Reporting to you – The 3rd Summit to end pet-overpopulation 2009 – Report number 1

By Kae Norman, principal Rescued With Love

The 3rd National Summit to End Companion Animal Overpopulation was held Sept 30 – Oct 2, 2009 on the Gold Coast.  Many groups and demographics were there and that was extremely heartening to see.

Some of those who attended the conference were AWL QLD, PAWS Syd, Newcastle Rescue NSW, The Cat Protection Society Vic, The Lost Dogs Home Vic, the RSPCA ACT, Victorian Dog Rescue Vic, Cat Protection NSW, Rescued With Love Vic, Shelter Managers from Hawkesbury Animal Shelter (NSW) and the Lost Dogs Home (Vic), Friends of the Pound QLD, Underdog Training Vic, PetRescue WA, Vic Animal Aid, along with Volunteers at Pounds in Blacktown (NSW) and Hawkesbury Pound (NSW), Hunter Animal Welfare (NSW), Vets from NT, NSW, New Zealand, and some Council staff from Blacktown Pound.  There were other organizations but unfortunately due to time restraints (it started at 8.00 am most days and finished after 5.30 pm) I missed meeting every single person who attended.

As we are a dog rescue organization I will only touch briefly on the cat issue, but it must be said.  Cats are in crisis.  We are killing more than ever, and when kitten season hits, the rate rises to a level that would make the most hardened of people flinch.  There is no doubt, that everyone at the Summit is obsessed with the idea of mandatory desexing for cats and dogs prior to point of sale.  It is astounding how often this falls on deaf ears when it is presented at council or at a state or federal level.

I spoke to a Blacktown Council Staff member from NSW.  NSW it must be noted do not mandate the desexing of cats or dogs prior to leaving shelters or pounds.  Infact the only place it IS legislated is in Victoria.  Yes, every other state will sell animals undesexed from pounds and shelters to the public.

The Council Member pointed two things out to me.

The reason they don’t desex is a) if you can buy a pet from petshop or from the trading post undesexed, then you “should be able” to buy it from a pound or shelter undesexed.  That is currently the line of thinking at this Council.  Cost to the Council is also a factor.  And rightly presented to me was the fact that although Victoria DOES desex animals, are we not still killing at the same rate as other states?  The answer is yes. 

What I did say was the huge number of cats and dogs sold from shelters and pounds in Vic are not compounding the problem as they are unable to breed, so where are the animals who fill our pounds and shelters coming from?  Petshops and Backyard Breeders, Internet and Trading post sales.  To have legislation that insists on mandatory desexing prior to point of sale with these sellers would then have to make a difference. 

While many at the conference agreed that desexing a companion pet was the way to go, the underlying sore festering was the Pound and Shelter System.  It is archaic, inadequate and needs change.  FAST.

We need change from

-Pounds and Shelters – State and Local Govt. – Breeders – The Pet Industry – Animal Trainers and behaviourists – Town planners,  – Body Corporates and Real Estate agents.

1. Pounds and Shelters need to be more proactive.  Open longer hours on Weekends when that is the busiest time for adoptions.  Employ volunteers to reduce the cost of staff wages.  Employ a foster care program to help with those in facilities and allow them to go into homes leaving room for more.  Work with rescue groups to reduce the costs of killing dogs by giving them the option of taking them, and rehoming them.

2. State and Local Govt. The system is not working.  Currently in Victorian councils we have DAMP (Domestic Animal Management Program).  Each Council is different.  Please look it up on your local council site, or call and find out what they are doing.  The system is that the State and Federal Government has given the problem of unwanted animals to Councils who are ill equipped to deal with the issue.  They are untrained, or it is forced into an area within Council that they have no time, or inclination to assist the animals.  It is about Animal Control, not Animal Welfare.  There is very little help in this area.

3. Breeders.  Registered Ethical Breeders, their governing organisations need to make tighter conditions for those breeding.  While many registered breeders do the right thing, it is an area that needs regulating to stamp out poor practice.

4. The Pet Industry is focused on the animal in homes and sales of items.  The making of money.  The sales in petshops can produce anywhere between $600 to $1000 for a puppy.  Thirty puppies in a busy petshop can net $30,000 a week.  There are no welfare concerns for the animal once sold, and if an animal is returned it can have a very uncertain future.

5.  Animal Trainers and behaviourist are often only sought when there is a problem.  There needs to be a connection to when an animal is sold the offer of their services as a part of the sale to waylay the problem before it happens.  There is often little information given at the time of sale what can be offered by a trainer or behavourist as the cost is already high to purchase a pet from breeder or petshop, therefore this is considered ‘a luxury’ item.

6. Town planners, Body Corporates, Real Estate Agents all limit the number and types of pets we have.  People are forced to give up their animals when they go into aged care, to a rental property or from council to council area if the number of dogs allowed varies.  Often those with a number of pets are disadvantaged yet they are all cared and provided for in the home, but are forced to give them up to pounds and shelters due to restrictions placed on them where they are moving to.

Mike Arms – CEO of the Helen Woodward Animal Centre in the USA spoke at great length about how he runs his 50 million dollar facility as a business.  “We are in the business of saving lives,” he says.  The change in the way we view orphanages for children, aged care facilities for the elderly has altered greatly in the last 40 years, yet we still have the stigma of Pounds and Shelters, who are supposedly “taking in second hand dogs with problems.”

Of the number of dogs killed in pounds in the USA (roughly 4 million annually) 20% come from animal facilities.  80% come from backyard breeders and Puppy Mills.  These figures are not available in Australia as it is not mandatory for any state – apart from NSW – to provide figures of the numbers killed.

His main issue is that we ( in Rescue) undervalue our work and our product.  How does he suggest we get around that?  Your use of language is a start.  Stop using the term ‘rescue dog’, ‘pound dog’, ‘shelter dog.’  Use “orphaned pet’.  This denotes the animal has lost its family through no fault of its own, and when you say ‘pet’ people can see it in their backyard.

Follow what retail does.  Take the animals to a lovely place and have the public come to them if they won’t come to a shelter which can be depressing.  Choose names like Billy instead of Bruiser or Brutus, it can make a difference.  When a media chance comes, take a cutie into the mix, don’t show the dog who has been there the longest, allow for the flow on effect of others seeking out and adopting other animals from you.

Stop being the victim.  Increase your fees.  Your work and saving more lives depends on it.  The more money you have, the more you can save.  Petshops charge $800 for a dog with no vet work.  Rescue charges $250-350 for a dog with everything done.  Start marketing yourself more like the petshops do, and go to the public and compete with petshops.

Impose fees for relinquished or surrendered pets.  Educate the public that our work has value.  While they might not pay the fee, you can at least show them how much it is going to cost you to look after their dog they are dumping.

When I asked Mike Arms after his speech how far behind Australia is in comparison to the USA he stated without hesitating “Twenty five years”.  He also said, “I hope some can follow what I say, so you can skip a lot of the mistakes we made getting to where we are today”.


The other guest speaker who drew an enormous number of people to the Summit is No Kill Advocate Nathan Winograd.  Nathan believes there is not necessarily an oversupply of animals, but that the Shelters, pounds and facilities are killing animals because they, in the main, are not prepared to take steps to do otherwise.

For example The Lost Dogs Home in Melbourne is the largest animal facility in Australia.  It takes in more than 20,000 animals a year.  Animal Adoption times are from 10.00am to 4.45 pm on Weekdays.  They are open only 3 1/2 hours on Saturday and Sunday, the busiest days for adoption of pets and only open half a day.  Mike Arm’s facility is open every day 11 am – 6 pm EVERY DAY of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

There is no active volunteer or outreach foster care program available at the Lost Dogs Home nor is there an active stance to work with Breed Rescue or Rescue organizations.

Nathan Winograd says stop using the term ‘Euthanasia.’  It is not ‘euthanasia’ in the true sense.

“n.  The act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment.}

Pounds and shelters, whether locally, state or federally run are killing healthy, treatable and adoptable animals because they say there is “no room”.  These animals by definition are not being euthanased, they do not have a terminal illness, or incurable condition, or are they suffering to the point their lives are miserable. 

Most so called Australian “animal welfare” is about ANIMAL CONTROL. (not welfare of the animal)

Animal Control is needed.  We do not want stray animals wandering around in society hurting people, nor do we want to see them hurt by being hit by a car etc.  Animal Control is used to bring an animal to a holding facility.  What is happening is Animal Control is still being used within the pounds and shelters to limit the number of animals so they don’t overflow without any effort to activate basic steps that could have more lives saved, the cost of killing reduced, and more people ending up with a pet they love.

Animal Control protects PEOPLE FROM ANIMALS.

Animal Welfare protects ANIMALS FROM PEOPLE.

There are very few facilities that will operate as animal welfare centres, as it is the norm to run them as animal control.  Councils have rangers collecting, feeding and transporting the dogs.  They are not trained in animal welfare, they are trained in animal control.  Some Councils will have an agreement that an animal can go to a shelter to be rehoused.  Who decides which dog is suitable?  The ranger might, or the shelter might, either way the odds are animals who are afraid and bark, show wariness being out of their comfort zone, who have lost their familiar surroundings will be killed as unsuitable without any proper assessment.  Animal Control again instead of Animal Welfare.

There are no proper behavioural guides used that are infallible.  A temperament test used for all dogs in a facility will illicit different responses in dogs for any number of reasons.  It is designed to see which ones will fail, not which ones need help.  The mindset is enormous.  Those who work with volunteers and manage to get their behaviour monitored over a number of days normally have a better chance of survival than those who are given a 5 minute temp test at the end of their time.

Nathan says the only thing that will make a difference is the Sheltering Staff at a facility.  He has seen high kill facilities and then after a period of time employ a new Manager, CEO or Overseer who believes they can do better.  The death rate lowers, the staff become hopeful, more animals survive.  It becomes a community where animals are saved, treated and adopted rather than impounded and killed no questions asked.

When I asked him where Australia was in comparison to the US, he told me, “Firmly in 1976”.  Thirty three years behind.

Overall it was a great summit.  A mixing of groups who are becoming stronger, more aware, and seeing the issues firmly ahead that need to be dealt with.  It is clear more Shelter Managers need to attend such events.  They are usually the ones who refuse to go to events like this. As one explained, it is nothing short of a criticism of the work they do in a system they can’t change.  We need more local and State Govt. people to attend these summits.  They make the decisions that can often affect what happens in a shelter or pound.  There needs to be more outspokeness to the public, so awareness is made to force us towards mandatory desexing and better animal welfare conditions.

People need to know what is happening in our pounds and shelters, and who is responsible for the wanton killing of companion animals.  It will only be then, that things will change.

 – Kae Norman, Founder, Rescued with Love

DRP Comment:

Thank you Kae! If you attended the Summit, please add your reactions in the comments section…. we want to hear from you!

One thought on “Reporting to you – The 3rd Summit to end pet-overpopulation 2009 – Report number 1

  1. Jane Duckworth October 21, 2009 / 3:12 pm

    I was unable to attend the conference so am delighted to be able to read reports by Kae and the ‘Deathrowpets people’ Kathryn and Paul.
    Kae’s opinions on what Nathan Winograd and Mike Arms presented have really helped me to clarify my own thoughts on some aspects of the pet overpopulation issue and how it COULD be dealt with.
    I think Kae has hit the nail on the head when she says there is a recognition from many that the more traditional animal welfare groups have to focus more on animal welfare and less on animal control. That is a default position that they must recognise and reject. Animals regularly failing temperament/behaviour tests then being destroyed (yes, the word euthansed must not be used) are part of this animal control mentality. MOst could be re-homed, I would say, if given time to overcome health or behavioural issues.

    Pounds do exist as control facilities (most of the time). Kae points out that ‘we need more local and State Govt. people to attend these summits. They make the decisions that can often affect what happens in a shelter or pound.’ These people and animal shelter managers in the more conservative establishments need to have a stronger welfare perspective.
    Where is all the money going from ratepayers’ dog and cat licences? Should be going to fund training of these people (and some towards resp pet ownership).
    Our shelter and pound system needs major overhauling, but won’t happen unless the general public is made aware, putting pressure on our policy makers at both local and state level.

    An incredibly insightful and articulate report from Kae on the Summit. Well done.

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