This is the first in a series aimed at uncovering how ‘they’ silence their critics – organisations that just don’t like having people around who speak up about wrongs….a dismissal here….a legal letter there….intimidation & bullying everywhere…….you get the picture. If you have been on the receiving end, we want to hear from you! To get us going, here is the first …congratulations to Blacktown Council for being first across the line in his series.
Volunteers who give up their valuable time at Council Pounds are often the backbone of the efforts to go the extra mile to rehome unwanted cats and dogs. Many people will have been following the sorry saga of Blacktown Pound – a ‘super pound’ in metro Sydney with a history of poor practices, high kill rates, poor attention to animal welfare and questionable management competence. To give them some credit, a year or more ago the Pound management agreed to work more closely with volunteers and rescue groups. This has seen an improvement in rehoming rates. And this despite Blacktown Council’s refusal to ensure all animals are desexed before leaving, abandon the ‘tender system’ for animal sales and to add much needed staff to the facility.
But sometimes a volunteer spending a lot of time there, sees too much and hears too much.
In this particular case, MB devoted an amazing number of hours each week to volunteer at the facility, giving up much of her personal life to do so. MB became involved in issues that arose at the facility, as well as regularly attending and providing information to the Blacktown Pound Animal Welfare Commitee meetings where chair Mayor Pendleton regularly “avoided the issues”. Despite being a valuable volunteer resource and gaining the trust of management and staff, MB was never backward in coming forward and always called management to account when the hard questions needed to be asked. But they don’t like these questoins being asked, do they?
Well, it all became too much for manager Ric Smith to deal with, and so they found some neat excuses to say :”Thank you MB, you are no longer needed here….”,
Following is MB’s letter in reply to Mr Smith marching orders:
Your advice that my volunteering days at Blacktown Pound were over came as no surprise. I can understand how a mere volunteer constantly suggesting to you how to run your pound must have rankled. Do you realize that, had there been no problems, there would have been no need for this volunteer to say anything at all?
Shooting the messenger will not alleviate your problems, nor will it hide the many issues that still exist at Blacktown Pound, and these will come before you again and again until they are resolved. Your use of alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct to get rid of me was very transparent, for it is well know that there were much more serious breaches by AHF staff themselves, and by council staff in other departments – these people are still employed. Please do not pretend to new volunteers that staff receive the same treatment under the Code of Conduct – it is now known to be a lie.
On to other matters – Many people are asking about Council and Pound Management’s evasion of the issues – eg. Why have they constantly blocked or evaded bringing in mandatory desexing, when it is just common sense – what is in it for Council? Will you answer that please? Incredibly this issue has been ‘under review’ since 1999!
Yet another review, a report on mandatory desexing and the tender system, originally discussed in March 2010, then promised for September, then December, was by February of this year still not complete. It also became apparent then that there had been no research done yet regarding the discount rates that local vets might offer for desexing pound animals. At the Urban Companion Animal Management Advisory Sub-Committee (UCAMASC) meeting, on February 14 2011, attendees were advised by the Mayor and Chairman of the Committee, Alan Pendleton, that the report would go to Council’s next Policy Committee.
Well, there have been three Policy Committee meetings since 14th February and the fourth is scheduled for 27th April. The long promised report has yet to show up! Given past history, who could be blamed for asking whether Council is being dishonest and has no intention at all of ever producing this report, or if they are perhaps just slow and grossly incompetent? Which is it? Surely it would be a matter of personal integrity and honour for the people concerned to be honest and stop pretending that something is being done?
Another report, an assessment of the AHF by independent consultant, Dr Mark Lawrie, although completed, has apparently not seen the light of day. Are Blacktown ratepayers who paid for this report, not entitled to see it? Would the Animals Advisory Sub-Committee (UCAMASC) perhaps be allowed to see it?
Another issue, long avoided …. actually, vigorously denied, is that of inadequate staff numbers at the pound. With around 8,000 animals having entered the pound in 2010, an average of 22 per day, and with the pound holding usually anywhere between 140 – 200 animals at any one time, it has been vehemently denied that 2.9 kennel hands is not enough. When you consider that the 2.9 kennel hands are not there every day, and that other staff members are required to work overtime to assist with kennel hand duties (not part of their job descriptions), even Blind Freddie can see that the pound is GROSSLY under-staffed. (So far this year, an average of 26 animals per day has entered the pound.) Some staff are not working according to OHS Guidelines – their working hours are excessive, they are visibly stressed, and this affects the care of the animals, and relations with co-workers, volunteers, rescuers and customers. One person in particular, who does care about the animals, makes it very difficult for others to communicate with her because of her mood swings and rudeness.
The miniscule budget allocated to the pound, accounting for a mere 0.22% expenditure of Blacktown Council’s total Budget is perhaps to blame for the staff shortage, but does not mean that it cannot be changed – it is not set in concrete – it is a matter of priorities, and these are pretty clear where BCC is concerned. Compare the Pound’s budget to a section labelled “Management and Performance of Council” which consumes 15.42% of the Budget and it is very clear that Council does not care about the animals. Is Pound Management pushing for a greater share of the budget?
Under-staffing leads to another issue, that of inadvertent cruelty. According to the DPI NSW Animal Welfare Code of Practice No 5 – Dogs and Cats in Animal Boarding Establishments (which includes Council Pound services which must comply with the standards of this code), dogs must have the opportunity for exercise, which can be provided by either allowing them access to an exercise yard, or walking on a lead, for at least 10 minutes twice daily. This is the current code, operating in lieu of the amended code which has long been in draft format.
Just recently the RSPCA investigated the pound’s non-compliance of this code. It seems they may have been fobbed off, perhaps with promises to reform (?). There was a brief flurry of dogs being put out in yards and being periodically rotated, but this was short-lived. As a volunteer, often there 2 – 3 days per week, for most of the day, and from having questioned other volunteers and visitors to the pound, the same dogs could be seen in a yard all day, or dogs were rotated perhaps 3 times (sometimes), but there were often many yards empty – no dogs at all – all day. There is simply not enough staff to put dogs out and rotate them throughout the day to ensure that they are all exercised every day. Nor were there enough volunteers for the past year, and there are still not enough now, to comply with the exercise requirements of this code. I’d say that Council and Pound Management are breaching their Code of Conduct – is that perhaps cause for dismissal?
In spite of the above outstanding issues, there is much that has improved at the pound during the past 3 years or so, and this is much appreciated. The main thing is that fewer dogs are now being killed due to a new policy of holding them over while there is kennel space available to give them more time to be rehomed. Also more effort has been made to cooperate with rescuers, and, as requested, they are now forewarned of which animals are to be culled. These are significant changes and do much to improve the previously high kill rate, and with time and further initiatives, will improve Blacktown’s tarnished reputation.
However, there is still much more that can be done, but this can only happen when Council and Pound Management are really intent of saving lives. Action speaks louder than words, and what action there is, is painfully slow (website?) – lives are not all that important it seems.
Having attended the AWL (Qld) Summit to End Companion Animal Overpopulation in September 2009, Ric, you know that there is a proven program to reduce the killing of healthy re-homeable animals to almost zero. The Getting to Zero (G2Z) Program, devised by AWL (Qld) exists – there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Why is Blacktown Pound not implementing this Program? Could it be that its budget is far too small, and its staff far too few, or is it that animals are just not important enough? Reform starts at the top with a change of attitude and culture by the leaders – when is that going to happen? Why does Blacktown Council find this so difficult? In the long run, it may be more difficult resisting those who are persistently pushing for change, than it is to actually change. Council is going to look more and more stupid the longer it stubbornly resists change which makes common sense and which shows concern for the lives of animals.
You are dealing with sentient creatures, who feel pain and trauma much like humans, and they cannot be categorised as rubbish under ‘Waste Management’. Many people care and are watching every move you make. This problem will never go away for Blacktown Council, until it sees the light.
Well that’s how to shoot the messenger and get rid of a troublesome volunteer. Congratulations Ric Smith. email@example.com
Tell us what you think about this situation. Let us know if you know of similar cases.
When we attended No Kill Conference in Washington in 2009 we learnt of an identical case where a volunteer ws shown the door for asking hard questions. She found a lawyer willing to take on the case and succesfully sued the Council and its management for wrongful dismissal and violatoin of her constitutional rights. She was reinstated. Is it time for such action here in Australia? Any legal minds out there? Let us know what you think.We’d like to see a lagal case in Australia soon.
Actions you can take:
Write to Blacktown Council with your views. There is also an online petition at http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/blacktownpound/0/83 regarding mandatory desexing and a few other issues that need addressing.
We’d like to invite someone to apply to Blacktown Council for the Mark Lawrie pound review under FOI – let us know if you do that at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can avoid a duplication – first come, first served!