The Age, Mark Russell; October 16, 2011
ANIMAL welfare groups using a Facebook campaign to condemn Geelong’s privately run pound as one of the worst in Australia are facing legal action over their ”harassment” of the pound’s employees.
Former Geelong Animal Welfare Society president Ian Walter said the pound had been subjected to bullying behaviour on social networking pages, including calls for the manager, Robyn Stewart, to be removed.
After some staff became distressed by the campaign, the society sought legal advice that confirmed it was being vilified and was entitled to take legal action to stop it, he said.
The Facebook page, GAWS Exposed – Time for Change is NOW, has more than 2500 supporters after being set up by animal welfare campaigners to pressure the City of Greater Geelong to take over the pound.
On Tuesday, the group posted a link on its Facebook page to footage released on YouTube showing dogs being drugged and killed at the pound.
The video footage was allegedly shot on a hidden camera in the veterinary treatment room of GAWS’s Moolap pound. Police are investigating if the camera was installed after a break-in.
The six-minute, 52-second video claimed dogs were given a cocktail of 24 tablets the night before being put down. It shows drugged dogs being held in small cages struggling to stand and later being put on a table to be killed.
About 300 people attended a protest against GAWS outside the Geelong council offices yesterday.
Campaigner Tarsha Andrews said the pound’s kill rate was too high and methods used antiquated. GAWS, operating since 1956, killed 811 dogs, 1132 cats and 1227 kittens in 2010-11.
Mr Walter said GAWS’s lawyers believed there were grounds to take out intervention orders against those responsible for the online campaign.
”This activity is being monitored and if it persists legal action will be taken,” he said in the GAWS 2010-11 annual report before he resigned at last month’s annual general meeting.
Acting president David Cecil confirmed the society’s lawyers were ready to act.
The deathrowpets.net website has detailed allegations against GAWS, including healthy, ”rehomable” animals being killed; animals with treatable illnesses or injuries being killed; fearful animals being killed; animals being killed to ”make room”; cats being put down in front of other cats; GAWS’s reluctance to work with rescue groups; and members of the public being told there were no animals for adoption.
Mr Cecil denied the pound was one of the worst in Australia. He said it had stopped drugging animals overnight, a veterinary surgeon and nurse would now euthanase animals without the help of unqualified staff, and GAWS would start to work with rescue groups.
The City of Greater Geelong, which has one of the largest dog and cat populations of any Victorian municipality with 43,687 pets registered (33,371 dogs and 10,316 cats), is reviewing the facilities at GAWS.
The city’s general manager, community services, Jenny McMahon, said the council was working with GAWS to find ways of rehousing greater numbers of animals brought to the pound.
”We acknowledge that the situation for homeless animals can improve further, and we are working hard towards this goal,” she said. ”The intention is to ensure there is full compliance with the Department of Primary Industry code of practice for the management of dogs and cats in shelters and pounds.”
The department’s Bureau of Animal Welfare estimates 50,000 dogs and 35,000 cats are being killed each year in Victoria.
There are no definitive figures, however, on how many of these animals are healthy because the state’s 79 councils are not obliged to report the numbers of dogs and cats being put down to the bureau.