GFAS Accreditation and Verification


What kinds of animal facilities can become GFAS Accredited and Verified?

GFAS accredits and verifies sanctuaries, rescue centers, and rehabilitation centers. You can view definitions of these terms here.  Some organizations will span more than one category. GFAS does not accredit or verify domestic cat or domestic dog facilities.

What does GFAS Accreditation and Verification Mean?

Both accredited and verified facilities have been proven to provide excellent and humane care for their animals in a non-exploitive environment, and have ethical policies in place as described below.

The public and foundations can have great confidence in these organizations, knowing that the Accredited and Verified facilities have completed a rigorous application process, including a “boots on the ground” site visit.

What GFAS Accredited and Verified facilities prohibit: What GFAS Accredited and Verified facilities have or demonstrate: 
  • No captive breeding (with a potential exception for only those organizations having a bona fide release/ reintroduction program to return wildlife to the wild)
  • Adherence to standards on animal care including housing, veterinary care, nutrition, animal well-being and handling policies, as well as standards on physical facilities, records and staff safety, confirmed by an extensive questionnaire, site visit, and interviews  
  • No commercial trade in animals or animal parts
  • Non-profit status of the sanctuary/rescue facility or its governing body (to the extent available under law) 
  • No tours allowed that are not guided and conducted in a careful manner that minimizes the impact on the animals and their environment, does not cause them stress, and gives them the ability to seek undisturbed privacy and quiet
  • Ethical practices in fundraising and at least minimal financial reserves
  • Animals are not exhibited or taken from the sanctuary or enclosures/habitats for non-medical reasons, with some limited exceptions for certain animal species, such as horses, under approved circumstances
  • Restrictions on research, limited to non-invasive projects that provide a health, welfare or conservation benefit to the individual animal and/or captive animal management and/or population conservation
  • The public does not have direct contact with wildlife (with some limited exceptions as outlined in the standards, in conjunction with adoption/foster programs for some birds and small reptiles as allowed by law)
  • The existence of a contingency plan if the property where the sanctuary is located is not owned by the sanctuary or its governing organization.

What are the additional requirements to become accredited?

In addition to meeting the requirements for verification, accreditation involves a rigorous screening of compliance with GFAS operational standards regarding matters such as:

  • Governance
  • Staffing
  • Finance (including greater reserves)
  • Education and outreach
  • Existence of written policies
  • Safety policies, protocols and training

A second site visit may be required. As part of the accreditation process, organizations are required to submit numerous documents including:

  • Copies of written policies and planning documents such as a strategic plan, succession plan, conflict of interest policy, and grievance procedure;
  • Financial documents including a written long-term financial plan; the most recent annual operating budget; a description of financial stability and plan for operating reserves; and proof of a separate facility checking account;
  • Information on the organization’s (or its governing body’s) Board of Directors/Trustees, including a list of members and one set of Board minutes;
  • By-laws of the organization or its governing body.

Does an organization have to become verified first, then accredited?
No, though some organizations choose that route.

Is accreditation or verification required by law?

No. In the United States, however, some state laws or regulations may exempt GFAS accredited/verified facilities from certain requirements; for example, those required of private owners of dangerous wildlife.

Does GFAS require facilities in the United States have USDA licensing?

No. However, all facilities must have the licenses and permits required by applicable laws and regulations. In the US, for instance, if a facility is exhibiting to the public, then it must have a USDA license.

Why would a facility voluntarily go through this process?

The reasons are many:

  • A facility wants to be able to reassure its supporters around the world that it follows the highest standards.
  • The facility wants to be sure its practices are sound.

While many facilities are confident of their animal care practices, even the biggest and oldest sanctuaries may have a current policy or practice that may come back to haunt them some day. GFAS knows the common pitfalls that many sanctuaries face, and can help facilities avoid them.

  • The facility wants to be part of the increasing benefits of becoming GFAS Accredited/Verified. At times, when funding is available, we have been able to offer compliance grants. (A compliance grant is funding for something needed for accreditation/verification, such as replacing extension cords not used safely with permanent electrical wiring.) We are also working on developing some exciting partnerships to bring new resources to sanctuaries.
  • Some foundations or major donors may, as part of their own funding guidelines, have made GFAS accreditation or verification a prerequisite to funding.

Does GFAS have any law enforcement authority?

No, GFAS has no authority to do seizures, arrests, or any law enforcement activities. Of course, if anything illegal is occurring, GFAS must report it to the proper authorities, but facility personnel know that before we are invited for a site visit. GFAS is more like a doctor than a law enforcement officer. Like a doctor, we will note potential problems, but the reason is not to “catch” a sanctuary and deny accreditation or verification, but rather to help the sanctuary fix the problem(s), so the facility can become accredited or verified, and have a long and healthy nonprofit life.  We keep all information confidential, and in fact, don’t reveal which facilities have applied.

Accreditation/Verification is not pass/fail?

No, not in the sense that a facility has one chance, and that’s it! Together with the facility, we sometimes determine early on that the facility is not a good fit with GFAS standards. For instance, if a facility sells wildlife and is not willing to change this practice, that is not a good fit. The facility will drop out of the application process and we will send a decline letter, which we keep confidential.

Or another facility may look over the written list of changes we are recommending be completed to comply with the standards, and decide the organization does not want that help right now. We don’t announce which facilities have dropped out, or which are taking a long time to come into compliance.

We stand ready to keep offering assistance to groups which are sincere about wanting to achieve accreditation/verification. And we are always willing to listen to an explanation of why a particular exception should be made regarding a standard, and we are also willing to set some compliance items as goals that can be completed after the accreditation/verification has been awarded. An example might be creating a more in-depth strategic plan within a set time period.

How often do you visit the facilities?

The short answer is as often as needed. We do take non-anonymous written complaints seriously and investigate them (complaint form).   We also require annual data from all Accredited and Verified facilities. There are also certain situations about which a sanctuary is to notify GFAS, such as a change in the Executive Director position. We reserve the right to do a site visit whenever we feel it is necessary, but typically, every three years.

Does being accredited or verified mean that the facility is in 100% compliance with the GFAS standards?

Being accredited or verified means compliance with an overwhelming preponderance of the standards required for either accreditation or verification, and with a plan, timeline, and budget (if applicable) for coming into compliance in any noted areas of noncompliance.  Sometimes an exception is granted to a particular standard, especially if the facility has discovered a different way of meeting the intent of the standard or if national or local law prohibits a facility from meeting a standard.

GFAS is also cognizant that certain changes are monetarily challenging, and we may work with the facility on a plan, timeline, and budget in this instance also, and award certification (more typically verification), given ongoing adherence to the plan.

Under what circumstances might accreditation or verification be withdrawn?

GFAS has a written policy on this important topic.