This report summarises the situation at Geelong Animal Welfare Society (GAWS)– a Greater Geelong Council contracted pound facility. 26 September 2011
GAWS is a private animal welfare society with a 57 year history, (although recent events suggest that we use the term “animal welfare” rather loosely.)
Over 12 months ago, when we wrote about incidences of bullying at the RSPCA WA Malaga Shelter, we were contacted by two staff members at GAWS who started to tell us about similar events at GAWS. Since that time other staff members, both current and now departed , have come forward with information.
What has emerged is a story that has to be told. Told for the staff who have suffered and importantly told for the animals that have been subjected to standards of “animal welfare” that are truly out of kilter with community expectations and standards that we should expect today.
These are the people involved:
Ian Walter – President and a vet with business connections to Kardinia Vet Surgery (who provide vet services to GAWS). Conducts the animal killings himself. We understand that he has given himself a seven year Presidentship at GAWS.
David Cecil – Vice President
Mark Osborne Vice President
- Pound Manager – Robyn Stewart
- Staff members who for the purpose of this report will remain anonymous
- Greater Geelong Council
The stated objectives of the Society are:
- To prevent cruelty to any living creature, and encourage kindness to animals
- To rescue animals from the perils of the streets
- To give food and temporary shelter to lost, abandoned, wandering or starving animals
- To restore lost or wandering animals to their owners
- To endeavour by sale, or other approved means to find good homes for lost or unwanted animals
- To humanely destroy those animals which, owing to old age, injury, disease, vice, being unwanted or unplaceable, or other sufficient reason it may be deemed desirable to destroy
- To educate the general public to a just appreciation of animals and dispel ignorance, apathy and mismanagement likely to be detrimental to their welfare
- To fully co-operate with the appropriate authorities, more particularly the police, in prosecuting the perpetrators of any proven act of cruelty
- To hire or employ secretaries, clerks, managers, servants and workmen and to pay them and other persons in return for services rendered, salaries, wages and gratuities
The big question is: how does a Society with the above objectives end up with practices like the following:
- Positions not advertised to attract staff with skills and knowledge
- Positions filled by family, friends, friends and family of friends, of management regardless of experience or lack of
- The facility run like a personal family fiefdom with family and ‘friends” employed
- A bullying and intimidating culture and environment
- High staff turnover
- Adequate training not provided
- Volunteers with skills and knowledge turned away
- Stray cats housed in boarding facility with no vaccinations, flea or worm treatments
- Very small percentage of cats given a chance to be rehomed
- Homes not actively sought for animals – no technology solution for marketing needy animals
- Healthy social dogs placed or ‘hidden’ in aggressive dog area and not made available for adoption
- Healthy rehomable animals killed
- Animals with treatable illness or injuries killed
- Fearful animals killed
- Animals killed to ‘make room’
- no infectious diseases program – parvo constantly rife at GAWS due to lack of cleaning regime
- Dogs with infectious diseases not isolated
- Dogs, puppies, cats and kittens housed together with no vaccination, flea or worm treatments
- Injured and sick animals wait for treatment until Tuesday when vet arrives for euthanasia
- President performs euthanasia on behalf of contracted vet – a possible conflict of interests
- Enrichment and exercise provided very rarely and sporadically, not regularly
- Animals incorrectly assessed – no professional or independent temperament testing
- Offers of free or discounted animal food and assistance from businesses rejected
- Unwanted excess donations of bedding and supplies thrown out, not networked to other shelters and rescue groups
- Cats and kittens killed in full view of other cats and kittens until public awareness recently raised
- Limited involvement with volunteers
- Zero relationship with Rescue Groups ( OK, just starting, as a result of the demonstration )
- A low rehoming rate (ie a high kill rate)
- Decisions to kill made by one person (Robyn Stewart) – numerous errors made
- Animals to be killed kept in cages with “I have found a home” signs on the door
- Management in the dark ages and uneducated about the role of rescue groups and volunteers in modern shelter rehoming practices
- Every year GAWS have a public campaign asking the public to dig deep and donate cat and dog food. People donate so much. Children even spend their Christmas money to bring out bags of food. Every year however, considerable quantities of food gets thrown out
These are annual numbers for GAWS:
2009-2010 Dogs Received 2968 Rehomed 487 Killed 852
Cats Received 3141 Rehomed 546 Killed 2426
2008-2009 Dogs Received 2777 Rehomed 466 Killed 972
Cats Received 3729 Rehomed 538 Killed 2949
2007-2008 Dogs Received 2856 Rehomed 429 Killed 850
Cats Received 3401 Rehomed 419 Killed 2849
Earlier this year, 2 dogs were slated by Stewart to be killed. Members of the community intervened and the two dogs were subsequently rehomed.
Case 1) 24/5/11 JackRussellTerrier had been seen for a week in locked area behind chain mesh fence. Appeared friendly and healthy. When questions were asked, found out it had come in with another dog that was euthanised next day because it had mange. People showing interest in JRT told it was very dog aggressive. Homeless hounds made enquiries and were told dog was not available to be rehomed due to aggression. They offered to temp assess (qualified assessor) and were told no. Public outrage via facebook and contact with council finally saw dog moved to adoption area on Weds 1/6/11.
Thurs 9/6/11 found out JRT had gone to a safe new home with another dog. No thanks to GAWS.
Case 2) Sunday 15/5/11. Phone call made to GAWS about rescuing white boxer in locked area. It had been seen in this area for approx 2 weeks. Caller spoke to Marie, who said boxer is deaf and due to legalities can’t be rehomed. It was pointed out that deaf dogs are rehomed by RSPCA, and in demand from the deaf society. Monday 16/5/11, Homeless Hounds allowed to put name down to rescue white boxer. Boxer adopted from GAWS approx 20/5/11 and found to have no hearing problem. Rosy is now safe with a family.
The reaction by GAWS management? Obviously hiding the animals from the interfering public became more of a priority so they built a 12 ft wall at the end of the facility where there had previously been a chain link fence that people could see through to the kennels holding animals for destruction. Now the animals are out of sight from the road. When questioned about the fence, Council replied that it was to do with “health and safety” reasons. Question: So there weren’t any H&S issues for the past 20 odd years, and suddenly when the issue of these two dogs came up, there were??
More recently we have been given evidence that dogs to be killed are drugged overnight with sedatives in their food , left unattended and then hauled off to the killing room the next morning semi comatose. We have reports of uneaten food and tablets left in the kennels through to the morning.
“The evidence we have includes copies of dockets requesting supply of phenobarb/phenomav and acp. These dockets are sent to the vet clinic, and bottles of the tablets are sent back. Quite regularly.
We also have images of the ‘toolbox’ used to make the cocktails of these tabs, with written instructions on the lid for staff as to how many tabs to use for which breed of dog, regardless of age or physical condition.
We have videos of dogs taken an hour or two after being fed these cocktails, losing control of their bodies and unable to stand or hold their heads up.
We have videos of dogs laying dead the next morning, surrounded by yellow and white pills, uneaten food in bowls beside them studded with the same pills. These dogs have yet to be seen by a vet. That happens after they are dead.
We have tried to find out whether these drugs are restricted, whether they are breaking the law by allowing unqualified staff to kill dogs with them, without a vet seeing the animals that are being killed or advising for individual animals what dosage etc to administer.
The dogs are fed these cocktails at the last minute before staff go home and then left alone all night unsupervised while they die of an overdose.
Then there is the issue that there is no record kept of how these tablets are used, no record of which dogs are given how many of each tablet. There is no accountability at all, and I know that one is a barbiturate, I am not sure but think the other is an amphetamine.”
When we reported this matter to authorities, we received this information in respect of this practice:
“The Acetylpromazine sedation is used to reduce the number of tablets of barbiturate required to produce unconsciousness and death.
The issue with anaesthetic agents and barbiturates in particular is that if slowly introduced the animal passes through an excitement stage. If left in a very quiet environment occasionally they may not show this excitement however most commonly they show thrashing around and vocalising. This activity is not a result of pain but uncontrolled nervous excitement. During this stage animals might well injure themselves by chomping and biting their tongues, elevating their heads and bang down on the floor etc. As the barbiturate levels increase the animal will cease this excitement period and lapse into unconsciousness and ultimately die.
This process occasionally occurs when using injectable barbiturates when an animal struggles or is inadequately restrained and the needle comes out of the vein before the actual anaesthetic overdose is provided and I can assure you it is exceedingly distressing to anyone present. But at least in this circumstance the vet can quickly reposition the needle to produce euthanasia. ( I include this not to distress but to emphasise the distressing nature of the process)
You may be aware that animals when they come out of an anaesthetic also pass through this excitement stage and it is important to keep them in a quiet space with no sharp noises, movement or handling that might trigger off the thrashing around & vocalising.
I personally doubt that the Veterinary Board would venture an opinion about the humaneness of this procedure but they would certainly say it was not an appropriate veterinary act of euthanasia unless there were mitigating circumstances.”
(photos at end of this report)
Is this really an acceptable practice for an “Animal Welfare Society”?
We understand that Geelong Council and the DPI have known about the overnight drugging since April, yet this practice still persists. Why?
Since these issues have emerged, and only since then, GAWS have started to allow some Rescue Groups access to some animals, all of whom wish to remain confidential. Call GAWS and ask them if they work with Rescue Groups and you will likely be told “of course we do”.
Since these issues have emerged and only since then. GAWS have started to publicise selected animals on the PetRescue website. We emailed GAWs to ask why they don’t have animals advertised on their own website and were told “Our IT people are working on it”.
An early meeting between concerned members of the public, Walters, Cecil and Council produced a commitment by GAWS that they would supply rescue groups with a weekly “kill list” of animals at risk. Despite the commitment from Walters, this list never happened, despite regular reminders and requests.
The pound manager is a known bully. Earlier this year a staff member who had been the subject of repeated intimidation by Stewart took out a bullying claim against the manager. The eventual outcome was the payment of a substantial sum of money by the Society in return for a deed of release for the bullying claim. We have information to know that this deal was brokered by a union official and Geelong Council. This is a very large sum of member-donated money that should have been spent on facilities and the animals.
We have evidence that this character of bullying and intimidation goes back 30 years and we have evidence of other staff who have been the subject of the harassment by this ‘manager’.
Earlier this year, members of the local community had started to become concerned with the situation at GAWS, and in May held a public protest outside the gates of the facility
In May 2011 we wrote to Walter and advised him of our concerns, and also to extend information and an invitation for him to attend the August Getting2Zero workshop in Sydney. This letter, copied to Cecil (and Geelong Council) , was never acknowledged or replied to. This is the letter – download here.
In June 2011, we wrote an extended report to each individual member of the GAWS board advising them that a) they were unlikely to being briefed correctly by management and b) as a board members they have a duty of responsibility for the running of the Society according to its charter. We have not had the courtesy of a reply from the Board. This is the letter – download here.
Following is an extract from a recent letter from a staff member sent to Geelong Council:
“In my time at GAWS, I witnessed days when people ‘cleaning’ cat casualty didn’t feed the animals. I have copies of notes left by staff members that they hadn’t cleaned as it ‘wasn’t dirty’, dogs put in pens that sick animals had been removed from without those pens being cleaned or bedding and water changed. I have proof of new admissions being placed in pens with dogs suffering from kennel cough, the problems are endless.
The majority of them are occurring because staff have no training, and so no idea, that poor hygiene is the major cause of disease. If they are aware, then it can only be explained by laziness and lack of concern or supervision by management. The rate of disease at GAWS is very, very high. Not all instances are recorded in the bookwork. Most of the dogs that don’t suffer kennel cough while there, are sent to the vet for treatment after they go to their new homes.
Puppies are often lost to parvo, and the cat casualty area is a haven for cat ‘flu. The animals at GAWS, because already stressed, are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to these diseases. And yet there is no instruction, no procedure, I believe no understanding, of how to control these disease epidemics. They are much more than outbreaks. At GAWS they are a constant.
The issue of temperament testing is also an area of grave concern. There is no formal policy or procedure. There is no paperwork that is signed off to show an animal has been tested.
Why? Because it does not happen. The decision on whether an animal lives or dies is made by one person alone.
Quite often the way we would find out an animal was to be killed was 5 minutes after it arrived – still suffering from fear, anxiety and stress – and we would be told “That thing’s going nowhere”.
That is not acceptable to me, to most of society, and I would hope you find it unacceptable too. These animals are not ‘things’, they are individual lives. The taking of one of those lives should never be allowed to be decided in a callous, thoughtless, or nasty way.
As a staff member who was subjected to severe bullying, I learned the hard way to keep it secret if there was an animal I felt very strongly about. That should never, ever be allowed to occur. To kill an animal out of spite or as ‘payback’ is inexcusable and, to me, unforgivable.
To a lesser degree the problem of staff bullying is also extremely concerning. I was subjected to it for over 18 months, because I spoke up about something that was wrong. I was bullied to the extent of having Robyn walking in to my home and yelling abuse at me. Her son was permitted to follow me, abusing and intimidating me. I was told by other staff members that they were afraid to be seen talking to me in case Robyn saw them.
I even had one of council’s officers bullying me and Robyn refusing to do anything to stop it. B and D had to help me get that sorted out. I was spoken about in a very derogatory manner while it was known I could hear. It was a very difficult part of my life. My brother passed away and I was allowed 3 hours off work to spend with my family.
GAWS made a large ex gratia payment to me on the signing of a deed of release. I would have preferred to take them to court, to ensure they would never allow Robyn to treat staff that way again. But my union advised me to accept the payment as a court case would be another 12 months of stress, on top of that which I had already suffered.
I am also writing to the DPI, and making them aware of the evidence I have about many breaches of the code of practice. Cats are still killed in the cat casualty room, and no barrier has been erected to shield the other cats. After 5 months, what possible excuse can pardon that still occurring? Animals are sold with ‘vouchers’ for vaccination, and GAWS have no way of following up if these vaccinations are ever given. In fact, quite a few animals come back and they have not had it done. There is no disease control plan, no attempt ever made to isolate animals with infectious diseases, bookwork is often altered, cats are left in cat traps and even small carry cages for 3 days or more before being killed. Even something as basic as water bowls – chewed up plastic containers DO NOT comply with the code of practice.
Very little has changed at GAWS over the last few months, despite what I am seeing publicly stated. They have now made themselves an area where they can hide dogs as well as cats from public view, and never give the public even a description of these animals so that owners can possibly locate them if lost.
The only reason Robyn wanted that wall erected was because rescue groups managed to get 2 dogs from the area when it had a cyclone mesh fence. There was no public access, it had nothing to do with OHS. It had everything to do with the public finding out she had marked 2 dogs to be killed that were perfectly re-homable. That continues, but she has now ensured the public can never catch her at it again.
I have only listed some of the serious problems at GAWS. There are many, many more ethically and morally wrong acts being committed on a regular basis.
This is not going to go away until Geelong has a facility that cares for the lost, stray and unwanted animals of the community at a standard that is acceptable. It will not go away until COGG is seen to care, is seen to act, and is seen to ensure that if GAWS cannot do this, then the contract is given to someone who will. The community will not give up on this, and I am not going to give up on this.
There has been too much unaccountability at GAWS for way too long. I have decided to step forward and speak, and I know that there will be others to follow me.
I hope to hear soon that this is finally being treated with the seriousness and urgency that it requires. Every week animals are dying that should not be. The cats are not all feral, the dogs are not all vicious. A very large number of them are beautiful, loving animals that deserve a life.”
This is a recent communication from another staff member:
“Work is still the same as you can well imagine. We are still understaffed and it is driving me mad. I have been complaining about the lack of trained staff so tomorrow M is coming out to discuss with us. N and K have had enough too and I know deep down M feels the same.
I am so disappointed the way the cats are cleaned on a weekend. There is shit and food all over the place and it just is heartbreaking. In the old days you would be ashamed to clean like that. Actually the cleaning was done 100% better. The workload has increased immensely and we can’t seem to keep up. “
“Another thing that troubled me immensely was seeing sick dogs with no signage warning staff or the public. While I was there, I had a number of ringworm puppies (4-5 separate occasions), and wasn’t even warned – each time I found out when I was holding a pup and saw the lesion, I would have been furious if I took that home to my animals. I also saw them put a suspected parvo puppy in with another puppy. Naturally when the parvo was diagnosed, both puppies lost their lives. Never did I see a sign posted on the front of the cages warning people not to touch the infected animals, let alone warning staff. I used to work at an animal hospital, so I know I have high standards of cleanliness, but this place would disgust just about anyone I’m sure. I was told to not bother changing water tubs between dogs, only when they were green. There was always a lot of bird poo in water dishes, and toys weren’t cleaned properly so they’d be mouldy. Use of bleach on cages that had held sick dogs was mildly discouraged – the general response was ‘hmmm fiiiiine’, like I was asking for something inappropriate.
The ‘cat casualty’ room is where ferals and sick and injured go straight away (all ferrets, regardless of temperament, go there too), and they are pts in that same room, despite the fact that they could put them in crush cages and take them to the actual euthanasia room. As far as I know, that’s against the code of practice, and I wonder why they’ve not received a hefty fine.
Just remembered – when I suggested again doing PetRescue for them, I was advised that most of the dogs are there only 8 days, if no one expresses interest in that time, they go on the next Tuesday’s cull list. Also, as far as I saw that ‘dangerous dog’ area now hidden by the fence was mostly just old dogs they didn’t think would be adopted. “
“The next week I refused to take part ( in killing) , I walked away. That marked me as a target for relentless bullying until the day I left. Staff are judged on how good they are at destructions. That is when they prove their worth to the manager and the vet/president of the society.
There was one young girl who could work magic with cats. While she was there, the cats and kittens we were selling were all confident, happy, affectionate cats. But when she left, the only comment uttered by the vet/president was “Good. She was no good at destructions.”
“From there things got worse. I really got to see how the place was run. Healthy animals placed in pens with sick animals, witnessing a small dog being picked up by the collar and thrown a distance of at least 8 feet, being approached by a distraught staff member who had just seen a gravely ill, but still living, dog being placed in a body bag to be put in the freezer.
Pen floors covered in blood and diarrhoea from a dog with parvovirus left more than 24 hours before being cleaned. Puppies put in with other pups suspected of having Parvo, then all the pups killed when it was confirmed. Vomit containing live intestinal worms left in the animal transport vehicle for 2 days before finally being cleaned – with a dry paper towel.
Animals with wounds causing their limbs to swell to twice normal size while waiting 3 days for veterinary care. Animals being killed because the manager became aware that someone she didn’t like was fond of the animal. Happy, healthy animals secretly marked with a big N/A, and an ‘I have a home’ sign placed on their pen for the 8 days they waited before being killed. Snap decisions made to kill animals because the manager was in a bad mood, didn’t like the animal, or just didn’t like the owner of the animal.
Good, caring staff leaving because they just couldn’t cope anymore. The manager deciding to only employ unskilled family and friends because staff started speaking up about what was going on. The mornings at the shelter/pound/animal welfare society are busy. People who know how, clean. The manager’s family and friends fill in time. Afternoons are spent gossiping, bitching. About staff who aren’t present. About the rescue groups who are trying to save the animals.
About the president, and the other directors on the board. No one is safe from the scathing, bitter tongue of the manager and everyone comes under fire at some stage. Hours, whole afternoons, spent listening – for some participating – while the dogs lay in their pens, filthy, bored, gradually succumbing to depression and anxiety.
The cats hide in corners and try to make their selves disappear. Because no one is allowed to use this idle time to exercise, soothe, reassure or bathe these animals. They are going to die anyway, it’s a waste of time.”
Here is a Timeline of recent events and communications with President and Vice President and Council:
April 19th – GAWS public demonstration
April 28th – Meeting, attendees Joyce Doherty, Claudette Hudson, Ian Walter, David Cecil and Shane Scriggins
May 11th – Meeting, attendees Joyce Doherty, Tarsha Andrews, David Cecil, Ian Walter, Shane Scriggins, Steve Sodomaco (20 mins), Susan Taylor & Michelle Cranston (Homeless Hounds); agreement made for GAWS management to provide a weekly list of animals at risk (“kill list”) For Robyn to provide a kill list on the Friday preceding the kill week (she has never complied and has refused to provide this)
Meeting was set up for Homeless Hounds to meet with Dr. Walter and Robyn for the following Wednesday 18th May (did not go ahead)
Meeting set up for TA and JD to meet with Board on 23rd June at Board Meeting
Phone calls of relevance
May 18th TA rang IW to discuss and request kill list and temp testing
May 23rd TA rang SS about Doberman (not treated and a clear COP breach, and the heeler that GAWS claim bit someone in which council said unlikely as they would know about it, (see pound email for this conversation content)
June 6th TA rang SS regarding his amendments of GAWS/Council contract and discussed upcoming meeting council has with GAWS to present this; yet to hear feedback
September 9th, phone call from Steve Sodomaco to Deathrowpets – explained that new contractual arrangements would be insisted by Geelong Council
Communications of relevance
May 7 letter from Deathrowpets to IW, cc DC and SS. No acknowledgement or reply from IW and DC (letter attached along with relevant attachments)
May 10 – email to DC alerting to Gettin2Zero workshop in Sydney with invitation attached – no reply received
May 15th from JD and TA to IW requesting kill list and highlighting the white boxer case
May 16th from JD and TA To IW, discussing qualified temp assessors at GAWS, attached 2 docs regarding this as well
May 16th reply from IW saying thank you and he has circulated the docs amongst staff
May 22nd from JD/TA to Ian Walter again requesting kill list
May 22nd from JD/TA to DC now asking him for kill list
May 23rd, reply from Cecil to us, “will look into this”
May 24th – got reply that via Cecil that Robin won’t produce a kill list for rescue as she says all dogs that are killed are not re-homable for various reasons
May 25th Ian Walter to JD and TA explaining ex employee Dr Nic Brnason has agreed to do temp testing and explaining he’s unsure of where council are at with the S84Y but GAWS have first draft of amendments to their contract
June 10th JD and TA to SS asking him to confirm he witnessed Walter and Cecil agree in our meeting of 11/5/11 to supply kill list
June 12th JD and TA to SS – re-sent above email as no reply yet
June 17th – letter sent to each Board member by Deathrowpets. Response received on 21st September.
Note: Deathrowpets have sent 2 polite communications extending our hand of support to Ian Walter and David Cecil and have not had the courtesy of a reply.
At the time of writing, we understand that Geelong Council are initiating a revised agreement with GAWS, but we are not aware of the detail.
What needs to be discussed is “who has the responsibility and accountability to fix things here?
Is it the President and vp? (Ans: Yes)
Is it the Board? (Ans: Yes)
Is it the Council? (Ans: Yes)
The staff members who have spoken up and members of the community who recognised the problem are to be recognised and congratulated. Without them, situations like this will continue and that is unacceptable.
We have seen that many people in situations like this are often reluctant to speak up and expose what is going on. This is disappointing as that makes them part of the problem. In the case of GAWS 3 staff members have done the right thing and spoken up.
This is not the only shelter we know of where CEOs and Presidents have given themselves a job for life, stacked the Board with friends and supporters, and who “protect” managers who intimidate and bully their staff who disagree with their methods.
The Board will say “we didn’t know”. We know that in cases like this, the president or CEO will often “filter” information they want the Board to see, but it is no excuse. The Board MUST work out what is going on. The GAWS Board replied to our letter, but sadly their reply was all …..”you’ve got it wrong – you’ve been misinformed Deathrowpets”. Zero acceptance of responsibility, zero accountability for fixing the problems.
In 2012 new Australian legislation is coming in that will make bullying a serious offence, and management and Boards who are aware of the situation, but do nothing, will be liable for very large fines. GAWS Board and management, and Geelong Council, take note.
If you have personal experience of the situation at GAWS, or similar situations in other animal welfare shelters, please let us know.
Question for you. If a Council contracts out pound services to a private charity, how much responsibility should the Council have for standards at the facility?
If you want to write to Geelong Council: the head of the responsible department is Stephen Griffin: SGriffin@geelongcity.vic.gov.au
Notes added 4/10/11