Claire J. Harris

About Claire J. Harris

Claire Harris is a writer in exile who has spent the last decade travelling and working around the world. This is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds and usually involves scraping by on a diet of muesli and cheap wine. Occasionally together. You can find her at www.clairejharris.com

Our animal shelter laws need to change

My experience with a foster greyhound viscerally showed me how much laws need to change, and the horrors animal shelters are currently capable of.

 

 

Late last year, my partner and I fostered a beautiful greyhound who had been surrendered to the care of a large animal shelter in Melbourne. Dash had suffered trauma as a result of five years of exploitation by the greyhound racing industry. He came to us with anxiety issues, but after six weeks in our home, his behaviour was beginning to improve. He grew more comfortable around us, snuggling with us on the couch and going for long walks outside.

When we returned Dash to the shelter as requested, we were assured that he would be placed in a loving home. We specifically asked if there was any chance he would be euthanised — and we were told there was not. A few weeks later, we followed up to find out whether Dash was still available for adoption, as were considering making him a permanent part of our family. We received an email stating a behaviourist was working with Dash on his anxiety issues and he was “doing well!”

It was a lie. Dash had already been killed by the animal shelter.

Moreover, a subsequent meeting with senior management uncovered that none of their behaviourists had ever even met Dash; the shelter never attempted to treat his anxiety with proven, effective medication, despite an onsite vet clinic; and no animal rescue organisation was given the opportunity to take over his care.

The truth about Dash’s death was only revealed through a greyhound rescue group we contacted that attempted to save his life. How many other healthy or treatable animals have suffered the same fate because our pounds and shelters choose to kill instead of care?

 

We received an email stating a behaviourist was working with Dash on his anxiety issues and he was “doing well!”. It was a lie. Dash had already been killed by the animal shelter.

 

Since my heartbreaking foster experience, I have been inundated with stories of animal cruelty within Victoria’s largest shelters, from former staff and volunteers, foster carers and pet owners. I have also heard from rescue groups that have been silenced from speaking out about these abuses because they need to manage their relationships with the shelters in order to save as many lives as possible.

And overwhelmingly, I have learned that shelter animals are being killed without being offered to rescue organisations that are willing and able to take them.

 

Our current laws are failing animals

Dash’s case has highlighted the need for a comprehensive review of the Code of Practice for Pounds and Shelters in Victoria that allows these failures and permits unnecessary and unethical euthanasia in treatable animals.

Multiple rescue groups have reached out to assure me they would have given Dash the treatment he needed to become adoptable — and yet the shelter did not contact a single one of these. A few months ago, I would have assumed that this was common protocol within shelters, but it isn’t.

Most alarmingly, these shelters act without any oversight or accountability — and can not be trusted to fulfill their duty to rehabilitate and protect the animals in their care. Instead, thousands of animals are being needlessly killed every year.

This is why we need a change in the law — to end the convenience killing of animals at shelters and pounds by ensuring that euthanasia is only used as a last resort. I propose the following:

 

1. Mandatory rescue access

  • Legislative change to the Code of Practice for Pounds and Shelters making it illegal to kill an animal if a rescue group is willing to save that animal, or where the shelter’s foster carer is willing to adopt
  • Legislative change making it illegal to kill animals if there are empty cages unless those animals are irremediably suffering or highly aggressive to humans.

 

2. Mandatory euthanasia reporting

  • The annual public release of raw data by each shelter and pound showing euthanasia statistics, categorised by reason (for example — medical, behavioural).
  • The public release of the specific assessment criteria at each pound or shelter that determines how an animal is selected for euthanasia.

 

These laws already exist in other countries

Transparent euthanasia reporting and rescue-group access laws have been successfully implemented in a number of US states and cities, including California, Delaware, and Austin, Texas. In each case, they were passed with bi-partisan support.

Why? Because it is simply indefensible for shelters to kill an animal that poses no risk to the community and another qualified non-profit organisation is willing to save. It ensures the best outcomes for all animals while reducing the numbers killed.

And importantly, it means that rescue groups no longer need to fear retaliation when they express concern about the conditions inside shelters and pounds — because they have the legal right to save animals scheduled to be killed.

This means that there is a clear precedent for passing these urgently-needed laws in Australia as well.

 

What are the benefits?

In states and counties where these laws exist, a decrease in animal kill rates of up to 80% has been recorded, in addition to the following proven benefits:

  • Prohibiting shelters from killing animals based on arbitrary criteria when alternatives to killing exist
  • Ensuring mandatory collaboration between shelters and rescue organisations
  • Removing power to silence rescue organisations reporting unethical or inhumane practices
  • Requiring shelters to have fully functioning adoption programs, by prioritising adoption over killing
  • Improving staff wellbeing, with reduced emotional trauma resulting from high kill rates
  • Enhancing shelter operations while protecting public health and safety
  • Reducing costs associated with killing, and increasing revenue through adoption fees
  • Requiring shelters to be truthful about how many animals they kill and adopt by making their statistics public.

You can read more about the successful implementation of these laws in US states here and here.

Treatable dogs like Dash — and so many other animals who have lost their lives at shelters and pounds — deserved our protection. These failures are unacceptable.

Pounds and shelters depend on the money of donors and taxpayers in order to operate, which means the animals in their care belong to us — the community that supports them.

This is why I’ve created a Parliamentary Petition, backed by the Animal Justice Party of Victoria, to demand key legislative changes.

If you are a Victorian resident, please click here to sign the petition.

You need to scroll down until you reach the petition (if you’re on mobile this means scrolling a long way). Right at the bottom, it says JOIN and under that CLICK HERE TO SIGN. This will take you to a page to fill in your details. If you are really lost on the page, you can search for “Petition 180: Stop convenience killing of Victorian shelter animals”.

And if you are not in Victoria, you might think about lodging your own petition to change the laws where you live. Our animals’ lives depend upon it.

 

 

 

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