Stateline New South Wales; Transcript; Broadcast: 09/05/2009
QUENTIN DEMPSTER, PRESENTER: How much is that doggy in the window? It’s a question a lot of shoppers may well ask as they pass pet stores in shopping centres around the state.
But what happens to the puppies and kittens no-one wants? In some cases, those cute pets start out life in so-called “puppy mills”, born to mothers kept in battery hen-like conditions. At the other end of the production line are the shelters run by local councils and animal welfare organisations like the RSPCA. Staff there have the unpleasant task of putting down an estimated 60,000 unwanted dogs and cats every year in this state. Nick Grimm reports.
NICK GRIMM, REPORTER: Stateline was sent these images by video camera-toting animal welfare activists. We’re told it’s evidence of so-called “puppy mills”, where dogs are bred in battery hen-like conditions to feed the seemingly unquenchable public demand from those who decide they want a new pet pooch.
ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Do you realise what’s going on here? I mean, how can you ethically work here?
‘PUPPY MILL’ EMPLOYEE: Look, I don’t give a shit about these dogs. I’m just here to clean.
NICK GRIMM: It’s inevitable that many of the animals born in conditions like these will meet a brutal end as well as one of the tens of thousands of animals put to death every year in pounds and shelters around the state.
BOB GRAHAM, WYONG SHIRE COUNCIL: We want to clamp down on unscrupulous people that are pushing sales of animals just for the sale.
CLOVER MOORE, STATE MP: Just last year, 63,000 cats and dogs were destroyed and I think that’s quite a heart-breaking situation. And I don’t think that we should treat pets, companion animals, cats and dogs, as though they’re just a handbag or a pair of shoes and you buy them on impulse when you pass them in a shop.
NICK GRIMM: Certainly everyone loves to check out the puppies and kittens on display, and it should be noted that reputable traders like this Sydney pet shop make a point of stressing that they don’t source their animals from dodgy breeding operations.
There’s plenty of research showing that pets are good for all of us, for example they save on the health budget because, statistically, people who own pets are healthier physically, emotionally and mentally. Pets are credited with shaving $4 billion a year off the national health bill. But there’s costs too; pet food and vet bills don’t come cheap and that’s just for starters.
And then there’s the cost of dealing with the number of animals that end up getting dumped, a cost that ends up being borne by animal welfare organisations like the RSPCA and local councils.
BOB GRAHAM: It’s an enormous problem. This year we’ll spend $361,000 just operating this facility we have here. We’ve allocated in our next year’s budget another $250,000 to expand the facility. And it’s a great problem.
NICK GRIMM: Here at Wyong Council’s animal care facility on the state’s Central Coast, staff arrive at work every morning to find new animals have been abandoned at the shelter during the night. Owners dump their pets anonymously and the Council has even installed purpose-built dumping pens because staff got sick of the animals being left tied to the fence. At least for some of the abandoned pets, there’ll be a chance of reprieve if a new owner turns up.
So where do the animals go when they arrive here?
BOB GRAHAM: Well, we bring them and put them in these cages and we have – we work out whether they’re desexed, whether they’re registered, whether they’re micro-chipped. And these ones here that we’re looking at now are ready to be re-homed and they’re just waiting for people to come and have a look and take them away.
NICK GRIMM: The problem of what to do with unwanted animals isn’t a new one, but as Wyong Shire Mayor Bob Graham told Stateline, it’s a problem that keeps on growing.
So it’s quite a significant problem, the number of animals that are being dumped or surrendered?
BOB GRAHAM: It’s increased dramatically, which is a pity. I just hope we can find a new home for ’em. We’re getting so many more brought in now because of the economic situation. People are struggling to feed themselves, let alone feed an animal, and so they’re bringing the animals in and surrendering them.
NICK GRIMM: At least some dogs and cats will get another chance. When concern was raised about the number of animals being euthanased at Wyong Council shelter, the Council lifted its game and got smarter about finding ways to re-home the dogs and cats arriving on its doorstep.
So there are homes for the animals if the work is done to locate them?
BOB GRAHAM: We’ve been able to find them. As I say, we’re finding a number of homes interstate for the animals. We have our website that we have the animals on and people look up the website and they can see whether they want a little Maltese Terrier or a Great Dane or whatever they want.
NICK GRIMM: As a result, Wyong Council has been able to dramatically reduce the amount of animals being put down in spite of the growing numbers being abandoned. For those seeking a new pet, pre-owned animals from shelters offer distinct advantages: they’re cheap and come already registered, desexed and with an identifying microchip implanted under their skin.
Then there’s the kudos of rescuing an animal from death row. When White House tradition recently demanded that US President Barack Obama get a dog, a stray was plucked from an animal shelter for a far more comfortable future in the White House.
BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: That was a campaign promise.
JAY LENO, TONIGHT SHOW HOST: Oh, wow!
BARACK OBAMA: I’m teasing. The dog will be there shortly.
CLOVER MOORE, STATE MP: When people have to go to a shelter or go to a recognised breeder, they have to think about it. They have to think about their needs and they have to think about what’s involved and they have to assess the costs, and then they take on the responsibility. Now, if that happens, it’s much more likely that that pet won’t be abandoned.
NICK GRIMM: The State MP, Sydney Lord Mayor and long-time animal lover Clover Moore has a bill currently before the NSW Parliament which would ban pet stores from selling puppies and kittens.
So how would your act help put an end to this problem?
CLOVER MOORE: Well, the bill would ensure that it was mandatory that people understood – would have to get in writing the cost and responsibilities of owning a pet. Secondly, you couldn’t buy a pet, a cat or a dog, in a pet shop. You’d have to go to a recognised breeder or a shelter or a pound or a vet who re-homes pets.
NICK GRIMM: But the pet industry opposes the bill, arguing it will just make matters worse.
BOB CROUCHER, PET INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION: Well, from a welfare point of view, it’s absolutely disastrous. But the bill does not allow us to sell cats and dogs. Now, if for example you had a cat or a dog that fell pregnant and you had to do something with the pups, the only thing you can do is give it to the pound, which would then be – they would have so many that they would have to put them down.
NICK GRIMM: Pet industry association spokesman Bob Croucher says he and his staff are at pains to prepare their customers for the responsibilities of pet ownership.
The pet industry also argues that Clover Moore’s companion animals bill won’t help shut down substandard puppy mills.
So essentially what you’re saying is that her bill would penalise the responsible operators in the industry and not necessarily eliminate the rogue operators?
BOB CROUCHER: Exactly. Yeah. See, not only that; there’s only about 10 to 15 per cent of cats and dogs are sold through pet shops. So the other 85 to 90 per cent are sold through the internet, through the Trading Post, through newspaper ads, friends of friends. You know, that’s where she should be targeting.
NICK GRIMM: But that’s a bone of contention that Clover Moore refuses to drop.
CLOVER MOORE: The pet shop is all care and no responsibility. They sell with impunity. They make a very large profit out of it. And I want people to think about taking on pet ownership.
NICK GRIMM: And that’s something everyone seems to agree on. People should think before deciding to buy that puppy in the window. Better still, prospective pet owners should even try before they buy.
BOB GRAHAM: Here, when people come into our facility here to purchase an animal, we make sure that they’re compatible. We’ve got an exercise yard area where they can spend an hour, if they want to, playing with the animal and getting to know the animal. It’s not just (inaudible) sale thing. And the other thing that we do here when we sell the animals is we have them micro-chipped, we have them desexed and we have them registered and so the people can go out and knowing full well that that animal is going to be compatible to them.
QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Thanks Nick.