animal husbandry systems that compromise animal health or welfare;
- Painful procedures that are performed without adequate pain control and without the guidance of a veterinarian;
- Unnecessary procedures performed only for convenience when they have a negative effect on the welfare of the animal;
- Stressful or painful animal handling methods, including improper and inhumane use of physical and electrical devices.
It therefore follows that specific practices to which Humane Canada is opposed include the following:
- Confining egg-laying hens in cages that do not allow the expression of natural behaviours that promote well-being (e.g., nesting, dustbathing, scratching and roosting);
- Raising veal calves in isolation;
- Raising veal calves in individual crates or keeping them continuously tethered so as to restrict freedom of movement;
- Keeping dairy cows continuously tethered in stalls without daily periods of exercise;
- Keeping sows tethered or in crates/stalls;
- Tail-docking, tooth-clipping, de-horning, de-beaking or castration of animals without anesthesia and/or pain control;
- Force-feeding waterfowl to produce foie gras.
1 From: Mellor, D.J. and Beausoleil, N.J. (2015). Extending the ‘Five Domains’ model for animal welfare assessment to incorporate positive welfare states. Animal Welfare 24: 241-253.
Humane Killing, Including Euthanasia and Slaughter of Farmed Animals
Humane Canada holds that the methods used to kill any animal must be humane. Humane Canada defines a humane death as one that occurs when animals are killed in a manner whereby they die instantly without panic or pain, or whereby they are rendered irreversibly unconscious until death ensues.
A humane death also means the handling methods, equipment and facilities used must be appropriate to the species and condition of the animal, and animal fear, pain and anxiety are kept to absolutely minimal levels prior to and during killing.
Though slaughter-without-stunning is currently allowed in Canada under certain circumstances, Humane Canada is opposed to the practice, as it causes avoidable pain.
Humane Canada recognizes that farmed animals are slaughtered in Canada for food and believes it must be done humanely. In order to minimize animal stress and ensure accurate and effective stunning, any slaughter facility must be designed to facilitate calm handling and effective and appropriate restraint of the species being killed. Employees handling live animals must be trained in low-stress animal handling techniques and must never physically or psychologically abuse an animal.
Humane Canada urges federal, provincial, and territorial governments to develop effective and consistent standards and regulations for the oversight of humane slaughter in their jurisdictions, including enforcement. Further, Humane Canada encourages industry to ensure consistency in humane slaughter practices by developing operating standards through closely monitored national animal welfare programs. Humane Canada urges federal and provincial enforcement agencies to increase the transparency and reporting of information on the welfare of animals at slaughter by publishing anonymized information on the methods of slaughter used, inspection and enforcement activity, and annual surveys of compliance by regulated establishments. Humane Canada promotes the use by slaughter plants of independent third-party video surveillance and auditing of animals during unloading, handling, lairage and slaughter.
Humane Canada recognizes that horses are slaughtered in Canada for the meat market. In order for horse slaughter to be considered humane, slaughter plants and government regulators must provide evidence that the facilities and methods used are appropriate for horses.
Medically Unnecessary Procedures
Humane Canada is opposed to the alteration of companion animals by surgical or other invasive methods for cosmetic reasons, competitive reasons or behavioural reasons. This does not include procedures performed by a licenced veterinarian to alleviate suffering or to improve welfare.
Such procedures do not benefit the animal and are detrimental to the animal’s health and welfare. As with any surgery, these procedures also expose the animal to the risk of anaesthetic and possible complications. Examples of procedures include:
- tail alternations (canine or equine)
- ear cropping
- cosmetic piercing, dentistry and tattooing
- debarking (devocalization)
- declawing (partial digital amputation)
Humane Canada encourages breed associations to change their breed standards so that cosmetic procedures are not required.
Spaying and neutering, as well as permanent identification (using the recommended least invasive method) for the purpose of returning lost animals to their guardians, are exempted from this position due to the associated welfare benefits to individual animals and overall community animal management.
Partial digital amputation (also known as declawing) is the surgical removal of the third phalanx of each digit. Non-therapeutic PDA is generally performed for the convenience of the owner; however, declawing cats can result in unnecessary and avoidable acute and chronic pain and adverse behavioural effects. It is the responsibility of cat owners to become educated on the subject of declawing and its
Humane Canada supports the proper identification of all companion animals with visible methods such as licenses or tags, as well as permanent identification such as microchips or humanely applied tattoos. Humane Canada supports microchipping as the preferred method of permanent identification.
Lack of proper and up to date identification prevents the majority of companion animals from being reunited with their owners. Identification of companion animals is a necessary requirement for the successful return of lost companion animals. Humane Canada recommends that the implantation of microchips only be carried out by veterinarians or persons trained in the procedure and knowledgeable about this system of identification. Humane Canada supports ISO technology for microchips as established by the National Companion Animal Coalition.
Selective Breeding of Companion Animals
Humane Canada is opposed to the selective breeding of companion animals that compromises their welfare and that of their progeny. Only animals of sound structure without known health or other
disorders and of a temperament suited to human companionship and appropriate to their intended lifestyle should be chosen for breeding.
In particular, Humane Canada is opposed to selection for changes in body form or function, behaviour, or temperament that are detrimental to the health or quality of life of the resulting offspring.
Humane Canada supports the breeding of companion animals only when it is undertaken by those who are committed to providing a high level of care and to supporting their animals’ physical and psychological well-being.
Humane Canada supports the updating of breed standards to remove conformations that lead to inherent welfare problems.
Animals with detrimental genetic traits or known predispositions should not be bred as they can pass these on to their progeny. Breeding individuals with such traits or predispositions has the potential to affect multiple generations and, thus, a large number of animals.
Examples of disability and disease associated with certain conformations in breed standards include, but are not limited to:
- Breathing difficulties and eye problems in brachycephalic (short nosed) breeds, such as bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs;
- Joint disorders, such as hip dysplasia in German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, rottweilers, Saint Bernards and other giant breed dogs;
- Skeletal and joint disorders, such as chondrodystrophy in many dog breeds characterized by shortened legs (e.g. basset hounds, dachschunds, corgis, bulldogs, Pekineses) and in Munchkin cats;
- Spinal problems in Manx cats;
- Skin problems in Shar-Peis due to deep wrinkling of the skin and in hairless sphynx cats and Chinese crested dogs who are prone to sunburn;
- Birthing difficulties in bulldogs and some other breeds due to the desired large chest and head;
- Dental malocclusion in some dog and cat breeds.
Sources for Acquiring a Pet
Humane Canada supports the responsible sourcing of companion animals to discourage welfare issues that can arise as a result of substandard breeding practices or through animal sales, which have little regard for the welfare of animals.
Humane Canada opposes the sale of animals in pet stores. Instead, Humane Canada encourages pet stores to partner with animal welfare organizations to have cats and dogs available for adoption at a satellite adoption centre (see definition) at the store. Humane Canada equally opposes the sale of animals through exclusive use of the internet, without in-person interactions between the animals’
breeder/current owner, the prospective new owner and the animals themselves.
To comprehensively address the serious and clandestine issue of substandard breeding operations, Humane Canada supports the implementation of a preventive government regime overseeing the breeding, transport, housing and sale of companion animals, including those incorporating mandatory inspection and licensing of companion animal establishments, including suppliers, breeders, and stores.
Humane Canada advocates adoption from local humane societies, SPCAs, animal shelters and rescue organizations that meet standards of care for companion animals. In particular, all companion dog and cat facilities should abide by the CVMA Code of Practice for Kennel Operations (3rd edition, 2018), and the CVMA Code of Practice for Cattery Operations (2009), respectively, as the standards for care and management. Humane Canada also accepts the acquisition of animals from responsible breeders (see definition). Humane Canada condemns the mass breeding of companion animals for commercial sale and urges the public to learn how to recognize and avoid substandard breeding operations (see definition). Such operations subject animals to suffering caused by conditions such as overcrowding; inadequate shelter, sanitation, food, water and veterinary care; long term confinement; and lack of socialization or enrichment. All substandard breeding operations should be reported to local animal cruelty protection agencies.
Substandard breeding operations may be homes, farms, or other facilities where people collect and breed dogs and cats. Beyond the serious welfare concerns for the breeding animals, these conditions often result in poor socialization, leading to behavioural problems, and poor health that may persist throughout the lifetimes of the animals that are born. Indiscriminate breeding can lead to additional hereditary health and behaviour problems.
The sale of animals in pet stores and through the internet can be problematic for many reasons. The source of these animals may be substandard breeding operators or brokers thereof. Purchasing such animals perpetuates the demand for this trade and the continuation of unethical practices.
Transportation, particularly at a young age, and confinement can compromise an animal’s welfare. Sale in stores or on the internet promotes impulse buying, with prospective new owners not doing enough research on the needs of the species and breed, or on responsible ownership. In addition, these sources are not likely to provide sufficient information about individual animals’ requirements and temperaments. Humane Canada urges those considering acquiring any companion animal to do their research.
Substandard breeding operations
Substandard commercial dog and cat breeding operations, which sell purebred or mixed breed animals in high volumes to unsuspecting buyers, share common characteristics:
- Substandard health and/or environmental issues;
- Substandard animal care, treatment and/or socialization;
- Substandard breeding practices that lead to genetic defects or hereditary disorders;
- Erroneous or falsified certificates of registration, pedigrees and/or genetic background.
Note: Some substandard breeding operations are commonly referred to as “puppy mills”. The above conditions may also exist in small volume or single-breed establishments. Humane Canada believes these characteristics would be similar for rabbits, hamsters, birds or any other mass-produced animal.
Responsible breeders are individuals who focus their efforts on one or a select few breeds and who have become knowledgeable about the breeds’ health, heritable defects, temperament and behaviour. This knowledge may have come from breeding, showing, raising, and training animals of these breeds, as well as historical research and ongoing study, mentoring relationships, and club memberships. Responsible breeders are well placed to educate and screen potential buyers/adopters and provide follow-up support after purchase/adoption. Responsible breeders take a lifetime responsibility for the animals they have bred. Responsible / ethical breeders place a priority on:
- The health and well-being of the breeding pair.
- The short- and long-term well-being of the offspring.
- The overall dog or cat population to which they will be adding.
Satellite Adoption Centre
A satellite adoption centre is a pet store or other location that does not sell cats and dogs, but instead partners with an animal sheltering or rescue organization to house and adopt out cats and dogs directly at the store. The store provides for the housing and welfare needs of the animals. In addition, all animals receive appropriate veterinary care, and all dogs, cats and rabbits are sterilized prior to sale. Interested adopters must be approved under the same adoption screening process that the organization has in place for all animals adopted from them directly.
Humane Canada believes that all organizations involved in the sale or adoption of dogs, cats and rabbits should incorporate a spay/neuter program. Humane Canada supports early-age spay/neuter for dogs and cats in the care of an animal shelter. Every effort should be made to have the procedure occur prior to sale or adoption (unless medically contraindicated).
Neutering, including spaying or castrating, commonly known as spay/neuter, is an essential component of responsible companion animal ownership and one of the most important aspects of reducing companion animal overpopulation by preventing the birth of unwanted offspring. It also carries behavioural and health benefits for dogs and cats, including the reduction of sexual behaviours (marking, aggression, roaming, etc.) as well as a reduction in the risk of some diseases (pyometra, cancers, prostatic diseases).
Humane Canada supports subsidized or low-cost, and high-quality, high-volume sterilization programs to promote the goal of reduction of companion animal overpopulation and animal suffering. Performing pre-pubertal procedures allows animal welfare organizations to prevent excess litters by ensuring animals are neutered before adoption, thereby combating further overpopulation and reducing the need to euthanize unwanted animals.
Wild or Exotic Animals as Pets
Humane Canada is opposed to the importing, selling, trafficking, breeding, taming and keeping of wild or exotic animals, including their hybrids, as pets. Humane Canada is also opposed to surgical procedures designed to make an exotic animal into a safer companion.
A wild or exotic animal is any animal, native or non-native to Canada, that has not been subject to domestication through many generations of selective and controlled breeding and hence not adapted to living in close association with humans.
Wild or exotic animals are often acquired without full knowledge of their health, welfare and behavioural needs, including specific physiological, nutritional, psychological, social, environmental, behavioural and exercise requirements. Many of these needs cannot be met when these animals are kept as pets.
Non-domesticated animal species are potentially dangerous because of their normal defense mechanisms. Some exotic animal owners may try to modify the animals in an attempt to make them safer, causing short and long term physical and mental stress to the animals.
The trading, breeding, taming or keeping of wild or exotic animals as pets may cause suffering and death of the animals during the capture and transportation process and through abandonment and/or improper care. The sourcing of these animals can perpetuate illegal trade and extinction of species in their natural habitats. The escape, release or abandonment of wild or exotic animals may also threaten animal and human health as well as the viability of native wildlife.