Companion Animals

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages
–Thomas Edison

The AJP Position

The Animal Justice Party contends that the interests of companion animals have been consistently and deliberately overlooked or marginalised by a succession of state and federal governments.  The fact that nationally over 250,000 mostly healthy dogs and cats are put to death each year in pounds and shelters is clear evidence that existing regulations, policies and educational initiatives are failing to protect these animals.

The Animal Justice Party will promote reform to protect the interests of companion animals as a key issue for all levels of government.

Key Objectives

The Animal Justice Party is committed to:

  • Creating a well-managed and well cared for companion animal population.
  • Recognising the wide range of companion animal species.
  • Ensuring that all companion animals are cared for and controlled humanely.
  • Reducing the instances of dog bites.
  • Increasing the level of desexing of companion animals.
  • Reducing the number of unwanted companion animals and instances of abandonment.
  • Managing the issue of abandoned and feral cats in the most humane way possible and with consideration of wildlife.
  • Obtaining a clear understanding of the situation in our pounds, shelters and rescue organisations.
  • Changing the social and legislative environment that effectively encourages healthy and medically or behaviourally treatable companion animals to be put to death in pounds and shelters.
  • Achieving no kill status for all pounds and shelters within five years.  Modeled on the work of the No Kill Advocacy Center (US).
  • Taking cruelty against companion animals seriously and administering harsh penalties for perpetrators.
  • Repealing breed-specific legislation throughout Australia.
  • Eradicating breeding practices which utilise cruel, neglectful or inhumane treatment of companion animals.
  • Eliminating large scale intensive farming of puppies and kittens.
  • Promoting responsible pet ownership.

Strategies

Unwanted Animals

  • Support the implementation of community change models designed to prevent the abandonment and killing of companion animals, through the provision of necessary education programs and support structures for local and state government.
  • Require the collection and collation of national statistics on unwanted animals and make these statistics publicly available.  These statistics would record details on abandoned companion animals in pounds, shelters, with rescue groups, and at veterinary clinics, with regard to their origin, their surrender and their fate (i.e. reclaimed, rehomed, or put to death).
  • Ban the sale of dogs and cats by pet shops.
  • Develop and introduce funding models for preventative measures such as community vet clinics and subsidised desexing programs.
  • Ensure that subsidised or free desexing, microchipping and pet insurance is available for those with pensioner concession cards, or experiencing financial hardship.

Pounds and Shelters

  • Require nationally consistent enforceable standards of care and responsibility to be met by local and state governments, to prevent companion animals being put to death.  This would include the prevention of large shelters or Council pounds killing animals when other reputable groups are prepared to rescue them.
  • Co-ordinate nationally consistent and enforceable Codes of Practice for Pounds and Shelters, which mandate that:
  1. all animals in pounds and shelters are to be cared for, socialised and rehabilitated so that their needs are met;
  2. all animals in pounds and shelters are to be desexed prior to sale (unless desexing would pose a serious threat to the animal’s health);
  3. all pounds and shelters are to have Domestic Animal Management Plans to progress toward zero killing of healthy and treatable animals within five years;
  4. euthanasia be permitted only in those instances where an animal is suffering from an incurable and painful illness or is so severely behaviourally compromised that rehabilitation or management is not possible without risking the safety of people or other animals; and
  5. the temperament and behavior of animals is to be assessed by a fully qualified, independent animal behaviourist.
  • Support the careful retraining and rehoming of dogs with existing aggression problems.

Legislation

  • Introduce a national Companion Animals Protection Act.
  • Introduce an independent Office of Animal Welfare.
  • Ensure that other companion animals (e.g. rabbits, guinea pigs, horses), not currently protected under state domestic animals acts, are included in the national act.
  • Strive for legislative change to alter the way animals are currently regarded legally, by:
  1. recognising their status as sentient beings to whom we have a responsibility and duty of care;
  2. ensuring new legislation requires that all abandoned animals be rehomed, unless suffering from painful incurable diseases, or are so behaviourally aggressive that they are unable to be rehabilitated; and
  3. ensuring legislation does not discriminate against specific dog breeds for dog bite prevention.
  • Develop nationally consistent legislation for the management of abandoned and unwanted cats by exploring the associated legal, welfare and social issues, as well as impacts on wildlife.  This would be done in consultation with relevant stakeholders to give adequate consideration to the lives of these cats, while taking into account their effect on native fauna.  Trap, Neuter, Return programs could form part of this approach.
  • Develop nationally consistent legislation and processes for microchipping all cats and dogs prior to sale or transfer, unless it poses a serious health risk to the animal.  Microchips must record, as applicable, the breeder’s name, location and breeder permit number, and all subsequent owners, so that the microchip database can track each animal.
  • Present the research material that demonstrates the ineffectiveness of breed-specific legislation (BSL) to relevant state and territory legislatures, as part of seeking to repeal the legislation.

Enforcement

  • Create consistent national standards for animal cruelty offences, including increasing the available maximum fines and jail terms and requiring vets to report suspected cases of animal cruelty.
  • Ensure all police officers are trained in the enforcement of animal welfare legislation.
  • Increase penalties for those dog owners found with dogs off-leash in ‘on-lead’ areas, especially if an incident occurs with a human or another animal.

Animal Breeding

  • Develop nationally consistent legislation regarding the keeping, breeding and transfer of companion animals.
  • Develop a national breeder permit system which:
  1. requires regular inspection of all places of breeding;
  2. ensures animal welfare standards are met that address the needs of breeding animals and their litters and prevent oversupply;
  3. requires compliance with enforceable Codes of Practice for the Keeping and Breeding of Cats and Dogs;
  4. publishes government breeder permit numbers with all animals advertised, sold or transferred; and
  5. requires desexing of all puppies and kittens of appropriate age prior to sale or transfer.
  • Set standards for the maximum number of breeding animals that can be housed on any one property.
  • Set a minimum staff to animal ratio for the appropriate care, socialisation, training and enrichment of breeding animals and their litters.
  • Limit the age and frequency of breeding and maximum numbers of litters per animal.

Education

  • Facilitate the inclusion of compulsory pound / shelter experience, as well as early age desexing (from eight weeks) in veterinary training across Australian veterinary schools.
  • Provide nationally consistent education programs around the killing of unwanted companion animals and the means to prevent these deaths.  The programs would address:
  1. the sentience and needs of companion animals;
  2. the purchase or adoption of pets appropriate to the circumstances of prospective owners;
  3. limited breeding through desexing and early age desexing;
  4. microchipping;
  5. containing animals to the owner’s property;
  6. socialising and training animals; and
  7. keeping companion animals.
  • Continue to develop school-based educational programs to introduce young people to issues around responsible pet ownership.
  • Educate the public about the fact that breed-specific legislation (BSL) does not reduce the instances of dog bites and is enacted at great expense to the taxpayer.
  • Educate the public about different breeds of dogs, highlighting that no one breed is more aggressive than another.  This could include the use of dog attack statistics, which demonstrate that a range of breeds are involved.
  • Explore a community approach to dog bite prevention, including:

  1. educating the public about how to behave around and how to approach dogs;
  1. encouraging dog owners to properly socialise their dogs and attend obedience classes (ideally puppy socialisation befpre 16 weeks and at least beginner’s dog training thereafter); and
  2. improving non-discriminatory laws that enhance public safety and the providing the resources to enforce such laws (e.g. enforcing on-leash requirements).

Accommodation

  • Coordinate national policies for allowing companion animals in all forms of accommodation, be it units, apartments, rental accommodation, aged care and retirement facilities.  Also promote measures to address the behavioural and hygiene needs of animals kept on smaller properties.

BACKGROUND PAPER

Companion animals are recognised and cherished by the majority of Australians, for their companionship, comfort and devotion.  Sixty-three percent of households include a companion animal.  Thirty-six percent of households have a dog and 23 percent have a cat.[1]

The issues and their impact on animals

An estimated 200,000 companion cats and dogs are being killed in pounds and shelters around Australia each year.  In most pounds and shelters 20 to 50 percent of unclaimed dogs and 60 to 95 percent of unclaimed cats are being killed[2].

Research in one large Australian city[3] and internationally[4] has shown that at least 90 percent of abandoned dogs and cats in any city or shire are re--homeable.  Less than 10 percent are suffering from painful incurable diseases or are so behaviourally aggressive that they are unable to be rehabilitated and re-homed.  However, legislation and government policy have not been proactive in preventing the abandonment of unwanted animals and the killing of unclaimed companion animals.

No-kill shelters can become reality and as shown by the No Kill Advocacy Centre, a wide range of elements are required to achieve no kill.  These are: rescue partnerships; volunteers; foster care; trap, neuter, release; pet retention; comprehensive adoption program; public relations / community involvement; medical and behavior prevention and rehabilitation; high-volume, low-cost spay and neuter; proactive redemptions; and a hard-working, compassionate shelter director.[5]

In addition to the cats and dogs brought to pounds, shelters and rescue groups as strays, or surrendered by their owners, thousands of cats and dogs are abandoned or allowed to wander, contributing to the non-owned, non-desexed cat and dog populations in cities and rural areas.  These populations generally have little protection from suffering or being trapped and killed.  Starving dogs and cats also pose a threat to wildlife, although not as significant as human threats such as habitat destruction.

A major welfare problem for cats and dogs is “breeding for profit” both by commercial and “hobby” breeders with undesexed animals who produce litters each year.  Such breeding often results in animals suffering from poor hygiene, health and living conditions, and being inadequately screened for genetic or hereditary defects.  Young animals are also often separated from their mothers or siblings too early (i.e. earlier than 8-10 weeks of age).  The sale of these non-desexed offspring contributes to the oversupply.

Origins of the issues

Overbreeding

The unrestricted breeding of cats and dogs contributes to oversupply, i.e. there are more animals needing homes than the number of responsible homes who elect to adopt or purchase at any given time.

Overbreeding – Cats

Overbreeding is particularly an issue with cats due to their early, continual breeding rate and increased seasonal breeding during the warmer months from November to May.  During this time, pounds, refuges, rescue groups and vet clinics are simultaneously inundated with unwanted kittens in such significant numbers they have difficulty caring for these kittens.  Even with considerable effort to organise proactive fostering and rehoming, the numbers can still be higher than the number of homes found.  Many Councils do not make this effort and tens of thousands of kittens are put to death annually as a result.

The Review of Cat Ecology and Management Strategies in Australia found that the control of owned domestic cats is an important aspect for the control of all cats on the Australian mainland.  A mandatory nationwide desexing policy for all cats and kittens prior to adoption is the most effective way to do this.

According to the Review of Cat Ecology and Management Strategies in Australia, possibly the next largest subgroup of cats in Australia are free living, colony forming cats.  These cats have been historically valued as pest control agents for rabbits, rats and mice.  However, they not only exploit manmade habitats but are able to move out into surrounding habitats to exploit native species.  As they live in groups in relatively small, defined habitats, ongoing programs to reduce their numbers would remove an important and ongoing source of cat re invasion into the Australian landscape.

A trap, neuter, return program implemented by local councils in conjunction with a mandatory desexing policy for all cats and kittens prior to adoption would address the issue of free living colony cats and their dispersal into the wider environment.  Mathematical models {Anderson et al 2004, Foley et al 2005} demonstrate that if 71%+ of a stable colony are desexed, the population will decline.  In practice, anecdotal evidence suggests this figure may be as low as 60%.  If councils initiated trapping for all reported colony cats, desex, vaccinate and return healthy, unsocialised adults back to where they were captured, keeping kittens and socialised adults for adoption or rehoming, colony numbers would decline even further and very quickly.

According to the Review of Cat Ecology and Management Strategies in Australia, the control and reduction of both owned and free living populations should ultimately reduce Australia’s populations of wild cats.

Overbreeding – Dogs

Unlike cats, there is usually not an oversupply of puppies in pounds and shelters.  However the number of puppies and breeding animals that breeders and pet shops are unable to find homes for and are subsequently killed is unknown.  The main contribution to adolescent and adult dog oversupply in pounds and shelters is from people acquiring animals that they are not committed to caring for or not able to care for due to lack of planning, accommodation issues or change of circumstances.

Impacts of Overcrowding

The huge numbers of cats and kittens entering pounds and shelters during the breeding season results in many cats and kittens becoming stressed and succumbing to illness.  Many are killed due to minor curable health problems such as cat flu or ringworm, this being a direct result of the crowded facilities.  Cats and dogs who are timid or who behave defensively in a strange environment are usually also put to death.

Many pounds do not have foster programs, which are essential so that sick or timid animals can recover in a caring home environment.  Stray and surrendered kittens and pups also need to be fostered until they are eight weeks of age when they can be safely separated from their mother and/or siblings.

Failure to Desex Prior to Breeding Age

Surveys suggest that a significant proportion of owned cats and dogs are desexed[6].  However the same surveys suggest 15-18 per cent of female cats have had at least one litter before being desexed.”[7]  A survey of vets organised by the Queensland Australian Veterinarian Association in 2005 showed that “the majority of respondents (57 percent) never desex dogs and cats at 8-12 weeks of age and a further 27 percent rarely desex dogs and cats at this age”[8].  Many vet schools and veterinarians still recommend the traditional 6–8 months of age for desexing, despite advances in the safety and benefits of early age desexing, particularly for kittens between 8-10 weeks of age, to prevent unwanted pregnancies[9].

While most animal welfare shelters and rescue groups desex all kittens and pups at this early age before they rehome, many pounds, breeders and pet shops continue to rehome animals that are undesexed, resulting in further accidental litters.

Community veterinary clinics like the ones operated by the Animal Welfare League of Queensland use funds from the commercial arm of the clinic to subsidise low cost desexing and other community vet work.  In the case of the community vet clinic constructed in Hobart by philanthropist Jan Cameron, the cost of construction was borne by a large private donor.  A mixture of private enterprise, individuals and public donations should be co-operatively encouraged to facilitate this vital work.

Lack of Identification

Another contributing factor to the oversupply of cats and dogs in pounds and shelters is the lack of identification.  The majority of stray impounded cats who enter pounds and shelters are easily handled[10] and a considerable proportion are desexed (40% of stray cats were desexed in Gold Coast City in 2009/10), which means they are currently, or have been, owned.  However fewer cats are able to be identified due to differences in registration and microchipping requirements between cats and dogs in the past, and still in some states.  This means cats are less likely to be able to be returned to their owners.  While at some pounds and shelters up to 70 to 80 percent of dogs are reclaimed by their owners, only about 3 to 10 per cent of cats are generally reclaimed from these facilities.

Lack of containment of cats

Cat owners have been more “casual” with cat containment than dog owners, possibly due to the independent nature of cats, and particularly due to the difficulty of containing cats in suburban yards with traditional fences.  While more recently people are being educated to keep their cats indoors or with a backyard enclosure or cat safe fence, and there are new products to make it easier for cats to be confined in their yards, there are still perceptions by many that keeping a cat inside is too hard, or that an enclosure or cat-safe fencing is too expensive, or that cats need to experience the outdoors, or their freedom to explore outside the yard and come back when they are ready.Many cat owners fail to visit a pound to look for their cat because they assume it is wandering and will come home eventually.[11]

Even when a cat is identified, and the owners contacted, some owners refuse to pay the impound fee to recover their cat from the pound.  This is more common with cat owners than dog owners, possibly because cats are often more independent and detached from their owners than dogs, and are easily replaceable for little or no money.

Changing Lifestyles and Accommodation

Increasing urbanisation, smaller families and families with two working parents have combined to discourage the keeping of companion animals, especially in apartment, strata title and rental accommodation.  Consequently, the proportion of the population owning dogs and cats has been declining[12].  In one Australian city of half a million people, 20 to 30 percent of dogs and cats that are surrendered to shelters have been abandoned due to accommodation issues[13].

In many areas, while smaller breeds have become more popular, particularly with an ageing population in more confined accommodation, there has been less demand and a greater oversupply of working dog and larger breed types.

Lack of Knowledge, Commitment and Social Responsibility

Breeders

Many people believe a female cat or dog should give birth to a litter before being desexed, (or that it is unfair to desex their cat or dog at all), that it’s cute for the children to experience a birth, that a male dog will lose its appeal if desexed, or that breeding is a great way to make a few dollars.  They have not considered the lack of social responsibility involved in adding more kittens and puppies to an already oversupplied market.

Commercial breeders are also ignoring this social responsibility.  They often breed on a large scale for profit, reducing the capacity to provide for their animals’ physical and mental well-being.  This results in animals suffering from inbreeding, lack of socialisation, exercise and enrichment, failure to prevent genetic or health problems, and irresponsible rehoming practices.  It is difficult to assess adequate preparation and commitment of any new owner when animals are sold over the internet or transported to pet shops for sale by a third party.  Breeders who are members of breed organisations dedicated to promotion and support for the exaggeration of breed characteristics have also created extreme cases of suffering from deformity and genetic defects[14].

Breeders are regulated in different ways by the various local and state governments.  While some are required to have a Breeder Permit and do follow a Code of Practice, these permits are often focused on protecting human health and preventing nuisance.  In addition, enforcement of regulatory Codes is entrusted to Councils, many of whom do not have the resources to provide effective enforcement or have no interest in providing enforcement.  There are no regular unannounced inspections to assess the well being of the breeding animals and their litters, and to determine whether procedures are in place to ensure their responsible rehoming.

Owners

Purchasers are often poorly informed by breeders and sellers of animals as to what is involved in caring for the specific needs of an animal for its whole life from puppy (or kitten or foal) stage through to old age.  Similarly, purchasers are often not provided with adequate information to ensure they choose appropriate breeds for their circumstances, leading to many surrenders when a cute puppy has become an energetic dog requiring more exercise, care and stimulation than envisaged.  A lack of information, research and preparation means many owners fail to plan for their capacity to commit to an animal for life and fail to manage the needs of their companion animal in terms of socialisation, behavioural training and environmental enrichment.  Thus many people subsequently contribute to an oversupply of animals by abandoning their pets to pounds and shelters when their life circumstances change or their pets exhibit stressed behaviours.

Education

Given children have personal contact with animals most often via companion animals, it is of the utmost importance that the education system provide them with knowledge of companion animal welfare as early as possible.  How the youngest generation is taught about responsibility toward, caring for and understanding of companion animals will have an effect on their attitudes as adults towards other non-human animals.  This information should not be left solely to parents; input from knowledgeable professionals should be encouraged as early as possible.

Pet Shops

Pet shop owners vary in their commitment to the well being of companion animals, i.e. in terms of where they source their animals from, the animals’ well being while in the pet shop, and the animals’ future wellbeing when they are rehomed (or if they do not find a home).  Socially responsible pet shops choose to re home abandoned animals on behalf of animal welfare or rescue groups, and take in unwanted animals from the public for desexing and rehoming, which helps to reduce the oversupply.  Some pet shops provide support to the new owners and are willing to help re home an animal if an owner cannot subsequently keep an animal.  However many others ignore this responsibility.

Pet shops are regulated in different ways in each State and Territory.  Whilst most require the kittens and pups to be vaccinated, and some to be microchipped, none as yet require them to be desexed prior to sale, although it is recommended in some states.

Failure of Current Government Policies and Legislation

Animal Management and Animal Welfare

Animal management legislation in Australia has been implemented by local government (i.e. councils) with the goal of protecting people from nuisance and danger that may be caused by cats and dogs, for example, breed-specific legislation for dog bite prevention.

Animal welfare legislation on the other hand has, in most states, been managed by separate state government departments.  This division of responsibility for companion animals has hindered progress in addressing local government’s unwillingness and inability to legislate to prevent oversupply and the consequent killing of abandoned dogs and cats.  Animals are regarded as property by law and the responsibility to provide for their welfare and protect their lives diminishes when they are not owned or claimed by their owners.  Local laws allow the killing of any cats and dogs who are abandoned or stray after a statutory holding period.  Legislation has not required that abandoned animals be rehomed, regardless of whether they are perfectly healthy and socialised.

Such legislation has meant that the proportion of animals being put to death in pounds and shelters has remained high.  Only recently, with increasing pressure from animal welfare groups and the general public, who has experienced and appreciates the sentience of companion animals, has there been growing impetus toward more proactive legislation and strategies to prevent the oversupply and abandonment of cats and dogs and to require pounds and shelters to reduce their killing.

The Australian federal government currently has no jurisdiction over the welfare and management of companion animals.  Its Australian Animal Welfare Strategy has provided the opportunity for a coordinated national approach, however few resources have been allocated to the task.  At the same time, national companion animal legislation to achieve consistency and address current inadequacies is being called for by animal welfare groups.  Gathering and publishing statistics on the fate of abandoned animals has also been neglected in most states.  Some animal welfare groups have been publishing statistics and encouraging national and state-wide common criteria for data gathering to clarify the scope of the problem and to measure progress in reducing the abandonment and killing of cats and dogs.

Breed-specific Legislation

Breed-specific legislation (BSL) has been introduced throughout Australia since the mid 1990s, to the detriment of many dogs and dog owners, without any proven effectiveness in dog bite prevention.[15]  Aggression is a normal canine behavior and it is the responsibility of the dog owner to manage the individual dog, its breed is irrelevant.

As a result of BSL, dogs have been impounded and euthanised, with little recourse available for their owners, at great expense.  This includes dogs that may have never displayed threatening behavior but have been caught at large by local councils.

Breed identification is based on appearance and is not conclusive.  Furthermore, BSL has not been shown to reduce the incidence of dog bites in any part of the world over the last few decades and many cities and states have removed the legislation for this reason.  BSL needs to be repealed in Australia to avoid unnecessary dog deaths and to free up resources for more effective management of dog aggression.

“Other” Companion Animals

Other animals, who play the same role as companion dogs and cats in terms of the comfort, devotion and companionship they provide to their owners, should be afforded the same protections provided to companion dogs and cats.  Currently companion animals such as rabbits are seen by many as vermin and are subjected to ongoing campaigns on the part of government and taxpayer-funded schemes to poison or infect them with disease for the purposes of eradication.

Other companion animals should be afforded the same protection as a dog or cat.  Whether a person’s companion animal is a rabbit, guinea pig, bird, snake, ferret, dingo, chicken or mouse, Australians are entitled to expect that their government will provide these animals with protection to ensure they are safe from harm, exploitation or cruelty.


[1] Australian Companion Animal Council Report, Contribution of the Pet Care Industry to the Australian economy, 7th Edition 2010.

[2] National Summit to End Companion Animal Overpopulation Reports 2006/2007/2009

[3] AWL Qld 2008/9 Statistics
http://www.awlqld.com.au/downloads/Statistics2008_9.pdf  Figures 5A & 5B

[4] No Kill Advocacy Centre Sample Success Stories
http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/success.html

[5] http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/shelter-reform/no-kill-equation/

[6] Qld Government Dept of Infrastructure & Planning 2008
http://www.dip.qld.gov.au/local-government/queensland-household-survey.html

[7] Webb, C. Why Promote Paediatric Desexing? Early Age Desexing of Puppies and Kittens 2004. State of Victoria: Dept of Primary Industries, p.13.

[8] AVA Qld: Early Age Desexing Survey (2005) (Unpublished – copy available on request from joy@awlqld.com.au)

[9] Rand, J. & Hanlon, C. Report on the Validity and Usefulness of Early Age Desexing in Dogs and Cats. Uniquest Pty Ltd, St Lucia pp.10-20
http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/dpi/nrenfa.nsf/LinkView/9AB781005971FAADCA2572B1001A2417037A9C4D42697F91CA2572B10020CD5E

[10] Marston, L., Bennett, P., and Touhstai, S., (2006) Cat Admissions to Melbourne Shelters: A report to the Bureau of Animal Welfare, December 2006. Melbourne: Animal Welfare Science Centre, Monash University p.10.

[11] Lord, L., Wittum, T., Ferketich, A., Funk, J., Rajala-Schultz, P., (2007)“Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost cat”, JAVMA Vol 230, No. 2, Jan 15, p.219.

[12] Australian Companion Animal Council 2007

[13] AWL Qld 2008/9 Statistics
http://www.awlqld.com.au/downloads/Statistics2008_9.pdf  Figure 6.

[14] Rooney, Nicola & Sargan, David. Pedigree Dog Breeding in the UK: A major welfare concern?
http://www.rspca.org.uk/ImageLocator/LocateAsset?asset=document&assetId=1232712491490&mode=prd

[15] Watson, Linda. Does breed specific legislation reduce dog aggression on humans and other animals? A review paper.
http://www.ccac.net.au/files/Does_breed_specific_leg_reduce_UAM03Watson_0.pdf

Comments are closed