The Age, by MARK RUSSELL, November 1, 2009
MELBOURNE’S Lost Dogs’ Home will adopt a ”low kill” policy after being accused of killing animals considered too old, timid or badly behaved to be rehoused.
The shelter, Australia’s largest, has also been forced to reveal how many dogs it has killed after animal welfare groups accused it of hiding its kill rate to avoid scrutiny.
Responding to questions from The Sunday Age, the home’s managing director, Graeme Smith, denied that the shelter – which had a surplus of $11.8 million at June 30 last year – had anything to hide.
He said that of the 11,255 dogs taken in by its North Melbourne and Cranbourne homes in 2008-09, 3502 (or 31 per cent) of dogs were killed. This was lower than 2007-08, when 32 per cent of the dogs admitted were killed.
The figures contrast with a rate of almost 21 per cent of dogs killed by the RSPCA in 2008-09.
Of the 18,966 dogs taken in by the RSPCA’s 10 shelters, 4939 dogs were adopted, 8864 reclaimed and 3958 killed.
Mr Smith said he had decided not to publish the kill rates for the past six years after a typographical error in one of the home’s newsletters several years ago indicated the home had put down 12,000 dogs rather than the true figure of 2000, prompting public outrage.
But after inquiries from The Sunday Age, Mr Smith said that from Monday, it would publish full euthanasia figures for dogs and cats for the past 20 years.
Mr Smith said the home would also adopt a ”low kill” policy under which only dogs with serious behavioural problems would be killed. This was expected to reduce the number of dogs put down by about two per cent next year.
A new fund had also been set up to pay for any corrective surgery dogs needed before adoption.
Mr Smith said that 50 per cent of dogs now being euthanased had behavioural problems. He denied that dogs aged four and over were being killed because they were considered too old.
But one of the home’s most outspoken critics, Kae Norman, disagreed, pointing to one of the home’s own documents that said many clients did not want dogs that ”are more than two to three years old”. She said dogs were also being killed because of timidity, flea allergies and for being ”non-responsive”.
”Shelters [that] have less money are saving more animals,” said Ms Norman, who founded Rescued with Love, a network of 25 foster carers who rescue unwanted dogs from pounds and shelters.
Another critic, Pet Rescue director Vickie Davy, said the home had been killing too many animals for too long and needed to change its ways.
A breakdown of the Lost Dogs’ Home’s financial statement for 2007-08 reveals it received more than $8.8 million in total revenue.
Of this, administration expenses were $2.36 million, council and contract expenses $2.2 million, shelter expenses $1.8 million, fund-raising expenses $1.3 million and veterinary clinic expenses $1.06 million.
The home’s surplus for the year was almost $4.1 million, including donations of $3.96 million. The total operating surplus was $11.86 million after the outstanding balance of $7.7 million had been added.
Mr Smith said the home planned to spend about $8 million in the next five years on a new cat shelter, a training and education centre to teach responsible pet ownership, a sick animals’ facility and a veterinary clinic.
Dr Hugh Wirth, Victorian president of the RSPCA, said any animal welfare society that took public funding had to be accountable.
”Transparency comes from being honest with your donors and supporters about every aspect of your work,” Dr Wirth said. ”We hide nothing.”
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