InnerWest Live; May 02
“In late 2009 the NSW Government, specifically the NSW Labor Party, voted against the Animal “Regulation of Sale” Bill and against the wishes of the general public. This opposition was in complete indifference to the views of thousands of rangers, shelter workers, vets and specialists that had voiced strong support for change. In part of one this continuing story, we look at the issues surrounding “The Bill” and why the NSW Labor Party opposed it.
The bill was a piece of legislation designed to stop the sale of Animals from Pet Shops, backyard breeders and markets. Developed by Sydney MP Clover Moore in consultation with experts, the bill was in it’s second iteration. At a glance it is a well thought out document designed to save the state and it’s workers from the cost and stress of killing thousands of baby animals.
For this to become law, it needs to be agreed to by a majority in Parliament. But despite wide public support, the bill was voted out by NSW Labor, who hold that majority of seats.
The last option by the Liberal Party, Greens and independent member Clover Moore was to propose an inquiry into the Pet industry. This was also voted out by NSW Labor. Despite the public outcry against our state’s role of executioner for over 60,000 animals every year, our government opted to keep more of the same.
Commentators suggest this stubborn resolve appears to be less about public need, and more about preserving a decades old network of self interest and profit. Strong opposition to the bill was voiced by breeder groups, vet lobbyists and pet product retailers, who formed together with professional marketing backing to form a cohesive industry opposition.
“A huge profitable industry that would stand to lose, should that bill be passed. The (Pet Industry) PIJAC lobby group have been very effective getting their message into the minister’s ears and also got some support from the Vet lobby groups” – Anonymous shelter manager
Balmain specifically has the highest number of pets in Australia and there are several charities that work with local councils to maintain the good balance of homes to pets. In our local councils, right through to the mayor, there is strong support to change the broken system.
Local councils carry the burden of cleaning up the oversupply, and the majority of dumped animals end up in Blacktown Pound, a large “Mega Pound” Facility that puts down over 3500 Animals a year. It’s facility is far from the general public and an inconvenient hours drive out of the CBD.
“Dogs are dumped in the council pounds once they are no longer wanted. In the Inner West many dogs go to Blacktown pound, which has the highest kill rate in NSW. Only few dogs leave there alive. Not considering the humane issues about euthanasia, there is a huge public and council impost.” Monika Biernacki, Doggie Rescue
Why did Labor vote against the Bill?
So why did Labor ignore the will of the people, councils, rangers, vets and practically everyone in the state and vote against the Animal (Regulation of Sale) Bill.
To understand this issue, you need to understand the vast and complex network of big business that has embedded itself in the NSW Department of Primary Industry and lobbies extensively to the NSW Government.
“Whilst we expected it the vote would be ‘No’, we still hoped that it would somehow go through. How could it have been Yes when Labor hold the majority of seats/votes in the Lower House, and Labor were told how to vote on this issue by The Dept of Primary Industries? This is the simplified version, but that basically sums up why the vote was always going to be No” – Erica Trinder – Pawsforaction
The Department of Primary Industry owns the POCTA (Protection of Cruelty to Animals) Act as well as the slim but relevant codes of practice for the Pet Industry. Similarly, the DPI also manages the general business of livestock. The Department of Local Government manages the back end, basically the registration and disposal of the pets that are oversupplied to the market.
The Pet Industry has extensive links to the DPI, with key members of it’s associations also holding prominent roles within the DPI. A role that many see as a conflict of interest, however to the Industry itself is a necessary engagement with the responsible agency.
“We tried to talk to the DPI in the offices at Governer Macquarie Tower, only to find we were staring across the table at badge wearing members of the Pet industry, there was no way they were ever going to work with us” – Inner West Welfare Campaigner
As early as 2007 Labor MP’s were sent instruction by the DPI to vote against the bill. A copy of that letter was also cut, paste and distributed to all who wrote the DPI asking it to review it’s opposition. The logic of the letter suggesting that such a change would not address the issue and may have the opposite effect. A claim disputed by local welfare organisations.
Similarly it helps to understand the industry itself and the strong commercial ties between the various organisations. Microchip manufacturers, Breeding associations, Registration companies, Product wholesalers, Pet Shops and the Veterinarians themselves that all work very closely to ensure a tight and well performing business eco- system. This is not a poorly organised rabble of private business, but a cohesive and “on message” conglomerate that can readily represent itself as an important industry segment.
That kind of pressure, packaged correctly as scientific information, easily gave the DPI enough data to back it’s position.
Local Member, Verity Firth is a strong supporter for local Animal Welfare issues, however likely voted along party lines. Sadly, this may be an issue that will come back to her in the next state election.
Who was in support of the Bill?
The bill had widespread and “intelligent” support from all parts of the community. Many Vets, Pound workers, councillers and key members of the community have strong support for regulation. News articles published across the state showed overwhelming public empathy towards the plight of animals and the issue of pet overpopulation.
The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s largest online newpaper was overwhelmed with comments from the public after running a series of articles discussing the issue, largely in favour of regulation and outright bans on retail sale.
Some comments reflected these views shared by many.
“The country is sick of thousands of animals being killed every week. Slowing this down by stopping the indesciminant mass breeding and resale of animals and instead directing that sale to the shelters and rescue groups will have a positive outcome for our society and our economy” – Anonymous Breeder.
“It’s simple, Pet retailers sell undesexed animals to anyone who has money, there are no checks of balances. Those undesexed animals then have babies, those unwanted babies end up dumped on friends who repeat the cycle or in my shelter. If they enforced desexing pre-sale, half this problem would go away” Anonymous Rescuer.
A number of NSW Welfare organisations got together to form Paws for Action, an organisation to promote and lobby for the Bill in NSW Parliament, to provide informed debate and a balanced argument. Several other groups also weighed in support of the bill including leading welfare exponents and the national RSPCA.
However, the problem always lay with convincing NSW Labor to even look at the issue (through a parliamentary investigation), much less actually act on the issue through proper regulation.
What causes Pet Overpopulation?
In NSW it is completely legal for anyone to breed and sell animals, you can do it from your own backyard or bedroom. Individuals don’t need a permit or license and there are very few checks or balances. Similarly an individual can sell them to anyone who has money, undesexed, so that they can have babies.
“We did a secret shopper visit to a Pet store in the inner west. A staff member sold us a very sick, unregistered and unmicrochipped kitten. She told us it’s best to get a male as you don’t get the problem when they get another cat pregnant, and promptly took our money. The matter went to the small claims tribunal and the Pet Shop proprietor didn’t even bother showing up” – Anonymous Sydney rescuer
As a result of this indiscriminant overbreeding thousands of new animals are born into the market every year, sold undesexed and then have babies. Those undesexed babies are then either dumped into the pound, abandoned or for the lucky few, kept and desexed.
Sadly, most end up at the end of the euthanists needle.
How does this impact the inner west?
Erica Trinder from Paws for Action details;
“Many Inner West residents have been faced with a stray cat or found a dumped litter of kittens. They make a few calls to find that rescue groups are swamped and they may find their best offer from a couple of the larger rescue groups is an offer to “euthanase” them for free. So people then have to choose between doing nothing and hoping they make it on their own, or someone else finds them. Or to take them into their own home, pay their vet bills, and find them good homes. Not an easy feat for anyone. Especially someone not involved with rescue.”
“Then there’s the issue of our tax dollars cleaning up after the pet industry. In Australia, more than 200,000 cats and dogs are destroyed each year (upwards of 60,000 in NSW alone), costing the tax payer and estimated $120 million dollars annually.”
It’s clear there is a significant financial impact to the NSW Tax Payer. This impact isnt levied to the Pet Industry but onto the public. In any other industry which creates a community problem the manufacturer is levied with responsibility. This may be passed on to the consumer, but at the end of the day, accountability comes into play in the commercial model.
With over 60000 animals killed every year, the estimated cost born by the NSW Taxpayer in the tens of millions.
But Pet Shops seem such nice places?
To a casual visitor the Pet Shop seems like a friendly and fun place for animals. But even Pet Shop owners will agree that there is issues in a number of stores due to poor standards of care.
What many will not talk about is the unregulated and poor quality supply line for animals. In order to maintain the velocity of animals that the industry supplies, they are either
- Mass bred in ” farms”. These are high volume breeding facilities which are often in poor condition and contain animals that are constantly pregnant, over birthing and sick. The offspring are then shipped in the cheapest possible method of transport, often 10 to a cage and then kept in the cheapest of conditions in order to keep costs low.
- Sourced from Backyard “Hobby” Breeders. Regarded even by the industry as the worst end of the business, the unregisted backyard breeder is typically a poorly managed, unhygenic and cheap breeding setup, possibly in a shed or basement.
“It’s not unusual for half the new animals to turn up sick or dead, and in some instances the Pet Shop owner will kill them themselves or starve them to death so they don’t have the burden of the cost. This happens right now in Sydney.”
So why does the pet industry oppose regulation?
The Pet industry is worth an estimated 4.6Bn annually but relies on an ongoing supply of fresh new animals to sustain that spending. Any decrease in the number of animals out there may impact spending, specifically in Veterinary and Grooming services. Many vets lobby against early age desexing (or desexing all together), encouraging owners to at least have one litter prior to desexing. Welfarists call this irresponsible self interest, but the Pet industry see this as protecting the future. “If we want more vets, we need more pets”
Like any commercial industry, a decent supply chain ensures longevity in value added services, ranging from microchips to pet grooming, vet care to training. A drop in the supply chain could impact the value add.
Logically the immediate solution would be to allow the resale of animals that were only sourced from the shelter system to the Pet Shops, and only when desexed. But this would take supply control away from the industry itself, a situation any commercial segment would see as a threat,
“By owning it’s own supply channel, Pet Shops can be ensured of a high volume retail product in the form of an animal that the consumer wants. This specifically means exotic toy breeds. If retailers are left to source from shelters, people would be less inclined to pay a premium, stores would have to deal with more care issues with the animals and the flow on business would decrease. People who buy shelter animals dont usually spend up on puppy pre-school” – Supply Chain Expert
Mandatory desexing of pets prior to sale also creates similar argument.
“By desexing a pet at the point of sale, we would be limiting that Pet’s net value in terms of ongoing sale, and increasing the sticker shock (the price the animal is sold for) which may cause the consumer to go elsewhere. By allowing that Pet to have a litter (the industry) it maintains an ongoing revenue stream beyond that one animals lifespan, which is healthy for the supplier eco-system. This may seem cold, but it’s the same logic used in any major industry” – Supply Chain Expert
And from the welfare groups
“We have desexed well in excess of 2000 kittens between the ages of 8 and 10 weeks without one single issue. There is no reason why pet shops and breeders (anyone who sells cats and dogs) can’t do the same. Well…their reason is it cuts into their profit margin. Either that or they charge more, but will then claim they will lose sales if they bump up their prices. However, I do not believe that profit margins should be the deciding factor on animal welfare. And if everyone did it, then people will become used to paying a little more for the purchase of pets from retail outlets knowing that the price includes desexing and it’s the way it is.” Erica Trinder, Pawsforaction
Not all welfarists support the banning “outright”, but claim they have been forced to adopt this strategy due to the poor nature of self regulation in the market. “Ideally we could trust pet sellers to responsibly source and sell desexed animals, and that would be enough” claims one welfarists. “However many sellers truly just don’t care, it’s not in their makeup to consider the ongoing welfare of the product they sell”
Cant the government see through the smoke screen?
The Pet industry is a model of marketing in execution. It’s training groups work directly within the NSW Government and members work within agencies. This deep embedding ensures the industry vision is followed.
Comments from the welfare groups suggest this goes far deeper, with a complex network of companies, sub companies and organisations tied to each other, all with a revenue goal. In a corporate world that’s called a partnership. “We wouldn’t care, if the end product wasn’t thousands of suffering and dead animals”
What do you think we can do differently?
“Educate consumers to be wary of the pitfalls of impulse buying and buying sight unseen over the net and understanding that puppies are a commitment for life – small dogs live 20 years. There needs to be more awareness about the issues and the cruelty behind the breeding and the conditions that puppies live through and the long term medical and behavioral effects it has on adult dogs.” Monika – Doggie Rescue
Inner West Rescue groups such as Cat Protection, Sydney Pet Rescue, CatRescue and DoggieRescue live on the smell of an oily rag, running from the donations of the general public. “We would love to be put out of business” said one founder of a local rescue group.
“When you purchase/adopt an animal from a rescue group, you know that there wasn’t a profit margin involved. This ensures that the dog or cat will have been vet checked, desexed and probably vaccinated (and of course microchipped…but pet shops should do that much). It means (unlike in pet shops that sell live animals) that if the animal became sick whilst in our care, we don’t kill it because it became too expensive and cut out our chance for profit. We are always prepared for vet bills for every animal we rescue. We are ‘no-kill’, which means ‘no-kill’.
Purchasing/adopting from a rescue group also means that should you find that the animal that you recently adopted is not suitable to your house/family/lifestyle, that you can return the animal to the rescue group. (We) take any animal back (even years later) that was adopted from us if the owner is no longer able to look after it. When we rescue an animal we commit to the animal for their entire life. Try returning an animal to a pet shop. – Erica Trinder, Paws For Action
What is the opposition doing?
A lot of the hope for change rests with the coming state election. Chris Hartcher, Liberal Shadow for Local Government was the member who put forward the bill to investigate the industry. Mr Hartcher has spent considerable time with local constituents discussing the issue. Clearly it is a subject that encourages great debate. Debate such as this wins votes. Local MP’s are also showing their own feelings, with several Liberal and Green members writing in open support of regulation.
With all indications that the Liberals and Greens will have a good run next March, it could be a matter of wait and see for general public who support such change. One thing is for certain, if we keep doing what we always have, you always get what you always got.
If you would like to meet the animals that are looking for new homes in the Inner West, click through these links.
Footnote – Many of the people who were interviewed for this story spoke anonymously. The fear of legal reprisals from the industry or of funding cuts from the government. The last thing needed is a threat to the small amount of money that the welfare workers have to rescue the starving and abandoned animals of the state.
But as one worker said. “What can you expect from a government that allowed a baby whale to starve to death in Pittwater before dragging it kicking and screaming to shore then killing it”
Many people in NSW wont forget that.”
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