JENNY BROCKIE: Hi, I’m Jenny Brockie. Welcome everyone. It’s an unusual Insight tonight. Ah we’ll first find out a little bit about the dogs who we’ve invited along ah tonight. I’d like to ask you, Ange, about Bella. Tell us where you got Bella?
ANGE BULAN: Okay. Um Bella, got her from breeder in Cooranbong, so I made the little research on the internet and spoke to a couple of breeders. And I finally decided on this breeder because he wouldn’t use kennels and he would make sure that he breeds within the law, and um he would have the puppies inside the house.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what sort of dog is Bella?
ANGE BULAN: Bella is a bichon frise.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alright. Ah Tim, what about you? Tell us a little bit about your dog?
TIM VASUDEVA, ANIMAL WEFARE LEAGUE NSW: Oh this is Ruby. So Ruby, sorry! Ruby ah was part of a seizure of 300 dogs and puppies in Queensland about three years ago. So she spent her first five years in a cage having puppies that were sold online. So she didn’t have such a good start, but she’s doing very well now.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul and Luke, tell us about Ernie and Barney.
PAUL ESPLIN: Okay. Um we bought them just two days apart ah about four years ago. Um we found Ernie, he was advertised online, online just in the Trading Post um as a cross, as a poodle/bichon. He’s n-none of that at all! So "¦..
JENNY BROCKIE: I don’t know that much about dogs, but even I know he’s not that!
PAUL ESPLIN: It was harder to tell when he was a puppy! Um and then Barney we picked up from a bichon frise breeder. H-he’s obviously a crossbred um with- ah he’s poodle crossbred, but ah yeah, a bichon free- bichon frise breeder up in Terrigal, so.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how long have you had them?
PAUL ESPLIN: Four years.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Ah Belinda, what about you? Tell us about your dog?
BELINDA RUSSO, GEELONG ANIMAL WELFARE SOCIETY: Ah okay. This is Jack. He’s a shelter dog. I’ve had him for four years. Um and I adopted him because of the 28 day rule in Victoria. You can only hold a shelter dog for a certain amount of time, and so his time was up and I decided to take him on.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. So he was what, on death row?
BELINDA RUSSO: Simply because of the 28 day rule, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Four years. And ah Miles, Thad here, who ah is a bit of a star already, I think on the show! He’s really playing up a bit. What’s Thad’s story?
MILES HEFFERNAN: Well I was I was working at Lost Dogs Home and I may or may not have been having a potato scallop for lunch, and he was an undernourished street dog from Broadmeadows that had been taken in, and he was well underweight and pretty pretty in a rough state. And he nicked the potato scallop and ah one of the senior people there helped me ah smuggle him out and ah fatten him up so that he could be ready for adoption. But by that stage I’d been hooked. I’d been conned!
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. We’ll come back to the dogs and the stories a little bit more about where you got them from and why you chose to get them where you did. Um Dani and Ben, tell us about your dog?
BEN HENDERSON: Ah this is Bella. She’s a Siberian husky. We’ve had her for 18, no nine- yeah, 18 months. She had puppies not long ago and lately we’ve just lost her son.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tell us, tell us what happened, because you’re talking about Brax, her puppy Brax.
BEN HENDERSON: Yeah, this is Brax, Bella’s puppy. Um Danielle dropped me off at work one afternoon. She was gone for no longer than ten minutes. Ah we actually had a windstorm that day and it blew the gate open and the dogs ran off, being dogs.
JENNY BROCKIE: This is Brax we’re looking at now, yeah?
BEN HENDERSON: Yes. That’s Brax, that’s him. That’s Brax.
JENNY BROCKIE: So they both went missing?
BEN HENDERSON: Yes, they both ran off. We were searching all afternoon, ringing council and the pound - we searched til 12.30 that night. We didn’t find anything. I went to work the next morning and Danielle was still searching. Um council rang us probably 11 o’clock that day and said Bella was impounded and said that Brax was put down due to a snake bite. I went down to the council straight after, I was there for an hour, very long argument. Um they finally released to us that we couldn’t retrieve Brax’s body because he’d been dumped at the landfill. Um he was microchipped. We have all of the information um correct of the microchip.
JENNY BROCKIE: And he hadn’t been bitten by a snake?
BEN HENDERSON: No, he hadn’t.
JENNY BROCKIE: What had happened to him?
BEN HENDERSON: Well, the farmer that actually had the dogs on their properties assumed that it was fox bait, um because he was seizuring - they ended up getting hold of the ranger first and he showed up - the farmer actually brought it up that if he wanted to be- if um the vet should take- the ranger should take him to the vet. And he went over the top of it and said that he’s wouldn’t make it. Um and the ranger said he didn’t have his rifle on him at the time. And the farmer said, because the farmer was very distraught having the dogs there, going through all of that anyway, and um the farmer said that he had his rifle and he was able to do it because-
JENNY BROCKIE: To shoot him?
BEN HENDERSON: To shoot the dog. The ranger told the farmer to shoot the dog.
JENNY BROCKIE: I should say that we have a statement from the council which we’ll put on our website . . .
BEN HENDERSON: Yes
JENNY BROCKIE: Which is their version of this story. Um but they have said that the two dogs were harassing sheep, that they’d killed family pets, and that when the ranger discovered the dogs and Brax was in a terrible condition and that presumably it was what was considered the best thing to do was to put him down because he was- he’d been poisoned.
BEN HENDERSON: Yeah. I believe that he was seizuring, but it could’ve been due to anything. Dogs get epilepsy on the click of a finger, which can be treatable. Um the property where the dogs were found there is no sheep. We have that in a statement from the farmers – there is no sheep around, they weren’t attacking livestock.
DANI HENDERSON: Enjoyed having them.
BEN HENDERSON: They enjoyed having the dogs. The kids were playing with them all afternoon, had a ball with them. Um after the whole scenario they did find out that um guinea pigs had been killed, which wasn’t - here was no visual proof that our dogs had done it.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what in the meantime has happened to Bella?
BEN HENDERSON: She’s a completely different dog. She’s lost. At home she just lays in the corner and does nothing. On, on the night that it happened, the farmer’s wife said that she was hysterical with everything that was going on. Um and even in the state that she was in after Brax was put down, um they were put in the same cage together, the farmers have, written statement that they were in the same box, which to me is just blatantly disgusting really.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well the council is saying there was a divider between . . .
BEN HENDERSON: No, the farmer has actually stated and put in a statement that they were in the same box.
DANI HENDERSON: The farmer actually helped the ranger put Brax into the cage, and he was put in with Bella.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Geoff, you and your wife ah Annette looked after a dog called Max, who we have a picture of here, over the Christmas/New Year period last year. Um how did Max end up in your care?
GEOFF DAVIDSON: Um we’re ah foster carers for Dog Rescue Newcastle, which is a foster care based rescue group. Ah he was actually ah a surrenderer.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what happened to Max?
GEOFF DAVIDSON: Well, Max was re-homed after Christmas, went off to a lovely lady and her young son. Ah she had trouble ah keeping him in the yard. He was great when they were there, but he was an escape artist. But he was no menace to society. He was just a really beautiful, lovely, friendly dog.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what happened? Did he just disappear or what happened?
GEOFF DAVIDSON: Well, he got picked up by the ranger, um and ah and because that council has an arrangement or has a contract with RSPCA Rutherford facility, he got moved through to them. Ah she was in contact with the RSPCA Rutherford because she couldn’t come up with the impound fee immediately and asked for time to do that. And that she just needed a bit more time because she couldn’t afford it.
Um now Dog Re-Rescue Newcastle heard that he’d gone to ah to Rutherford facility. Um that did make us somewhat anxious because we know that ah that a lot of those facilities and that one, in fact RSPCA state-wide has appalling kill rates, and that we were very anxious for what might happen to him there. Ah and so I made contact ah with RSPCA Rutherford, rang them up, said here’s the chip number, please note our interest in this dog.
JENNY BROCKIE: But he was put down?
GEOFF DAVIDSON: Well, yes. But at the time, ah a little like the story just there, the first story I got told was he’s not here - we’ve checked the database, he’s not here. And I said well, we’ve now been told by the owner that he is, and at that stage they sort of"¦. You could hear them backing up almost. Um at that stage ah I got told well get the owner to call us and reclaim him. And I said but you just said he’s not there, how can she reclaim him? And ah there was no"¦.. Well, there wasn’t even an adequate answer, there was no answer.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what did you find out eventually had happened to him? . . .
GEOFF DAVIDSON: Well eventually, eventually ah he’d actually been put down some days before. He’d been ah failed the temperament test ah apparently, ah which is unbelievable to us
JENNY BROCKIE: What’s the temperament test?
GEOFF DAVIDSON: Ah that’s what we’d like to know, to be honest. RSPCA is very secretive about its temperament testing. Ah it seems to give quite different results.
JENNY BROCKIE: Steve, I want to ask you from the RSPCA about this. Can you just give me a practical example of how you test its temperament? What do you actually do?
STEVE COLEMAN, RSPCA NSW: So on any given day dogs are assessed in terms of their- ah whether or not they’re food aggressive, whether or not they react to strangers, whether or not they react to other dogs, um whether, whether they react to different environmental conditions.
JENNY BROCKIE: I wonder how this works, you know, because a dog being brought into a pound may well be traumatised, but it might not be like that all the time.
STEVE COLEMAN: Indeed they are, indeed. And that’s why animals are assessed on a daily basis to monitor their behaviours, their welfare. Some cope well, some don’t cope well. That’s not to say that that animal needs to be euthanased on that basis though.
JENNY BROCKIE: Nathan, I wanted to ask you about this, because you’re a dog trainer and a former behavioural assessor for the RSPCA, so you’ve done these behaviour assessments of dogs . . .
NATHAN BARNES, ANIMAL BEHAVIOURAL TRAINER: Yeah. Basically the dogs are failing because um on day- anything up to day three they’ve got such a high level of stress they’re not reacting normally. Any of our dogs, including these dogs in this - in the ah studio right now, if they were to go to the shelter and be assessed from day one to day three, I nearly guarantee they’d be- they would fail.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what does it take to fail one of these assessments? What kinds of things are tested? . . .
NATHAN BARNES: If a dog um lunges or growls at a bunny rabbit, um moving birds, um if it jumps over a fence, if it’s reactive, if it hesitates at a small noise, if the dog refuses to come. They also get points, or in different ones ticks or build-up numbers, so if they have a combination of any of these, so if your dog hesitates when it meets somebody it doesn’t meet- doesn’t know, if it reacts negatively to food, if it- a loud noise, that could all add up to that dog being euthanased.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you decide which animals to put down? Apart from this behavioural test -that we’ve heard about, which is obviously debate - hotly debated, what how, how else do you decide which animals are going be put down and which animals aren’t?
STEVE COLEMAN: There are medical reasons. There are animals that are simply cruel to be kept alive, given the condition that they come into us in. Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of being able to select which animals come through our doors. We’re an open facility. That means that anything and everything can come through our doors. That means that we must be flexible enough to look at medical issues, behavioural issues and legal issues.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tabby, you’re a vet and you run the Broken Hill Pound. Now you received around 900 animals last year. How many of those were put down?
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU, BROKEN HILL VETERINARY CLINIC: At least one animal a day on average. We put down at least 300 to 400 a year. That’s unacceptable . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: And the numbers are higher for cats. We haven’t got cats her for very obvious reasons - we thought the cats and the dogs might not ?? . . .
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: Well a lot of the cats we were getting in were feral cats caught in cat traps, people had just done nothing, hadn’t"¦ You know, hadn’t bothered de-sexing their cats or looking after them.
JENNY BROCKIE: But you’ve got domestic cats as well?
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: We’ve got domestic cats again. We were a small number of them were being re-homed. Um-
JENNY BROCKIE: A smaller number were being re-homed than the dogs?
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: Oh yes, the dogs always get . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: And this seems to be the pattern, the dogs get- the cats get a much rougher deal with this than the dogs?
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: They do, it’s very much harder to re-home them. Now, what’s happened since then, the new dog catcher has made contact with various rescue groups, photographs them, puts them on some website of which I know nothing. Now as a result of that we’re only putting down now feral cats, dogs with behaviour problem.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, but you’re still saying the rate is very high?
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: At the moment only feral cats and dogs that have had- um bitten people or whatever or dogs with behaviour problems, in the last month we’ve put down two.
NATHAN BARNES: Jenny?
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: Everything else has been re-homed.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Nathan, yeah?
NATHAN BARNES: I can give some statistics from when I was working at the RSPCA with the shelters and things during 2003 to 2005, and I believe the rate hasn’t really fluctuated much since then. Um generally it sits in my opinion um around 51 percent across the board, which is about 21 and a half thousand dogs in New South Wales alone. At Newcastle shelter it’s five to ten dogs every day, 10 to 15 cats every day. The councils and facilities that are utilising Dog Rescue, Northern Ridges Regional Rivers Rescue and other places like that have reduced their rate down to 13 percent, kill rate. Um prior to this and five or six years ago the kill rate of general shelters and pounds across the state was 70 percent.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is that right, Steve?
STEVE COLEMAN: No, it’s not, Jenny.
JENNY BROCKIE: What percentage of dogs and cats are being put down?
STEVE COLEMAN: In the last financial year for New South Wales 27 percent were destroyed, 27 percent . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: Of dogs or cats?
STEVE COLEMAN: Of dogs. Cats were 60 percent. Now 60 percent, Jenny, because it’s already been acknowledged, cats in Australia are really difficult, owned, semi-owned, feral. It’s really difficult. But we have gotten our euthanasia stats down as- and they’ve been coming down for the last five years. If someone was able to do the analysis they are on the way down, as are the overall incoming populations of dogs and cats.
The RSPCA is partnering with a number of organisations, including government bodies, to re-home more animals. We’re investing more in distribution opportunities so that animals can be transported between branches, shelters, care centres, and a new relationship with Petbarn, for the sole reason of being able to re-home more animals.
ANNETTE DAVIDSON: Why don’t you release any dogs to rescue groups? Why don’t you not talk to rescue group? When we do go to you guys and say please, we can take your dogs. But you will not speak to us. We ask you to-
JENNY BROCKIE: Steve? Please.
STEVE COLEMAN: RSPCA works with rescue groups all the time. For our Rutherford facility about 15 months ago we invited all of the rescue groups into our facility to start to work up a relationship and find and explore more opportunities to work with rescue groups . . .
ANNETTE DAVIDSON: We haven’t heard from you.
STEVE COLEMAN: We asked those rescue groups that did - We were very grateful for maybe ten or so groups that turned up, for contact details so we could start to work up a relationship and a rapport to start re-homing more animals. We never heard back from those groups.
JENNY BROCKIE: Michelle, Michelle, what do you think? I mean you find homes for um unwanted cats and dogs. How many do you think are being put down each year?
MICHELLE WILLIAMSON, PET RESCUE: Yeah, I work for an organisation, ah Petrescue.com.au, who work with pounds, shelters and rescue groups t-to find homes for their animals. Um rescue groups do amazing work when they can get access to animals. They can really bring down the kill rate t-to really negligible rates, and we would find that of the thousand groups that we work with, nearly all of them would have an experience whereby they’ve been denied access to pets who have then been killed. So this is a really an ongoing problem. Um there’s a lot of talk about working with the community, but not a lot of action. And there’s still an awful lot of killing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we’re talking about domestic cats and dogs and what happens when they’re not wanted. Ah Miles, you were talking earlier about sneaking Thad out of Melbourne’s ah Lost Dogs Home when you worked there. Why did you sneak him out? Tell us a little bit more about that.
MILES HEFFERNAN: Technically the rule was you wasn’t allowed out within the healing period, um but with a little bit of a rubbery figures we ah we snuck him out and ah if he didn’t, he probably wouldn't have made it because he was too malnourished and wasn’t ah ready for the next lot of surgery he was gonna have o-or possibly have.
JENNY BROCKIE: I’ve got a photo of him here looking very skinny compared to how he looks now.
MILES HEFFERNAN: Yes, yes, probably too much. In fact I went to a restaurant with him on the second day I had him and I got abused for maltreating my dog. Ah he was that ah, he looked that sad. Now he just uses those eyes to bung on to get attention!
JENNY BROCKIE: Would he have p-past a behavioural test?
MILES HEFFERNAN: Look, he was ah food guarding and ah he’s a large dog, so there’s every chance that those two things going together align. Um he’s not dog aggressive, but certainly was very scared of people, and another one was ah timidity. So when that sort of stuff happens, ah they say look, big dogs, big teeth, can cause carnage. So ah"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: And this is in Victoria, separate to New South Wales, which we’ve been talking about before, but the same sorts of things?
MILES HEFFERNAN: Similar principles, if people of particularly large organisations have got to be very risk averse.
JENNY BROCKIE: He doesn’t look very aggressive now! I have to say. Oops, oh now, he’s listening! Anyway! Um the Lost Dogs Home where you worked, it’s one of the biggest animal shelters in the country in Melbourne. Um it also has a high euthanasia rate? Is that right?
MILES HEFFERNAN: Yeah, look if you look in straight statistics, yes, a lot of people would call it- they’d call it high kill. There’s been probably medium kill by today’s standards.
JENNY BROCKIE: What was your job at the Lost Dogs Home?
MILES HEFFERNAN: One of the significant jobs I had to do was dealing with a vast amount of detractors.
JENNY BROCKIE: So a lot of the people in this room?
MILES HEFFERNAN: I probably could’ve said that I on weekends I club baby seals and people would’ve liked me more than saying I worked at a Lost Dogs Home in the animal community. But on the outside of the animal community it’s ah quite a large a-and respected iconic brand.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how did you find that group, those groups to deal with on the inside?
MILES HEFFERNAN: A real absence of pragmatism would probably be the way I’d say it, that it’s ah a aggression you know, you must do this and you must follow our rules, a-and you must work with rescue. Rather than someone saying hey listen, we have got a shared interest here.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, what are the alternatives, Michelle? I mean you’re you’re in one of the activist groups that presumably we’re talking about there. I mean do you think your approach sometimes might be counterproductive? Or any of the rest of you who are, who are activists on this issue?
MICHELLE WILLIAMSON: I think ah for a long time there’s only ever been one message or one or two messages out there, and that was from these large organisations, the Lost Dogs Home, the RSPCA. Ah and their message has primarily been we have to kill; there’s no other option.
JENNY BROCKIE: But is there another option?
MICHELLE WILLIAMSON: There absolutely is.
JENNY BROCKIE: Are there not times when there is no option?
MICHELLE WILLIAMSON: Well, it would depend on whether y-you’re using euthanasia in the true sense of the word, as in an animal who is suffering a-and has a poor prognosis for being re-homed. Ah certainly anyone who works in animal welfare would support euthanasia. But what we want to see an end to is killing, which is killing for convenience, killing for space, killing because we haven’t got time or we don’t want to invest in rehabilitation.
JENNY BROCKIE: So this is the No Kill idea? But how practical is that in terms of the limited resources? I mean these animals have to be fed, they have to be looked after, somebody has to want them.
MICHELLE WILLIAMSON: Well I mean you’re talking about limited resources. There was 100,000 unclaimed pets left at the RSPCA nationally. Now that’s a hundred million dollar organisation, so what else are we putting our money towards if it’s not rehabilitation? Somewhere like the Lost Dogs Home re-homed three and a half thousand pets, yet it killed 12,000 pets and they take in $12 million a year. So we talk about the animal welfare industry as being under-resourced, but animal charities are some of the richest in Australia.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do some of the rest of you think about this? Steve, what do you think about this?
STEVE COLEMAN: It’s gobsmacking. Ah it’s really gobsmacking. The RSPCA doesn’t just look after animals, we run a major enforcement program around the country, obviously investigating cruelty complaints. We have clinics, we have education departments, we have transport systems, moving animals from one place to the next. Staff and volunteers at the RSPCA do not turn up with the sole mission of destroying animals. They come and work at the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League because they love animals. I love animals.
JENNY BROCKIE: I mean I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this No Kill idea, just in brief, what does it mean, Michelle?
MICHELLE WILLIAMSON: Well No Kill, is a set of 11 programs that a shelter should offer. So if you’re- if you, instead of killing a pet you offer foster care, i-instead of killing a pet you offer an adoption program, if instead of killing a pet you are you know working to rehabilitate that using your own foster care, ah if you’re instead of killing pets you’re working with your local media to get the message out about adoption, ah the no- the killing stops, just sort of by default.
MILES HEFFERNAN: But Michelle, that sounds kind of nice and cuddly, but the reality is is that what the, particularly your involvement through ah your alternative website, is a very aggressive way of forcing people t-to prescribe to the lot and creating a very much a a group of people that are very aggressive against shelters.
BELINDA RUSSO, GEELONG ANIMAL WELFARE SOCIETY: I’ve gotta disagree um with you, because she’s not here to slam shelters. I think what she wants to do is ah encourage shelters t-to take on the No Kill idea. So-
MILES HEFFERNAN: But how many dogs die as a result of the aggression that goes with these feisty organisations? And people . . .
BELINDA RUSSO: But you’re saying feisty organisations, what are you talking about?
MILES HEFFERNAN: What I’m saying is if you’re at the Dogs Home for example you are everyday under literally, and I’m sure it happens with other large organisations, aggressive attack on a daily basis. Complaints to councils that you’ve gotta manage, and all at the same time having to then do the work, which you know you’ve signed up for it, that’s part of it. But by all of this lack of what I would say is simple lack of pragmatism"¦
BELINDA RUSSO: So I’ve been on both sides where ah I’ve walked into a shelter where there's all these rescue groups wanting to work with the shelter, and it’s just a matter of going out there and going come in, be transparent. And by being transparent um you’re gonna save hundreds of lives, thousands of lives.
You need to work with them, when I started at GAWS we had very aggressive people I was dealing with, and I think the answer is to be open, allow them to come in and ask for their help. Um and even today we get some rescue groups that can be quite difficult, but I think you have to stop and remember what, what their - their heart’s in the right place and they want to help.
JENNY BROCKIE: So would No Kill work in Broken Hill, Tabby?
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: I think we’re no different to anybody else. I think you’ve gotta try and minimise kill, you’ve gotta try to educate people, but unfortunately some people just can’t be educated. A No Kill situation is not gonna work with this because the people are just letting them breed.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tim, you used to work for ah Michelle’s organisation and you’re now the CEO of the Animal Welfare League in New South Wales. What do you think about the No Kill idea? Do you think it’s a realistic proposition?
TIM VASUDEVA: Look, I think um you know we’re one of the - a handful of ah shelters in Australia that are participating in the Getting to Zero euthanasia initiative of Animal Welfare League Queensland, which implements or seeks to achieve pretty much the same goals as No Kill. Ah No Kill itself seems to be a bit of a misnomer, it basically suggests there is no- gonna be no euthanasia, but as we’ve said today there are circumstances where you just do not have another option behaviourally or medically.
Getting to Zero is very much about doing everything you possibly can for dogs and cats that come in, before considering euthanasia. So that is working with rescue groups, that is marketing your pets properly, that is working with volunteers, um that is de-sexing, you know, that is competing with breeders and pet shops and letting- educating people as to what great pets rescue pets make. Um but when it comes to cats, the two models that we seem to pursue in Australia are either ignore them, which a lot of councils do um Australia-wide, or you catch them and kill them. But neither of those things is actually achieving anything, because if you ignore them the breeding continues. If you catch and kill them, it’s just not possible with the resources we have to do it in sufficient numbers to make a difference to the population.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alexandra, what did you want to say?
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: Um yeah. With the stray cats, it’s very, very frustrating when you’re, as a responsible pet owner, when you’re forced to surrender your pets and they’re very . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: Now this has happened to you. Can you tell us . . .
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: Yeah, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can you tell us about having to surrender your cats?
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: Yeah, yeah. I had to move. I was a renter and I had to move. And I had to downsize from a house into a unit. And it was absolutely totally - There’s Penny there. Um absolutely no question about it, no pets. No no discussion on it. And I was able to re-home my 13 year old cat, Sweetie. Um that’s her there. I was luck-lucky to find a friend-
JENNY BROCKIE: That was to a friend?
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: Yeah. Um-
JENNY BROCKIE: But what about Penny?
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: And Penny, I rang a range of - I rang the Cat Pro-Protection Society, um I rang - And they gave me a couple of places -to ring. Um most places for the time of year it was kitten time, so . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: And did you try a no kill shelter?
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: Yeah, I did. I-
JENNY BROCKIE: And what happened?
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: They wanted $900 to take my cat, which at a time of having to move was just something that I couldn’t afford. And running out of time as a very, very last resort I rang my local council, and they sent me to Hawkesbury Pound, and I went there with my kids, I have two small kids, and they - I told my kids - it’s okay, Penny will find new owners, she’ll find a new family, knowing that she would probably end up being put down. And you know they’ll find a new home. And when I, when I got there they said that’ll be $40 to put her down, and they made it very, very, very clear in front of my children that she would be put down. Which, you know, it’s upsetting.
JENNY BROCKIE: Belinda, you work at the Geelong Animal Welfare Society. Um I want to show some footage that was taken secretly shortly before you started working there. Let’s have a look at this. You’re commenting on the pictures we are about to see and I should warn that some viewers may find this footage distressing.
BELINDA RUSSO: From what I saw it was gut-wrenching. The practices may not have been in my opinion humane, and I think there’s a lot of things in there that I found quite distressing. I don’t know why they were doing it that way. Were they aware of what they were doing? I don’t know. You don’t have to be a behaviourist or you don’t have to be a vet to look at it and go oh, that’s not, you know, um is that the best practice?
I don’t think yelling at a dog or rough-handling a dog is um appropriate. You know, I am aware that there were animals euthanased in front of each other and that would cause major distress to see um another animal being euthanased in front of the other. I thought you know, that, it’s unfortunate that this had been going on for quite a while from what I know.
JENNY BROCKIE: You now run that shelter, is that right?
BELINDA RUSSO: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: What have you done since that footage was taken?
BELINDA RUSSO: Um it’s been a process. It’s um been there for ten months now. Ah we’ve implemented a lot of new programs um allowing rescue groups to come in, um foster carers, ah a lot of volunteers to come in and help rebuild the shelter.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what sort of euthanasia rate do you have?
BELINDA RUSSO: We’re still, ah our dogs we’re doing quite well. So we’re sitting on about 10 percent. Um of that 10 percent some of them are council pound seized dogs. Ah our cats we’re not doing too well, we’re still sitting on about the 50 percent, and of that a feral population. So the 25 percent we’re still working towards um building new programs.
JENNY BROCKIE: And can you envisage a system where you wouldn’t have to put down any animals, except where there, you know, are medical reasons to do it or?
BELINDA RUSSO: Yeah, I do. I think I have to, because if I don’t um I shouldn't be there. I don’t think we’ll ever get to zero, but I think um 10 percent euthanasia for dogs I think is great. Um I’d like to get to 10 percent on the cats; I think it’d be great, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think it’s possible?
BELINDA RUSSO: Yes, I do.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think it’s possible?
BELINDA RUSSO: Um I think it’s about allowing rescue groups to come in, allowing um the community come in, um whether it’s volunteers of any sort, yeah . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: So there’s obviously a real problem at the moment with the relationship between all of you. I mean you’re all supposed to be caring for animals, but somehow you can’t talk to one another.
STEVE COLEMAN: And that’s, and that’s precisely the point, Jenny. I think, I think one of the issues is, is the No Kill notion. That’s an impossibility in terms of animals that have medical conditions or are cruel to be kept alive, or have serious aggressive behaviours. It’s just not realistic, and that’s confusing. Any animal that is re-homed that should be re-homed that anyone can do is great, because that lightens the load for everyone. What the RSPCA is trying to do and we strive towards is to not euthanase a re-homable animal right across the country. So we’re actually all on the same side, but we just have different views about how to get there.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to bring in Marilyn Harvy here on Skype because Marilyn, you own a big sheep property outside of Broken Hill, and we’re having a pretty city-based conversation here in many ways. I’m just interested in hearing from you, um because Tabby put down one of your dogs, one of your young dogs, last week. Why?
MARILYN HARVY [VIA SKYPE]: Yeah, that’s right. Um yeah, we have kelpies work our sheep, and I’ve also trained quite a number of um of sheepdogs and this one I believe had tendencies to turn, not be trainable. I mean that’s my call and my call alone. And I just felt really um ah you know committed that she wouldn’t be able to be re-homed. So I think that I um, you know, took the choice myself . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: Why didn’t you think she could be re-homed, Marilyn?
MARILYN HARVY [VIA SKYPE]: She had a bit of an aggressive nature, um and had been seen to be killing a few lizards and things like that, as well as running away. So this was quite an isolated case and Tabby would be able to support me in that.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did you feel about that decision?
MARILYN HARVY [VIA SKYPE]: Ah it was pretty difficult. Yep. Pretty difficult.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. And Tabby, what was that like for you? I mean was that just part of what you do every day?
GUILLAUME TABBY TABUTEAU: It’s unfortunately-fortunately something part of what you do, you just have to close your mind to it. You have to do things you don’t like and you more or less my comment normally is if people are doing it for the best of motives and they’re doing it because they feel, you know, they feel it is the right thing to do, I don’t think is up to other people to question them. I mean they’re doing it for all the right reasons. And you know they’ve done it with care, with thought and everything else. It’s not just saying oh, don’t want this dog, getting rid of it. It’s for genuine best intent reasons. So yes, you accept it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we’re talking about cats and dogs and whether we’re breeding too many of them and I want to raise a bigger picture question here because every time we see a photo or look at these gorgeous animals here with us tonight, everyone oohs and ahs about them. If we love them so much as a community, why are there so many of them being put down? Anyone like to buy into that? Lady here, yes?
JACQUELINE DAIZIELL: Ah after working in animal rights for years and years I think people actually aren’t aware of how much routine cruelty there is towards companion animals in Australia and how readily people kill animals, send them to the pound because they don’t fit their aesthetic preferences, because they shed hair, because they’re, they’ve come to realise that they’re a living thing and not a handbag, because they’ve impulse bought them. Um or and I’m I am ah very sorry to hear about your story but this is another problem, people don’t realise that these are animals that might live for 15 / 20 years and moving house is simply not a good enough reason to kill an animal. We need to think much more strongly about what we do when we decide to own an animal and what that means.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alexandra, do you want to respond to that?
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: I think certainly a lot of irresponsible pet owners that are tenants do make it very difficult for people to be to rent and own a pet. Um eh I my cats were very much wanted, they were micro-chipped, de-sexed ah registered, um even though I didn’t have to, they were on the companion animals register. Um if my landlord had enabled me to keep my - to have pets, I would have kept them.
JENNY BROCKIE: How long had you had Penny the cat?
ALEXANDRA HOLMES: Um 13 years.
JENNY BROCKIE: Are there just too many dogs and cats in Australia for people? I mean..
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: Well there probably two things, there’s as we realise too much breeding. There’s over-supply, people are just not getting their dogs de-sexed, dogs or cats, especially the cats de-sexed and I think you’ve got to get about a 90 percent de-sexing rate to have a stable population.
JENNY BROCKIE: Steve do you know what it is, what percentage of animals get de-sexed?
STEVE COLEMAN: Of cats that are owned, it’s a fairly high de-sexing rate um but for dogs I can’t I can’t accurately capture. The RSPCA’s view is this, that if there is one additional animal that is euthanased that is otherwise re-homeable, we’ve got an over-supply. One. So be . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: So you think there’s a serious over-supply on that basis.
STEVE COLEMAN: Well there is clearly an over-supply because still today animals are being destroyed that that need not be destroyed because we can’t get them homes.
GUILLAUME (TABBY) TABUTEAU: The other thing is there’s what they call an over-demand and people buying dogs at whim.
JENNY BROCKIE: Bob Croucher, you represent about one in four pet shops in Australia.
BOB CROUCHER, PET INDUSTRY ASSOC. AUSTRALIA: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think there’s an oversupply of animals and do you think people are buying them on a whim in pet shops?
BOB CROUCHER: Well there’s certainly not an over-supply of puppies because there is the demand. Now maybe ah like you’re saying they buying on the whim, I don’t believe that, there is no such thing as spending a thousand dollars on an impulse buy at a pet shop. The pet shop - particularly our members’ stores investigate the situation of the new owner, um they’re required to answer a whole number of questions before they’ll even sell. It takes about an hour to sell a dog in a pet shop. So no I’m . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: Jacqueline?
JACQUELINE DAIZIELL: Ah I worked undercover in a pet shop in Sydney for about three months, I was never witness to that. I’ve also spoken to a range of pet shop whistle blowers, so people that have worked in pet shops and seen immense cruelty, seen pet shops buying from puppy farms and they’ve contacted me, they have never been privy to that. Pet shops put cute baby fluffy animals in glass boxes at the front of a store for a reason and that’s so people buy them. When I was working in the pet store the only time that we took the puppies out of the cages and put them into play pens was during the lunch hour - that was because that’s when nannies, mums and their children came in and this was to entice them to buy them. This wasn’t so that they got the 20 minutes of exercise that by law they need every day, which they never got and this was not to let them escape the monotony of their cages, it was so people would buy them. Pet shops are in shopping centres, these are entire institutions that encourage impulse buying.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tim I know that ah your group raided a puppy farm on the outskirts of Sydney about 9 months ago, is that right? Ah we’ve got some pictures here, can you just tell us a little bit about what you found.
TIM VASUDEVA: Ah yep this was in ah Londonderry, ah sort of west of Sydney. This particular facility we took about, had about 65 dogs and puppies, we took 45 in the first instance. This is this is them. The guy had a piggery next door, um a lot of the mud and faeces from next door had flowed down through into the puppy farm, um I don’t know ha- eh I don’t know whether you’ve got photos of some of the dogs here but they basically were living in their own mud and faeces. Those are puppies sitting on newspaper faeces and maggots. Ah that’s a dog named Gidget who had flea infestation underneath. Um yeah this facility was aha was pretty appalling so.
JENNY BROCKIE: How many puppies were there, do you know?
TIM VASUDEVA: There was about 15 puppies and about 30 breeding dogs. There were 20 more there ah when we when we went back to get them with council he’d claimed to have given them away to other people, we could never track where they’d gone. Ah that’s a dog named Fonz, that is a combination of mud and faeces, he’d probably had never been bathed in his whole life and that’s him now just before we re-homed him. That took us about four months to rebuild, that’s ah a little dog named Gidget who’d been a breeding dog. Um you can maybe tell by her teets she’d probably had a half a dozen litters, that’s her just before we re-homed her after a, again another three or four months worth. So
JENNY BROCKIE: So how did you find out about that place?
TIM VASUDEVA: Ah that was council so the stench from the piggery that flowing through the puppy farm, council rang us when they looked over the fence and said this doesn’t look too good. So
JENNY BROCKIE: And how common though do you think that sort of thing, is it that, is that the ex- exception do you think of the way that puppies are being supplied?
TIM VASUDEVA: Look my view is there’s a lot more of that that’s going on than we’re able to catch and the problem we’ve got at the moment with the system, with the best of intentions is that it doesn’t really work all that well. I mean that guy, we took him to court, we charged him with 60 charges under the Prevention of Cruelty Animals Act, we asked for a lifetime ban on breeding, you can see the conditions of those dogs and a lifetime ban on owning animals.
As it turned out that particular magistrate, I my own belief is probably wasn’t a dog owner and ah the guy got a $3,000 fine and no bans so yeah as far as we’re aware he’s gone straight back to being a breeder. He was selling to pet shops out west for five or six years before we caught him, ah he would have made a bucket-load of money out of that and probably co-, we did some numbers, probably cost us 25 to $30,000 to do the veterinary work and rehabilitation work on those animals so we’re out of pocket. The animals had been suffering for God knows how long and the end result was not much as far as that guy was concerned.
JENNY BROCKIE: Matt, I know that you’re family has supplied puppies to pet shops in Melbourne for many years, how many dogs do you have?
MATT HAMS, BANKSIA PARK PUPPIES: We have 300 dogs.
JENNY BROCKIE: Three hundred breeding dogs?
MATT HAMS: Yes, 300 breeding dogs, yeah so we are I believe one of the largest breeders in Australia . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: So how many how many dogs would you be selling a week or a month?
MATT HAMS: Ah between 30 or 40 a week we supply to the pet shop.
JENNY BROCKIE: A week?
MATT HAMS: Yep, every week. So"¦ And I can tell you right now and I can feel everyone staring at me at the moment but I if I could breed twice that we would sell them.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what sort of animals are you breeding at this?
MATT HAMS: Spoodles, Caboodles, Maltese Crosses, little fluffy dogs like that. The largest breeds that we do are Cocker Spaniel Crosses, a couple of um Labradoodles, that’s probably the biggest sort of breed that we do and I’d like to . . .
JENNY BROCKIE: So the Doodle family.
MATT HAMS: Yeah the Doodle family. Yeah the Doodle. Pugs as well, Pugaliers and things like that. So
JENNY BROCKIE: What? Pugaliers.
MATT HAMS: Pugaliers, which is a
JENNY BROCKIE: What’s a Pugalier?
MATT HAMS: Pug cross. Pug cross Cavalier.
JENNY BROCKIE: But is what you’re saying that you’re breeding fashionable dogs, is this the bottom line here?
MATT HAMS: Absolutely and we need to look at the evidence, they’re, these
MALE: They’re designer dogs.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sorry, designer dog. Who said that?
MALE: They’re designer dogs
MATT HAMS: Yeah absolutely, that’s a term that’s been given to them.
TIM VASUDEVA: The issue that we have is we need to do a better job of educating the community about what great pets we have through rescue and shelters and people, there are a lot of people out there who don’t ever associate ah adopting or purchasing a pet from a shelter, they just think that’s where you go to a pet shop or you buy one on line. So we need to, we need to do a much better job of letting people know what great pets we have through rescue and the fact that a puppy or a kitten is not necessarily the best thing for you. If you have a specific requirement, if you have young children, if you have a certain sized house, you have an apartment, you require a dog or cat with a certain temperament or personality that’s often better as an adult, which is a known quantity, a known temperament, a known personality from a good rescue group or shelter who can tell you that that dog or cat will suit you as opposed to something that you purchase as a puppy and you actually have no idea what it’s going to grow up to be like.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ange, would you have considered going to a shelter for a dog? You said before no, you wanted Bella here.
ANGE BULAN: Yeah actually before I got Bella, Isobel and I went to a shelter but um there was no dog that fit what I wanted and before I got a dog.
JENNY BROCKIE: And why was that, what did you want?
ANGE BULAN: Okay. Ah before I finally decided to get a dog, first I had to go to a rental place that allowed dogs and I had to think of what I could give the dog, what I could offer because if you say I want a fluffy big dog, that’s fine, that’s what I want but can I take care of a fluffy big dog? No. My place could only accommodate a small dog. Um Bella is a hypoallergenic dog so for people who have asthma, she’s a good dog and our place is not that big, we don’t have a big backyard and um for people who work, she’s a type of dog, because I studied what type of dog um is good for being left in small places at long periods of times so Bella is a good dog for me and my husband. As you can see the picture um"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: She likes the computer as well.
ANGE BULAN: She always takes to me or my husband, she’s like a person. She watches the NBA finals with my husband or sits with me on the dinner table and eats.
JENNY BROCKIE: But you wanted a cute dog?
ANGE BULAN: Yes, I have to admit. Um I wanted a cute dog but I knew that I could handle a cute dog because aside from being a cute dog, you have to maintain and manage a cute dog so bring them to the groomer regularly, bring them to the vet regularly.
JENNY BROCKIE: Would you regard Ruby as a cute dog?
ANGE BULAN: Yes. Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is Ruby the kind of dog with her one eye that you would, that you would have chosen from a shelter?
ANGE BULAN: Um I would always want to get a puppy because for me I would want to bring up the dog from the puppy up to adulthood, it’s a preference.
JENNY BROCKIE: See I think this is very representative of a lot of people’s attitudes to getting pets. I, you know I don’t think you’re alone in that in that approach.
ANNETTE DAVIDSON: You rent at the moment?
ANGE BULAN: I used to rent but now I moved to a new house.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yea, lady up the back, yeah.
MELANIE SWEENEY: I just wanted to address a couple of things, the gentleman who’s got the three or four hundred um breeding dogs, um I gather that you’re breeding them because these are animals to go into social situations and be relational fantastic animals. Do your three or four hundred breeding bitches who are producing these animals live in a family situation and get that sort of social interaction themselves because otherwise you are treating your own animals that are creating your wealth differently to the dogs that you are actually creating for other people to own. You’re saying these dogs are great to live in this circumstance but the animals who are producing our wealth don’t live in that same way.
MATT HAMS: I am absolutely adamantly defending the way that our dogs live and that’s what we’ve had several film crews at our place, our doors are always open to the media. We’ve had ah lots of media throughout. Ah of course they don’t live in a house environment, we don’t have them in a family situation, there’s 300 of them, that we simply couldn’t do that and it wouldn’t be right to do that. Our dogs live . . . this is a completely separate debate to the one we’re having now but
FEMALE: No it’s not.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well it’s not really, I mean the whole thing about breeding versus you know shelter dogs"¦
MATT HAMS: Yes
JENNY BROCKIE: and how that should be dealt with, how the supply question should be dealt with.
MATT HAMS: Yes
JENNY BROCKIE: isn’t separate.
MELANIE SWEENEY: Why are the dogs who are crea"¦.
FEMALE: And it’s not just, it’s not just. It’s not just the the the bitches either, I mean these puppies are supposed to be going and growing up to be well socialised dogs that we can take to the café and that won’t have behavioural issues that cause them to be surrendered to shelters. How can those puppies be learning how to live in our family type scenario when they’re up to 8 weeks, or younger in a lot of cases, um growing up in a pen in a kennel and then they go and spend another few more weeks in a glass box. I mean studies show that you know at that age group it’s really important that those puppies are learning to live.
JENNY BROCKIE: Matt, do you want to respond to that?
MATT HAMS: Yeah I would I think. We have, there’s ten full-time staff work at our place so that the animals are seeing people all day constantly, we also employ children who come in specifically to socialise those animals during their critical socialisation period, so they teach them to lead, they do all those sorts of things. Every person who works for me absolutely loves animals, they’re there because they love animals.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay Luke and Paul, I want to talk to you about your dogs who’ve been sitting very patiently here and you have too, you have too. Um but you have these two dogs - Ernie and Barney which were bought from different..
LUKE JACKSON: They were
JENNY BROCKIE: "¦situations so I’m just interested in how you feel, describe for us the differences and whether they have differences as a result.
PAUL EPSLIN: We’d searched around and we’re very aware of probably not wanting to go to a puppy mill, we considered rescue. Ernie, we saw him advertised in the Trading Post.
LUKE JACKSON: It was a backyard job.
JENNY BROCKIE: It was a backyard job.
PAUL EPSLIN: Yeah
JENNY BROCKIE: So were you uneasy about it?
PAUL EPSLIN: Very, we were really, conflicted.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why were you uneasy, what made you uneasy?
PAUL EPSLIN: Because we wanted to buy pets and ah I think always
LUKE JACKSON: W-we we met him
PAUL EPSLIN: possible and we did, we actually put it on hold because we didn’t want to encourage that and but we met him and fell in love with him and then we went and got him and Barney was the total opposite, like he was from a breeder, um
LUKE JACKSON: Yeah his mother was living in the house, you know as the family pet and yeah it was just a totally different circumstance. But I think the whole thing was even though we probably didn’t support the puppy mill purchase, we probably knew he was from ah that background. The fact was we just met him and we fell in love and that all just sort of caved in and yeah so.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay Nathan quickly, yep.
NATHAN BARNES: Just in relation to what I can see is all of these problems being able to be solved by one thing. If we had an outside investigating body to cover puppies, pets, stores, RSPCAs, councils, pounds across Australia, it’s Australia’s problem, well obviously we’re not able to deal with it or resolve these issues 'cause we’ve had the same kill rates.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what are you talking about, a pet ombudsman or something like that?
NATHAN BARNES: Yeah we put millions of dollars, it’s like the one in four people in Australia own a dog on average, it’s a big enough industry to have an outside governing body to help everyone resolve these problems, an outside independent party will be able to look at why help and maybe answer questions for everyone.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay so to wrap up, what could we do about this situation where we’ve got so many animals being put down. We’ve talked about no kill options and things like that, what about around the issue of breeding, Tim, what do you think about that?
TIM VASUDEVA: Ah well probably two things there, one is you know as I mentioned I think that puppies are bred for demand and I think if we can explain or the community is able to understand what fantastic pets we get through rescue, is they’re able to learn more about how that maybe a a good option for people rather than default option I must go to ah a breeder or a pet shop, ah.
JENNY BROCKIE: There’s not, not all states have breeding licences for as requirements, do they?
TIM VASUDEVA: No and look this is one of the things that that we are proposing in New South Wales, so if you want to breed and sell puppies or kittens in New South Wales, you would be required, this is our recommendation, you’d be required to have a licence.
JENNY BROCKIE: And would that breeders licence apply to say a family that decided that they were going to let a dog have a litter or two of puppies and sell them?
TIM VASUDEVA: Absolutely, I mean realistically there’s no reason for somebody to say I must be able to have a litter of puppies. I mean you look at the numbers that we’re euthanizing, let’s do more about looking at rescue pet options and let’s do less of the I’m just going to have a, I’m going to have a litter here or I’m you know I’m not going to bother to de-sex my pet and if I have a, you know if they have a litter I’ll just dump it at the local shelter.
JENNY BROCKIE: Thad had a big growl when euthanasia was mentioned just then. Or was it a snore. We think it might have been a snore. What else can we do to actually make it better for these animals? Lady up the back, just quick comments from everyone, yep.
MELANIE SWEENEY: Sure um if we had some system whereby ah landlords could get a pet bond so that they could have more reassurance that allowing pet owners to rent from them was not going to cost them, that would solve some of the problems of people feeling that they had to surrender because there’ll be more pet friendly rentals.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay other quick ideas, Michelle.
MICHELLE WILLIAMSON: Take an interest. If you’re an animal lover, get interested in what’s happening in your local council, find out what’s going on in your local council pound and ah also look at your local rescue groups. If you’ve got rescue groups working in your community, chances are that you could support them somehow.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay we have to wrap up here right now but we can keep talking online. You can go to ah our Facebook page, our website or Twitter. I’d like to thank you all very much for joining us and a special thank you to the dogs. What a fabulous performance. They’ve ah sat through the entire thing and most of them have slept through it, which I think is probably just as well.