The Punch, Miles Heffernan, 25th Sept 2012
The euthanasia of pets is a hot topic. Many healthy animals are put down every year for a complex range of reasons. And a fight between people who should be allies – the animal shelters and the animal rescuers who want a ‘no kill’ rule – is making things even more difficult, Miles Heffernan explains.
All ma dogs. Pic: News.com.au
Australia is a world leader in killing cats and dogs. Investigating this production line of death opens the door to an insidious world of pet welfare, commercial greed, and pious ideology.
For a short time I worked for a large animal shelter. From that part-time job, I have a beautiful pooch called Thaddeus. One of my mates rudely refers to him as my life partner, given his regular attendance at BBQs and birthdays.
If all the domestic animal laws were complied with, my then-emaciated Rottweiler-cross, may have been just another euthanasia statistic. But with the help of a flexible boss, I have a BFF.
I thought working in a shelter would just be about saving abused and abandoned puppies. It is so much more; this is where politics, lobbying and vested interests combust. The result is a neutered system that could do much more if the key industry players – including the shelters and the profitable pet industry – allowed it to.
One advocacy group, Deathrowpets.net, estimates that a quarter of a million unwanted cats and dogs are killed in Australian shelters, pounds and veterinary surgeries every year. That’s over 650 furry (sometimes mangy, vicious) friends “put to sleep” each and every day. Their end is known as ‘getting the Green Dream’.
A pivotal player in the debate is the Australian Companion Animal Council. A super effective industry “peak body” who look after the commercial interest of the huge pet food industry, puppy farms and vets. ACAC’s members have a lot to lose if the industry shrinks or gets more expensive because of more regulation.
Another key player is prolific and clever blogger Michelle Williamson at Saving Pets, who is firing up the community to fight any laws to control pet population or pet ownership. At Saving Pets, the ‘no kill’ message (NKM) is delivered in black and white, right or wrong. You are with us or against us. Which means people trying to do the right thing but not to the letter of the NKM, get attacked by No Kill proponents. This includes adopting controversial strategies around cats, known as TNR (tag, neuter & release back in the community) or more commonly called “community cats”.
Ms Williamson is also director of Petrescue.com.au; a brilliant site, like a seek.com.au for pets needing a new home. It is universally acknowledged and award-winning, especially in its effectiveness in rebranding orphaned pets and helping to market and rehome them.
Pet Rescue has helped another key player emerge, which is a group loosely known as “rescue”. Often they are mum and dad type operations, sometimes larger that want to make sure no pet gets the green dream on their watch.
Why anyone would allow the nearly perfect brand of Petrescue.com.au to be tarnished by the musings of its director over at Saving Pets is beyond me.
It is hard to find fault with rescue groups’ desire to save lives. Sadly their voice is drowned out by ACAC, Saving Pets and powerful shelters. Worse, these rescue groups depend on the ACAC member funded Pet Rescue, which has waged cyber-war on groups that do not support the cherished no kill movement, which is determined to stop animal euthanasia.
Ms Williamson is Australia’s biggest advocate for so-called “No Kill” shelters (which confusingly actually means the killing of between 10 per cent to 25 per cent of pets). She doggedly insists that shelters must sign up for the entire, 11-step NKM program. And she mocks other organisations’ initiatives, such as the Animal Welfare League Queensland’s Getting to Zero, which aims to bring alternate methods to reduce the number of pets put down.
These attacks on G2Z are alarming it offers a more pragmatic path combined with responsible community engagement. The end result is fewer dead cats and dogs and more delighted owners like me than if G2Z had not been implemented.
Questions must be asked about the effectiveness of this sustained aggressive campaign to help all of our fur balls to live.
All of this fighting seems to result in:
1. An example of the law of unintended consequences. While attacking those from within making some changes, it gives a free ride to those that are not making any real change;
2. Limited trust between shelters and rescue groups;
3. People on the ground too scared to share innovations, in case they cop the ire of ideologues.
This issue is interwoven with commercial greed, clever PR, well meaning but clunky laws and the manipulation, exploitation, vilification and mobilisation of people that would like to reduce and even stop the killing.
This highly complex issue will play out tonight on ‘The Tail End’ on SBS’s Insight at 8:30pm. Ms Williamson, shelters, puppy-farms and even my pooch Thad make it on to the show. With exceptional research the producers have managed to accurately represent the conflict, giving context to why Australia is such a poor performer on the world stage when it comes to killing pets, despite so many committed to their survival.