Rita Panahi ; Sunday Herald Sun; Dec 30 2012
THE GEELONG ANIMAL WELFARE SOCIETY IS AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED WHEN A SHELTER WORKS WITH RESCUE GROUPS. PICTURE: MARK GRIFFIN HERALD SUN
MAHATMA Gandhi said “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.
We have one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world and spend billions caring for our furry friends – but we also put down thousands of healthy cats and dogs every week.
This disturbing paradox is particularly conspicuous this time of year, when animal lovers happily pay more than $1000 for a designer puppy while unwanted cats and dogs sit on death row in shelters awaiting their cruel fate.
An estimated 250,000 cats and dogs are euthanased each year in Australia, a figure that should distress every civilised, thinking human being.
The problem isn’t one of demand – 450,000 dogs and 165,000 cats are sold every year – the problem is the out-of-control supply through puppy mills, backyard breeders and irresponsible pet owners who refuse to desex their animals.
Regardless of how reputable breeders claim to be, their very existence contributes to an oversupply of animals, and the sad reality is that many do not behave ethically; keeping their breeding bitches in appalling conditions.
Pet stores and even shelters must also share the blame for the number of unwanted animals.
Australia’s biggest animal shelter, the Lost Dogs’ Home, kills many more dogs than it rehomes and as for cats the kill rate is often above 80 per cent.
Even the RSPCA, that much loved organisation charged with protecting the welfare of animals, has been criticised for its kill rate and temperament tests.
A behavioural assessment to determine whether an animal is suitable for adoption is done for every animal received at the shelter.
If an animal fails the test it will be destroyed.
It stands to reason that animals in a shelter would be anxious, “food guarding” and stressed by sudden loud noises. How many good-natured cats and dogs have been put down before ever getting the chance to be adopted?
There can also be a disconnect between the many animal rescue groups and authorities such as the RSPCA and council-run shelters.
They share the common goal of finding homes for as many animals as possible but appear to spend more time in dispute than in collaboration.
The Geelong Animal Welfare Society is an example of what can be accomplished when a shelter works with rescue groups and engages the community to reduce its kill rate.
GAWS has made significant changes to its operation in the past year and has reduced its kill rate to 10 per cent for dogs and 50 per cent for cats.
Without receiving any government funding the shelter has achieved the highest adoption rate in Victoria.
Progress also is being made on a legislative front.
Last year Victoria abolished the time limit rule that dictated animals had to be destroyed if they were not found homes within 28 days.
However, this has had little effect on the number of animals killed as there simply aren’t enough people adopting animals from shelters.
People want a puppy, or are so fixated on a particular breed of cat or dog that they refuse to consider shelters when buying a pet.
The truth is that shelters have so many cats and dogs available for adoption that it’s almost impossible not to find an ideal pet to suit your needs.
As consumers, we need to stop adding to the oversupply problem by patronising breeders and pet stores.
Head to the pound next time you want to add a cuddly cat or canine to your household.
You won’t be disappointed.