Released on Thursday 20th May, 2010 was the new ‘Code of practice for the management of dogs and cats in shelters and pounds‘ from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries. With the advisory panel for this legislation featuring some of the largest and most wealthy animal shelters in Victoria, including the RSPCA VIC and Lost Dogs Home, this review had the opportunity to revolutionise animal sheltering in the state; mandating a life-saving focus and removing outdated restrictions to expand the capacity of the community to become involved.
Unfortunately though, rather than look to promote those initiatives that have been shown to save the lives of shelter animals, the new code of practice further reduces the claim of rescue groups on homeless pets and is set to propel Victoria into a monopolised, ’super pound’ future. Shelters with millions of dollars of community resources at their disposal are able to kill under government mandates, while shutting their doors to private and community rescues, who are no longer a recognised resource able to offer death row pets a second chance.
Why greed is being put before life-saving
In 2010 the public are informed about, comparing and critiquing their local animal organisation’s performance like never before. Online discussion and the community’s feeling that pets are ‘family members’, combined with the realisation that other countries have made huge advancements in sheltering techniques that save lives, has lead to pet owners questioning the efficacy of their own community’s animal management. Empowered by the realisation that they, the community, are part of the solution, a huge movement towards the creation of foster care groups is gaining momentum across Australia.
With websites like PetRescue, connecting these groups with thousands of potential adopters, without the need for a shelter, private foster care groups working alongside compassionate pounds and shelters have become the new model of modern animal management.
However ‘old school’ shelters, running pound contracts and killing the majority of pets in their care, have donor bases and bequests worth many hundreds of millions of dollars. Concerned that this new swing towards community based life saving might eat into their profits, they look to disparage the capabilities of community rescue groups and have become complicit in an effort by the government to shut out private rescue and give councils more reasons to kill, rather than save pets.
The new plan to kill community rescue in Victoria
The existing ‘Code of practice for the management of dogs and cats in shelters and pounds‘ already contains several outdated mandates that see pets killed unnecessarily in Victorian shelters.
A mandatory euthanasia deadline
In Victoria, impounded animals must be held for 8 days, before being offered for sale, or killed. However, rather than give adoptable pets an unlimited chance to find a new home, pounds are required to kill them or move them off site.
The maximum time any animal selected for sale can be held at a shelter is four weeks. At the conclusion of this period, the animal must be euthanased or permanently removed from the facility, for example, by placement in a foster program.
Shelters could have lobbied the government to remove this mandate, as the use of modern animal sheltering techniques, enrichment and off-site foster homes mean pets can be kept healthy for a unlimited amount of time. However, pounds and shelters in Victoria, not interested in expanding their programs beyond killing, simply accepted the governments addition of two weeks to the holding period.
With the exception of animals seized and under legal challenge, the maximum time an Animal, that has completed the statutory eight days, can be held at an Establishment is six weeks from the end of the eighth day. At the conclusion of this period the Animal must be euthanased or permanently removed from the facility, for example, by placement in foster care.
New code of practice
Rescue groups now have just 6 weeks to find any animal a new home.
The mandated killing of unweaned or underage kittens and puppies
Some shelters work with foster carer groups who specialise in saving the lives of the pets who need extra care. A lazy animal shelter will simply kill all unweaned animals. Rather than embrace and encourage programs which work to save underage animals, the legislation supported by the largest and wealthiest shelters in Victoria, mandates their immediate euthanasia;
Unweaned animals without a queen or bitch must not be placed in foster care.
Kittens must be a minimum of 400 grams and condition scored to 2 or greater. Puppies a minimum of 4 weeks before they can be placed in juvenile foster care. Any animal under these minimum weights or ages, without a queen or bitch, must be humanely euthanased.
New code of practice
And rather than encourage private rescue and foster care groups to form to help with capacity and special needs pets, finally…
The elimination of foster care and community rescue groups
Foster care can no longer be used to make space at the end of an animal’s holding period.
The only times an animal can be placed in foster care is on the grounds of juvenile or rehabilitation foster care. The animals placed in foster care must be permanently identified by microchip and remain the property of the establishment and must be returned for re-homing. Foster care must not be considered as the animal being ‘permanently removed’ from the establishment.
An animal in foster care must not be sold or rehoused from the foster care premises.
New code of practice
Instead a new ‘limited access’ foster care program, can be run internally by shelters. Private foster care groups are no longer permitted and each foster carer must work as a volunteer of the shelter.
While mandating that foster carers be limited, there is no mandate for shelters to actually offer a foster care program. Pets can be impounded, killed and if the shelter chooses not to run a foster program, the community have no claim to save the lives of these pets.
What we’re losing in Victoria
In states other than Victoria, foster groups are leading the way in community lifesaving. There are over 750 groups using PetRescue, growing at the rate of about 2 new groups a day. Each one of these community groups brings new resources, new knowledge and new passion into our industry. Not to mention capacity to save lives.
By allowing large, wealthy groups who use killing as their primary tool for managing pets to lobby government for a monopoly on animal sheltering; by allowing then the power to shut their doors to community rescue groups, foster carers and giving them expanded powers to kill, we’re moving as far away from a No Kill future as it’s possible to do.
The public will have less ability to access information on shelter statistics, and less accountability as the private rescuers who often act as whistle-blowers to abuse and poor performance are forced out. While the very organisations who have lobbied the government for these changes, are the ones most likely to benefit from expanded pound contracts and lack of competition within the sector.
Thousands of pets, who would have been given a second chance will be killed. While million dollar animal shelters will wring their hands and have a new defence for the killing.
“We have to kill, it’s the law…”