If you’ve spent time in the animal sanctuary community, you might have heard organizations talk about “GFAS” or “getting accredited”. But what does this mean, and is your organization ready for the accreditation process? Read on!
What is The Global Federation Of Animal Sanctuaries?
The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, or GFAS, is a United States-based accrediting nonprofit whose mission is to improve the quality of care of animals in sanctuaries and rescues. They accomplish their mission in 3 stated ways:
- Accrediting sanctuaries based on worldwide standards of excellence
- Facilitating operational and financial support
- Enhancing effectiveness, recognition, and collaboration
What Does GFAS Do?
By utilizing the GFAS “standards of excellence” developed with animal services officers, non-profit professionals, sanctuary managers, animal protection advocates, and veterinarians, GFAS assists organizations in identifying their strengths and areas where they may wish to make improvements. Each set of standards, often categorized by species-specific guidance, includes information on the following topics:
- Physical facilities and administration
- Nutritional requirements
- Veterinary care
- Well-being and handling
- General staffing
- Safety policies, protocols, and training
- Governing authority
- Financial records and stability
- Education and outreach
- Policies on acquisition and disposition
- Policies on public contact and restrictions on the use and handling of animals
- Release into the wild (where applicable)
By providing a thorough review of the above topics as they pertain to individual organizations, GFAS offers accreditation or verification for any facility that provides a safe haven for animals (except those who specifically provide refuge only to dogs or cats) and follows the principles of what GFAS refers to as a “true sanctuary“.
GFAS defines sanctuaries, rescue centers, and rehabilitation centers as follows:
“Sanctuaries provide lifetime care for animals that have been abused, injured, abandoned, or are otherwise in need. These animals often come from private owners, research laboratories, government authorities, the entertainment industry, and zoos.”
“Rescue centers temporarily care for animals with the goal of placing them in permanent ownership/foster care with approved members of the public, or with accredited or verified sanctuaries. Rescue Center animals often include domestic equines, farmed animals, birds, and reptiles.”
“Rehabilitation centers temporarily care for wildlife so that they can be returned back to their native environments. This includes facilities that provide transitional support as part of a reintroduction protocol, which serves as an important conservation tool.”
What Is The Difference Between Verification And Accreditation?
You may have noticed that sanctuaries can either be verified or accredited by GFAS. The difference between these two demarcations is that, while both verification and accreditation require animal care standards to be met, accreditation additionally requires compliance with GFAS operational standards. These include:
- Education and outreach
- Safety policies, protocols, and training
Who is Eligible To Be Verified Or Accredited?
In order to be eligible for verification or accreditation, an organization must be a non-profit organization and follow these policies:
- No breeding.
- No commercializing (selling) animals or animal parts.
- Tours are carefully crafted to ensure residents are not unduly stressed by the presence of visitors and have the opportunity to seek private and quiet areas.
- As a rule, animals are not exhibited or taken from the sanctuary for non-medical reasons, with some limited exceptions for certain animal species.
- Direct public contact with wildlife is not allowed.
Organizations must also meet standards of animal care, including housing, veterinary care, nutrition, and handling policies, in addition to standards for physical facilities, staff safety, and record keeping. These policies are confirmed by a questionnaire, a site visit, and an interview with a GFAS representative. Eligible organizations must also be sure to participate in only ethical fundraising, acquisitions and dispositions of residents, and only allow limited, non-invasive research projects that provide a benefit to the animals.
What Are The Benefits Of Accreditation Or Verification?
As you may know, anyone can refer to their organization as a sanctuary or rescue. Members of the public looking to visit and support legitimate sanctuaries are often left to guess at their validity or take a self-described sanctuary at their word. Often, this can result in disappointment, miseducation about the needs of the species therein, and funding going to facilities that are more focused on human profit rather than animal well-being. When a sanctuary becomes verified or accredited by GFAS, grant-makers, donors, supporters, and legislators can all feel confident that the sanctuary in question upholds certain standards of care and sustainability practices.
Additionally, any organization that is verified or accredited will receive assistance from GFAS in the form of educational resources, mentorship, standards of operation, and support during difficult times. The fee for new applicants is based on a sliding scale of an organization’s total annual expenses for the last applicable fiscal year. This is set to ensure that GFAS’ services are feasible for any interested sanctuary, regardless of revenue.
GFAS states the benefits of verification or accreditation as such:
- When you become verified or accredited, GFAS publicly recognizes your achievement on their site and through a press release. You will also receive a “stamp” of approval for your website!
- Certain grant makers will give your sanctuary special consideration.
- You have the opportunity to collaborate and mentor with other accredited sanctuaries.
- GFAS holds webinars and other educational opportunities that may benefit your organization.
What Is The Verification Or Accreditation Process Like?
Rather than thinking of the process like a stressful examination, the GFAS verification and accreditation process is meant to be helpful and collaborative. You will work with a GFAS representative who will evaluate how well your organization is doing in meeting the GFAS standards and that you have all of the required documents.
If you are concerned that you don’t fully meet every standard don’t worry! GFAS does not outright reject an application if all standards are not yet met. Instead, they assist organizations in preparing the requested documents and even provide samples or templates of some necessary documents. They will also provide you with a list of standards that need to be addressed before accreditation or certification is complete, though they may allow verification and give organizations up to a year to fully implement some of the changes.
Some changes they might ask for include:
- Replace old fire extinguishers in the main barn.
- Develop a succession plan.
- Mend fencing in your horses’ outdoor living space.
Learn more about the process here and think about if this is a step you would like to take for your sanctuary!