The SA Story (Again)


After hearing the ‘results’ of the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA, I was hugely disappointed in the process and the recommendations. However, I was pleased to hear nothing further about it (it came out July last year!).

Until now.

A few articles (one | two | three) have come out quoting Ian Hunter (politician), Tammy Franks (politician), Tim Vasuedeva (RSPCA CEO), Steven Marshall (politician), and Jay Weatherill (politician).

The hot ideas are compulsory desexing (or just desexing puppies in pet shops), a code of practice, and a breeder licensing scheme, with some extra legislation thrown in for good measure. It’s not a surprise that this is mostly bad news, considering the spurious nature of the original Select Committee report.


Compulsory Desexing

The articles seem to be looking at both compulsory desexing, and compulsory desexing of all dogs sold in pet shops. The narrator in the first article describes the community as ‘divided’.


Compulsory Desexing of Petshop Puppies

Tammy Franks, in particular, supports the suggestion that all puppies from pet shops should be desexed.

Tim Vasudeva, from the RSPCA, says, “We’ve been desexing puppies between 3-4 months for years and years and we haven’t had any problems.”

The first article claims that the government will look at compulsory desexing of dogs sold in pet shop in light of a Select Committee’s report. While the report made many poor recommendations, desexing of dogs in pet shops before sale was not one of them! False reporting!

The problem with this is: We are desexing very young puppies and there is evidence that there are harms associated with desexing when it is done at a young age. These harms go beyond anaesthetic risks and immediate recovery (which is what Tim is referring to) and is more about long term acquisition of health problems including cancer. (You can read a recent study on golden retrievers, or a recent study on vizslas to learn more about this.)

Further, what is the point of this suggested legislation? Why should all puppies be desexed before sale? Especially because of the long term health risks?

If you wanted to get me on side with this suggestion, I would be more inclined to support the sterilisation of puppies before sale (including tubal ligation and vasectomies, that aren’t known to have these long-term health outcomes). However, I’d still be asking what the point of this was – surely there’s bigger issues for us to be dealing with.


Compulsory Desexing of Everything

Tim Vasudeva, from the RSPCA, says that the AVA’s research shows that desexed dogs are 2.6 times less likely to bite. This is not true: the AVA refers to others’ research, using 23 year old data, which suggests desexed dogs are 2.6 times less likely to bite.

Tim Vasudeva spoke about how desexing could be beneficial – in reducing wandering and hormone-driven behaviours and said “At the very least I don’t think can hurt”. While there is actually a study that indicates that this is the case, it is one old study. Anecdotally, I know of plenty of people who have non-humpy non-pissing non-wandering dogs that are entire.

Ian Hunter says that “In the ACT, desexing is compulsory and has led to a 47% decrease in dog attacks. It’s also reduced the number of unwanted dogs being euthanised.” Despite a lot of research on my part, I couldn’t find any evidence that this is the case. Any clues on this appreciated! While there might be a correlation (I stress might), this doesn’t indicate a causation.


Code of Practice

All three articles talk about the government introducing a Code of Practice to target puppy farms and makes sure dogs are kept and born into healthy and humane conditions.

But a Code of Practice will affect everyone, not just puppy farms! Such codes produced around Australia have pretty much banned dogs from being kept inside or on grass. Are puppy farms defined as those with lots of dogs? Those breeding many litters? Those producing many puppies? Anyone that breeds full stop? A ‘puppy farm’ is hard to define, and so Codes of Practice affect everyone instead.

Further, dogs already have to be kept in a humane way! The Animal Welfare Acts and similar legislation across Australia requires it. Anyone who is allowing their dogs to get matted, or not have water, or have medical treatments denied, is guilty of an offence. We can get puppy farmers for that! Code of Practice not required!


Licensing Scheme

I was excited in article two where there was the suggestion that there would be no licensing scheme… Then article three suggested there would be. I’ve repeatedly made arguments against breeder licensing (the most elaborate being here), but basically:

1) Breeder licensing hasn’t been shown to do much (like the Gold Coast scheme) – it doesn’t reduce pound intakes for sure. And puppy farmers don’t make a habit of signing up.

2) Why would we introduce a new license scheme, when the Animal Welfare Acts are not currently enforced?

3) How do we ensure that responsible and ethical home ‘hobby breeders’ are not discouraged from breeding wonderful pets?

4) Often, breeder licensing excludes ‘backyard breeders’, ‘working dog breeders’, and greyhound breeders. These breeders produce a lot of dogs and dogs that are, seemingly, more likely to end up in the pound system.


Other Matters

Tammy Franks wants shelters to reveal euthanasia rates publicly. I think this is great if shelters were to have such transparency.

Article two and three suggest that mandatory microchipping will come in, and be compulsory (presumably, hopefully, compulsory before sale). While I have no qualms with microchipping being mandatory, I look forward to the phone line that allows me to report in those selling animals without microchips illegally. I don’t look forward to my expensive phone bills from making such reports. What I’m saying is: I have no confidence that this legislation will be adequately enforced.

Interestingly, one article says that there will be a “requirement for pets to only be bought from registered breeders”. That would be interesting! No more RSPCA, AWL, rescue group sales. No more guide dog and assistant dog groups selling unsuitable animals. Does that mean private rehomings are no longer legal? Surely this must be some kind of error in reporting.

And still there’s continued bleating about a cooling off period, under the guise that it would “reduce impulse buying and cut the number of pets being abandoned or surrendered”. There is no evidence that this is the case! Firstly, it does not seem that pets acquired impulsively are at any greater risk of being surrendered than pets acquired with a lot of thought. Secondly, there is no evidence that a cooling off period would reduce abandonment of pets. I don’t know how this even gets attention!


How unfortunate that the Select Committee’s recommendations are now gaining media attention and potentially some momentum in SA.

I spent a great many hours researching and writing my 20 page submission to the Committee. When the Committee published its findings and suggestions, I was so angry that the recommendations made were based on an emotive community rather than evidence and science.

I had been peacefully thinking that the Select Committee was just a little media stunt, and that it was going to disappear. These recent media reports and troubling and upsetting.

It’s concerning that the Government is prepared to invest resources into plans with no evidence that they will have any impact on animal welfare.

It is just as concerning that the community is lapping it up.


Further reading:

Public Misconceptions

Is desexing a cult?

Companion Animal Taskforce in NSW – Feedback


Public Misconceptions

I was struck while reading the Companion Animal Taskforce report and that of the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA (click ‘Final Report’) on the feedback that was provided by the public. Submissions to both of these committees were making the same uninformed recommendations, and the similarities between public opinions expressed are extensive.

I thought it was time to address some of these misconceptions held by the general public concerning animal welfare.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Desexing everything!

The public seems to believe that there is an overpopulation of animals, and that desexed animals are healthier, and therefore argue for mandatory desexing.

In reality, there is no ‘overpopulation problem‘ and it is debatable whether desexing is in the best interest of animal health.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Ban pet sales in pet shops!

Most puppies in pet shops come from puppy mills. I like puppy mills as little as the next person, and in no way want to support the practices of puppy farmers.

However, the problem here is puppy mills. Not pet shops.

Pet shops are on public display, and have a pretty strict codes of conduct which are often better/higher than your average backyard breeder. Are they really who we should be targeting?

Furthermore, many pet shops routinely work with rescues to sell/market animals. Do we really want to ban that?


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Get breeders registered!

There seems to be a logic that if breeders had to be registered there would be less unscrupulous breeding.

As most of these schemes require breeders to pay in order to be registered, what breeder registration effectively does is limit (legal) breeding to those who are making money from the practice. What I mean is: breeders who don’t make money are are probably the ‘ethical ones’, and are probably less likely to be able to afford registration. Are these the individuals we want to perturb from breeding?

Meanwhile, individuals making profits from dog breeding (i.e. the puppy farms) easily purchase their registrations. Some argue that registering breeders would mean that there would be ‘policing’ of legislation surrounding their care. It is already illegal to be cruel to and not ensure the welfare of dogs. If this legislation isn’t being policed, then that’s the matter for the police.  Furthermore, is it truly likely that the bad guys are going to sign up to such legislation? “Well, my animals have lived in faeces for years, but now that I have to be registered, I really want to undergo the scrutiny of a policing body.” Yeah, nah.


This is Dulcie's litter - a bitch that was rescued from a pound when she was 8 weeks pregnant. As a rescue, we whelped and raised this litter. If breeders had to be registered, would rescues have to be registered as breeders, too?

This is Dulcie’s litter – a bitch that was rescued from a pound when she was 8 weeks pregnant. As a rescue, we whelped and raised this litter. If breeders had to be registered, would rescues have to be registered as breeders, too?


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Mandatory cooling off periods are cool.

There seems to be a belief that animals are surrendered to rescue because owners ‘didn’t think about their purchase’, or otherwise acquired their pet impulsively. In reality, relinquishment statistics don’t support this, and there is evidence that impulsive adoptions are as successful as planned ones. In this way, there is not evidence that supports mandatory cooling off periods as desirable.

However, there are obvious implications for other animal-selling institutions regarding a mandatory cooling off period. Do we really want to see animals held in pounds even longer? Do we really want to see puppies held in pet shops longer? We know both of these scenarios have negative welfare implications on dogs, so why would we mandate compulsory confinement under the guise of a cooling off period with unsubstantiated positive benefits?

Mandatory cooling off periods restrict adoptions! Bad!


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Puppy mills should be banned. Backyard breeders should be banned.

While I would also like to see puppy mills and backyard breeders cease to exist, it’s unlikely that a legislative ‘ban’ would be effective. Those who are unscrupulously producing puppies are unlikely to heed new legislation.  Furthermore, I am concerned that a ban on backyard breeders or puppy mills may see ethical registered breeders disadvantaged.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Online puppy sales should be banned.

Presumably, puppy millers use the internet to make sales of their puppies and avoid scrutiny of their premises. While this is likely the case, many ethical puppy sales are made online too – such as DogzOnline (for purebred breeders) and PetResuce (for rescue pets). It seems folly to restrict sales of all animals online due to the malpractice of a few.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Animals should be desexed before sale.

This is a mandatory desexing claim. The Saving Pets blog does a good job of describing how mandatory desexing has never worked. Furthermore, I’ve blogged before about how mandatory desexing is hard to define (unless we desex everything and eradicate the species). Mandatory desexing is also often associated with early age desexing, which has its own welfare implications. And there’s evidence that making desexing mandatory increases surrenders, as people aren’t able to pay for the surgery and so are left with no other choice. And, on top of that, desexing is a medical procedure, which should be implemented by medical professionals based on the individual animal at hand – not policy makers.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Bitches should only have a particular number of litters in her life. Bitches should wait a certain time in between litters.

There seems to be a belief that bitches will ‘wear out’ if bred every season, or allowed to have ‘too many’ litters.  However, there is little evidence to substantiate this claim.  It seems surprising, but there is really no evidence on when it becomes a welfare issue for a bitch to have so many litters or a time between litters.  (Despite what the Victorian code tried to suggest.)

You may be surprised to hear that when bitches don’t fall pregnant after estrus, they are more likely to develop the sometimes-lethal condition pyometra. In that way, there is actually evidence to the contrary - not breeding a bitch every season could be detrimental to their welfare.

Basically, though, it is up to breeders to determine how many litters a bitch may have, and over what time period, if any at all. They may have good reason for allowing a bitch to have several litters – perhaps the bitch is a Supreme Show Champion, or maybe she is an exceptional free-whelping bitch in a breed that often has whelping difficulty. There might also be good reason to have several back to back litters – maybe there is a stud visiting the country for a ‘limited time only’, or maybe the bitch has a pet home to go to so the breeder wants her to finish her breeding career sooner. These are all individualistic things for the breeder to address.

Basically, there is no evidence confirming this avowal, and it seems like a limit to puppies bred (probably on the basis of the overpopulation myth) is based on good intentions instead of good science.  Meanwhile, until we have more evidence, breeders are in the best position to use their own discretion in determining their own breeding practices based on their specific conditions.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Breeders should only have n dogs on their property (where n is a certain number of dogs).

Often, the public seems to believe that at a certain point – be it 10, 20, 30, 50, or more – breeders suddenly become ‘unethical’.  In reality, numbers has nothing to do with ethics.  Through my rescue work, I have seen plenty of dogs who have lived singularly that have been treated poorly, and seen litters of puppies surrendered by people with just ‘a dog and a bitch’ who happen to breed.  People can be unethical with just 1 or 2 dogs, but they can also be highly ethical with 50 or more dogs.  So far, I haven’t been to a facility with 30 or more dogs that didn’t have good welfare standards.

While it may be easy to apply a blanket limit on dog numbers, again, there is no evidence that this truly matters. If animals on the property are being treated in ethical ways, then it’s folly to deny owners the privilege of having that many dogs.  Likewise, if individuals only have a small number of dogs, but are handling them in ways that are inappropriate, then this should not be permitted, either.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: When advertising, breeders should have to provide a microchip or breeder number.

The logic here is that this would mean that only legitimate breeders would be able to advertise.

While this suggestion is not as detrimental as some of the other proposals here, it still is not a gold star suggestion.  Chiefly, this proposal is only as good as the policing that is implemented.  Considering the failure to police the Animal Welfare Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, what faith do we have that advertising controls would be enforced?

Recently, the microchip number in advertisement rule was introduced in Victoria. What the dodgy breeders did is copy and paste the microchip numbers for legitimate ads onto their own, to avoid detection. Without adequate policing, policies like this will never work.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Anyone with an entire animal should be considered a breeder.

Presumably, activists believe that if an animal is entire, it will breed. They don’t believe in legitimate reasons that people keep animals entire.

For the last few years, I have had 3 ‘permanent resident’ entire dogs, of different sexes, living in my house, plus almost always one rescue dog (adding up to about 30 dogs in all) come through my house, most entire when they enter (and all desexed when they leave). I have never had an accidental mating or litter.

In reality, it is very possible to own entire animals without breeding. It is just a simple matter of management.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Support for codes of practice/restrictions on breeders is the way to better animal welfare.

There seems to be a logic that if breeders and their practices are restricted, the welfare of breeding animals will be improved.  In reality, we already have a pretty good legislation, like the Animal Welfare Act.

If breeders are choosing to disregard current legislation, then it’s very likely they’ll continue to disregard new legislation. Legislation is only effective when it goes along with enforcement.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: We could have a pet license scheme.

At least this idea leaves the poor breeders alone! This one concentrates on pet owning public and goes with the logic: ‘If someone had to get a license before adopting a pet, then they wouldn’t impulsively purchase a pet and they’d be better owners who don’t dump their pets at shelters’.

Firstly, how wildly expensive and impractical is this proposal? There’s about 3.4 million dogs in Australia.  Introducing a retrospective ownership scheme will be hard work!  And expensive!  And impossible!

We’ve already addressed the impulsivity thing with the mandatory cooling off period segment. Most people aren’t impulsive in their pet choices. (And even if they are impulsive, that doesn’t make them bad pet owners.)

And there are a range of reasons for people to relinquish pets, most of them to do with accommodation issues.

And, I’m willing to bet, if you made pet licenses compulsory, there would be one more reason to relinquish a pet.  (That is, “I can’t afford or find time to acquire my pet license, therefore I am surrendering this pet because I am not legally able to own it.”)


So what should we do, then?

I’ve been a bit of a negative nancy all through this post, so it’s important to note that I try to come up with workable suggestions for improving animal welfare.

Firstly, I’d like to see microchips as compulsory (and policed!) and then I’d like to see these microchips linked to the breeder’s details, and have the breeder required to provide some level of care to their pups for life.  I wrote more about this in my post ‘What is the Answer (to Puppy Mills)?‘.

Also, I made a bunch of recommendations to the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA. At the beginning of this post, they’re summarised as ‘key points’.  Click through to read all the recommendations I made, with the primary purpose of reducing euthanasia in shelters.


Voiceless Lecture Series

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture with Antoine Goetschel, an individual described as ‘The World’s Top Animal Lawyer’ and a writer of a number of books.

Antoine travelled the country delivering this lecture, courtesy of Voiceless. Voiceless is an organisation that campaigns for changes in animal welfare legislation based on science. They believe that, while public opinion may catalyst change, science challenges industry and provides evidence for that change.

Antoine was enjoyable to listen to. Below is a summary of his lecture.


A horse drawn tram: Who is looking out for this Clydesdale's welfare?

A horse drawn tram: Who is looking out for this Clydesdale’s welfare?


Why Does Animal Welfare Matter?

Antoine wants to throw out the idea that “we should protect animals because they can suffer”.  While of course we want to prevent animal suffering, our concern for animal welfare should extend to their inherent value for who they are, and not just the state of what they could be in inappropriate conditions.

How we treat animals is, what Antoine called, a “barometer for human friendliness” and that treating animals well is “making our life more consistent” with the way we treat people.

Basically, Antoine argued that the dignity of creatures should be acknowledged beyond protecting them from suffering and pain, and has links to how people treat one another.


Legislation is ‘The Solution’ to Ensuring Animal Welfare

Antoine said that “If you do not know the goal, every path is wrong”.  For ensuring animal welfare, Antoine argues that the goal should be to create legislation that ensures animal welfare.

While we all have personal ethics, these are personal opinion and mean nothing to law makers.  That is, ethics are not binding.  However, laws are binding.  You are either complying with the law, or you’re not, and it doesn’t matter what your opinion on the law is – it doesn’t matter. It’s the law.  Science is key in informing such laws.

Antoine made the audience laugh with the saying, “Dogs bark, cats meow, and farmers complain”.  While farmers  and others will oppose legislation, when it’s based on science and then made law, they don’t have many choices but to comply.

Legislation ‘secures animal interests’, but it is a long term goal that needs to be created in small pieces that slowly ‘chip away’.  For example, our long term goal may be to ban experiments on animals, but first we could put it on a permit system, or require supervision, before increasing degrees of legislation that further restrict and then eventually prohibit the use of animals in experiments.

There are many countries leading the way, like Switerzland and Germany, who have placed animal welfare is in their constitution, thereby obligating laws ensuring that animal welfare is upheld.

Antoine also made a case for uniform animal welfare law.  For example, a national Animal Welfare Act or a national definition for ‘free range eggs’.  These laws should be ‘copy and pasted’, and not redefined overtime. On an aside, Antoine mentioned that it’s the state’s job to police animal welfare – not charity groups like the RSPCA.

Unless we make animal welfare law, we’re just asking, “Please be nice to animals”.


Animals Aren’t Objects

Currently, most law recognises animals as objects that can be owned as property. However, clearly, animals are more than merely objects.  Equally clearly, animals aren’t human, either.

Animal law campaigners argue that there should be a third category that recognises that animals are special.

This ‘third category’ is important when thinking about animals as part of the family, in divorce, or lost and found, or renting. For example, landlords cannot evict people from their premises for adding to their family – and this should include animal children. I instantly thought of how the world would look if pounds/shelters didn’t euthanise animals for being ‘lost’ and ‘unclaimed’ or even holding animals under ransom for impound fees, but instead worked like police in returning animals to their homes, or acted like child services to help improve home living conditions for pets.

However, there is no doubt that humans should be protected from animals that are dangerous.  Owners (or their insurance) should be held responsible for dangerous dogs.


A Voice for Animals

Antoine argued that because animals have no one ‘standing up to them’, they are abused, neglected, or simply killed.  He argued that there needs to be a voice for animals, an animal advocate, to stand up for the rights of animals.  These animal advocates would have a role in the media, and also in court.

In court, people who abuse animals can defend themselves, but animals cannot. In this way, legal proceedings are already tilted to the benefit of animal abusers.  More people need to be punished for their crimes against animals, and authorities need a greater motivation to press charges.

This animal advocate would give voice, legimitacy, publicity to animal causes. If we have these individuals appear on TV, standing up for animals, animal abuse feels more serious.

Currently, animals do not have ‘rights’, in the eyes of the law, but giving animals a voice is a good first step before animal rights are recognised in legislation.



  • Animals matter
  • We need to move away from ‘anti cruelty’ and into ‘pro dignitiy’
  • Animals are beyond objects, but aren’t human
  • Giving animals a voice in procedures is a good start to animal rights
  • Make society more human and animal friendly
  • “No body is for cruelty! We are all against cruelty.”


My Thoughts and Interpretations

Antoine was a powerful speaker, and it was hard not to agree with him.  Significantly, I strongly agree that simply ‘preventing animals from suffering’ is not enough and we should instead require particular forms of animal welfare (such as enrichment).  To me, it’s like comparing the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts’ to that of the ‘Animal Welfare Acts’ – their aims are similar, but their powerful difference in execution is significant. (A further comparison between these pieces of legislation can be seen here.)

In regard to dog welfare, however, particularly dog breeding legislation, I am not sure what the appropriate legislation actually is.  I have criticised dog breeder legislation a lot (see Victorian, NSW, QLD, and SA legislation critiques), and mostly the problem is they try to improve animal welfare by putting restrictions on pen sizes.  As someone who loves and uses crates, I fear that crates (arguably: good for animal welfare) will be effectively criminalised by such legislation.  Furthermore, they try to make generic legislation (e.g. the bitch should be able to escape her puppies at all times) without regard to individual animals or their needs, nor compensation to these needs.

Concerningly, Antoine used the term ‘chip away’ for legislation which makes small improvements over time.  Do those who argue for animal welfare legislation, as applicable to breeders, want to chip breeders away all together?  Some vocal groups, like Animals Australia, have already stated that they reject breeding of companion animals, so there must be others with motives similar.  Indeed, in a recent SA report, politician Susan Close said that she wanted less companion animals to be born. It worries me that legitimate and responsible breeders may find new legislation overwhelming and cease to breed. Responsible and ethical breeding has a place, and we have as much of an obligation to ensure that it continues as we do in ensuring unethical breeding ceases.

Despite thinking about this issue extensively since attending this lecture, I still can’t help but think my post on “What is the answer? (to puppy farms)” really gets at the crux of the issue. Basically, here I propose that breeders should be obligated to care for their puppies for life, especially if they end up in a shelter or pound.  The idea is that breeders would only breed with the ongoing welfare of that puppy in mind.

Regulating dog breeding may be worthwhile in some way, but I am yet to see a proposal that I can get behind.



More on this lecture series:

Antoine Goestchel – The Animal Voice (video).

Securing animal interests through law (audio).

The Animal Voice: Ensuring Interest Through Law (PDF).


Links of interest:

Animal Justice Party


Select Committee SA replicates faulty animal welfare legislation

In January, I blogged about the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare, including my submission to the committee. Recently, the committee has published their report, in which my submission is listed number 118 (out of a total of 168 submissions).

You can download the full 64 page document from the Parliament SA site.

To say I am disappointed in the Select Committee’s findings would be an understatement.  When the submission processed asked writers to provide evidence for their recommendations (i.e. “The information you provide as evidence should be factual and capable of being substantiated.”), I was anticipating a research-based report from the committee.

Sadly, a evidence-based-approach was only required from the writers, and not by the committee itself.

They don’t even keep this government ‘public opinion’ approach a secret, saying:

Companion Animal Issues have become more prevalent in recent years, with most states and territories amending existing legislation and regulations or creating new ones that reflect the concerns shown within the greater community towards the health and welfare of their beloved pets.

That is, the Select Committee acknowledge legislation and regulation change based on ‘public concern’ instead of evidence of that legislation or regulation making improvements or fixing problems.

Well, that’s a flawed approach, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it based on science and evidence that show methods for improving health and welfare? Why would be just do what the public wants when it may not actually see the improvements that we seek?

They committee has made a number of recommendations that are problematic. I will begin to dissect them here.


The Issues with Microchipping

The Select Committee praises Victorian and Tasmanian legislation, where dogs must be microchipped in order to be registered. They also praise NSW legislation where animals must be microchipped before sale and before 12 weeks.  The rationale is that such legislation would see more pets reunited with their owners if they become lost.

However, they provide no evidence that this legislation is effective at improving animal welfare.  The only evidence produced by the Select Committee regarding this Victorian legislation was the support from the RSPCA and the Victorian government. That’s not evidence, guys. That’s spin.

While I support microchipping and to an extent this law, enforcement is hugely lacking.  In NSW, just look at Broken Hill Pound or Tamworth Regional Pound or Renbury Farm to see the number of dogs that get impounded into shelters without microchips, despite it being mandatory in the state.  How are so many litters being sold or transferred unchipped? Where is the policing?

The Committee wants all dogs and cats to be microchipped in the hopes that lost pets can return home more readily. However, they neglect to specify the requirements that shelters, pounds, and vets would have regarding microchpping and identifying pets as they come in. Currently, there is no legal obligation for any individual to check a microchip on animal impoundment. This is a huge flaw in state legislation and it needs to be addressed.


The Issues of Breeder Licensing

All the legislation I’ve been criticising on this blog seems to be praised by the Select Committee.  They like Victorian legislation (where a certain number of entire dogs requires an individual to be registered as a ‘business’), but I have critiqued the new proposed legislation here, and for it’s lack of evidence here.  The Select Committee seems to praise the findings made by the NSW Companion Animal Task Force, which I have already criticised here.  The Committee also looked at the Gold Coast scheme, which I have criticised as “Clean and Kennelled“.

The basic recurrent theme in all this is it provides little lee-way for people to raise puppies in home environments, only in disinfected kennel blocks. This is detrimental to dog welfare.

The rationale behind breeder licensing is that if breeders are licensed, then codes of conduct legislation concerning animal welfare can be upheld.  The Committee wants a code like the NSW one in SA.  The Select Committee says such legislation “Will ensure a better and enforceable welfare standard for breeding companion animals.”  However, while it may provide an enforceable standard, that doesn’t make it better than the current standard (Animal Welfare Act) that applies to all animals (not just breeding animals). Furthermore, having an enforceable standard doesn’t mean it will be enforced.

It fails to realise that individuals who are ‘puppy farms’ already fail to comply to the Animal Welfare Act, and so are unlikely to sign up to a breeder scheme.  I’d pay money to see the puppy farmer that says, “Well, I’ve been neglecting my responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act for years, but now that this breeder scheme has come in, I guess I better sign up.”

The RSPCA admits that puppy farms are hard to police because animals are often kept inside sheds.  How is breeder licensing going to fix this?  The Select Committee thinks such legislation will mean consumers can be more confident in their purchases. Again, only if it’s enforced… And the RSPCA already said it’s too hard to know where puppy farms are… So sorry, how? Isn’t it better to just recommend that anyone purchasing a puppy visit the home/environment the puppy is raised and use their own discretion?

The Select Committee describes how the RSPCA supports a breeder licensing scheme. Well, of course they do, it deflects public attention away from their own failings. There’s probably financial perks in it for them, too (as undoubtedly they would be enforcing such legislation).

The Select Committee quotes how the D&CMB supports a breeder licensing scheme.  Well, of course they do, they’re really into desexing, and a breeder licensing scheme is a means to get more of that. There’s probably a little bit of financial incentives there, too. (Dog registration profits have to partially go to the D&CMB, so why wouldn’t the breeder registrations go there, too?)

Of the bodies quoted, the AWL is the only one that seemed to indicate that they understand where puppies come from (i.e. backyard breeders).  Unfortunately, the Committee doesn’t heed this, and instead makes an incredibly heinous suggestion:

The committee recommends the scheme contemplate the inclusion of provisions for temporary licences to cover owners whose animals incidentally become pregnant, or who wish to breed one time only, and consider a sliding scale of fees to reflect the varying scale of breeding operations.

That is, if you’re a backyard breeder, you can get a temporary license and all is dandy. Sorry, I’ll link it again: Puppies come from backyard breedeers.

The Committee also suggest that working dogs would be exempt from a breeding license scheme. I am confused as to how working dogs should not be raised in ethical ways. I also assume that greyhounds may also be exempt from this legislation.

So, in summary, the Committee believes that a breeder licensing scheme “Will enable proper identification of breeders and should discourage disreputable breeders.” How will having a licesnsing scheme discourage disreputable breeders?  Firstly, if breeders are being disreptuable, what about the new legislation will cause them to become reputable?  Secondly, if puppy farms are hiding in sheds, how will new legislation discourage them from continuing to hide puppies in sheds? Thirdly, reputable breeders rarely make money from breeding, and if their finances are already tight, isn’t it conceivable that that reputable breeders will also be discouraged from breeding?

Apparently, that’s not an issue for this Committee.  Susan Close made it clear that the recommendations in the report were “aimed at decreasing the number of dogs and cats being born”.  That is, it seems the Committee had an ulterior motive: This report isn’t about improving companion animal welfare, its about decreasing companion animal breeding.  In this light, all the recommendations made make sense.


Enforcement is Lacking of the Animal Welfare Act

The Select Committee are proposing changes to The Animal Welfare Act, The SA Code of Practice For the Care and Management of Animals in Pet Trade, and The Dog and Cat Management Act.

But, if they want to make sure that that cruel practices do not continue, why don’t they just enforce the Animal Welfare Act?  It has always been cruel to keep bitches and puppies in excrement and to not exercise them. And it’s also illegal. If law enforcement (i.e. the RSPCA) is already failing to pursue breeches of this legislation, what use is a breeder code?

Screenshot from pg 19 of the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA, showing ill treatment of animals

A section of page 19 from the report, which illustrates poor living conditions. The top right impact (of a bitch with puppies in a white kennel block) does not seem to indicate any obvious cruelty (though the image quality is poor). Further, it seems the bottom images show sighthound type dogs (black and white dogs pictured), which aren’t typical ‘puppy farm’ dogs. I am skeptical that these images come from a puppy farm. Regardless, all these images are clearly neglectful and inappropriate, and that’s why the Animal Welfare Act doesn’t permit them.

Issues of Criminalising Disadvantaged

When making legislation that makes microchipping and desexing compulsory, little attention is given to those who are disadvantaged financially.  We know that most individuals who can afford to microchip and desex their pets do so.  Many people who have entire or unidentified animals simply can’t afford the service.

If we create legislation that mandates identification and sterilisation, we run the risk of making criminals out of people who are already highly disadvantaged.

Indeed, we already have issues surrounding dog registration.  Dogs in South Australia must be registered by 3 months of age, and councils then enforce this registration, and can issue fines for non compliance.  The Committee says:

If the dog is not registered, the return of the animal to its owner will be accompanied by a liability on the owner to pay a fine for permitting the dog to wander at large, another fine for not registering the dog and a further impounding fee. It is very possible that exposure to this sort of cumulative penalty results in some wanted pets not being reclaimed.

This matter-of-fact assessment is presented with no alternative.  That is, what’s the alternative? We could remove the section of the Dog and Cat Management Act that allows pets to be held at ransom, or there may be other alternatives.  The Committee’s failure to comment in this regard indicates that they seem to consider that pets being held hostage is reasonable.  How is that for the benefit of animal welfare?

If we are introducing laws mandating microchipping and desexing, then these services, at the very least, need to be more accessible to people in disadvantaged situations. Subsidised and mobile services would be a great start.


Blaming the Irresponsible Public for Animal Surrenders

The Committee blames people (the ‘irresponsible public’) for making bad choices, saying:

A secondary issue is that there appears to be an unsatisfactory/inappropriate sale of animals in too many cases. The very numbers of dogs and cats abandoned or surrendered to shelters is strong evidence for the failings of animal sourcing. The reasons given(source) for such surrendering make it very clear that many of these animals should never have been purchased in the first place.

The Committee again doesn’t provide appropriate evidence for this assertion.  Firstly, that source is wrong. That is, the link provided by the committee is wrong. It doesn’t show reasons for surrendering or relinquishing pets. Indeed, the word ‘surrender’ and ‘relinquish’ don’t appear in the report anywhere, let along on page 12 and 13 (as referenced in the Select Committee report).

Even if reasons for relinquishment were on that report, using a RSPCA annual report to substantiate that ‘reasons given for surrendering’ is flawed.  The RSPCA is a charity that keeps pretty good records, but that doesn’t mean that what they produce is research based. In my submission, I provided three researched references that specifically looked at animal relinquishment in my submission – this paper by John et al. and this one from Salman et al., and this one from Marston et al.. Why would the committee choose to look at the RSPCA’s annual report instead of published research?

According to the sources I references, animals are relinquished because their owners are moving, that they feel they can’t care for the pet (sometimes because they’re unwell), because a relationship breaks down, because they have too many pets and council won’t allow them to keep all their pets, or other issues. It’s pretty harsh to suggest that these people “failed” and “should never had… purchased [pets] in the first place”.

What about making rental properties more accessible for pet owners? 15 submissions made this suggestion, but it was not addressed.

Mandatory cooling off periods for pet shop purchased animals was suggested, with shelters and breeders being exempt.  The motive is to reduce ‘impulse purchases’, but the downside is that it means that pets have to spend longer in pet shops (an environment not good for puppy development). Is it in the animal’s best welfare to spend an extra two days (or whatever the period may be) in a pet shop? Nope. So why legislate to require animals to spend longer in pet shops?

The logic behind this this, according to the committee, is that a cooling off period “Should result in a decrease in animals surrendered or abandoned, and ultimately in a reduction in euthanasia rates”.  There’s a false idea that pets netering shetlers come from pet shops and ‘impulsive purchases’.  In reality, most pets entering shelters come from a ‘friend’ or from a shelter (source).

Susan Close then blames the community, the irresponsible public,

But we know that laws can only do so much – how the community treats their animals, and steps up and takes responsibility for de-sexing them, micro-chipping them so they can be found if they are lost, and doesn’t feed unwanted animals they are not taking full responsibility for, will ultimately determine if we are to see the rates of abandoned, abused, dumped and feral dogs and cats decline.

So individual responsibility is the reason animals are put down. Um. I am pretty sure that me and many other pet owners don’t have lethabarb in their homes.


Euthanasia: The public’s fault

The Committee’s report is slathered with anti-community messages, blaming ‘the irresponsible public’ for euthanasia happening in shelters.  The report says:

The most recent data from the RSPCA (2011/2012) revealed that the euthanasia rates for dogs and cats in their South Australian shelters were 21% and 54%, respectively. These unacceptable euthanasia rates are the result of several factors, but two of the major causes are a lack of traceability, and unwise purchase of animals

What nonsense!

Animals are being killed in pounds because pounds are killing them.

If a pet can’t be returned home, the next option isn’t to kill them.

If people are being ‘unwise in purchasing animals’, the next option isn’t to kill them.

The assumption is that if a animal is lost or surrendered to a shelter that it must be euthanised. This is not the case. Animals can be rehomed. It’s a revoutionary idea, but pets can actually leave shelters via means other than body bag.


Weak Recommendations for Facilities Killing Pets

We know that the ‘no kill equation‘, and all its associated programs, can reduce shelter killing to less than 10%. There are a number of no kill communities (like those listed on Out the Front Door) that are using the no kill equation to practically eliminate shelter euthanasia.  9 of the submissions received advocated the no kill or ‘getting to zero’ models.

One of the many no kill programs is ‘proactive redemptions’, where shelters and pounds try everything they can to get pets home.  This can be listing the pets image online, reviewing lost ads in the paper, having convenient viewing times, and so forth, just to get people to find their pets again and get it out of the facility.  We know that the more pets that go home mean less pets that have to be rehomed (or euthanised).

Considering this, it’s upsetting that the Committee made this one small recommendation:

Urge councils to use the “Found Pets” initiative to facilitate the return of dogs to their owners.

While it’s nice to ‘urge’ councils to use the Found Pets initiative, we should really expect and indeed legislate for shelters to make these proactive steps to ensure pets are redeemed. It seems unfair to put legislation on breeders on how they can keep and breed their animals, but then allow councils, shelters and pounds to recklessly kill animals – that is, these facilities have no obligation to find the animal’s past home, or find them a new home, before injecting them with lethabarb.

The Select Committee invited individuals and organisations to comment on issues related to companion animal welfare in section ‘F’, and many chose the opportunity to talk about shelter reform.  For example:

  • 25 submissions suggested more collection and publication of statistics from councils and shelters,
  • 16 submissions thought that ‘big’ and ‘little’ shelters needed to work together,
  • 16 submissions advocated trap-neuter-release, and
  • 9 submissions advocated for ‘Oreo’s Law’.

Out of these recommendations by the public, not one was addressed, and instead the Committee chose a meek little ‘maybe you’d like to use this app if you want to’ approach. We should be obligating that shelters and pounds do the best for animal welfare through legislation, and not just ‘urge’ them to.


Cat Stuff

This is a dog blog, so I don’t want to go into too much detail regarding the failings of the Select Committee in regard to its recommendations on cat welfare, but here is a quick summarised list:

  • The Select Committee seems to advocate WA legislation, which has been significantly criticised by the Saving Pets blog.
  • The Committee also seemed to be happy about Mitcham Council’s ‘successful cat registration’ scheme, but that’s not what the Saving Pets Blog calls it… Read more on Mitcham Councils ‘successful’ cat regsitration.
  • They seem to adopt a bit of a flawed approach, in that they firstly recognise that “increasing the demands on people who already acknowledge ownership of cats is unlikely to have a significant impact on those that have no owner”, but then go on to suggest cats be registered.
  • They want to councils to pay more attention to cat management and be obligated to submit reports about their cat management, but presumably that will just be able killing cats in the council, as no alternatives to trap-and-kill methods were suggested.


Other Stuff

The Committee want every breeder/pet shops/shelter to have a Cert II in Animal Studies. While it doesn’t seem onerous, I worry about the implications on pounds/shelters who are already overstretched with time and resources.

The Committee takes heed of the Dog and Cat Management Board’s stupid “Desex dogs to stop bites” campaign.

The Select Committee quotes the D&CMB saying they want to “shift” the last 33% of entire dogs into desexed dogs, by implementing legislation that makes desexing mandatory.  Mandatory desexing is not desirable.

While I don’t object to the Committee wanting all dogs and cats wormed, vaccinated and microchippped before sale, it’s another piece of legislation that is difficult to enforce.


The Good Stuff

I’m happy to give credit to good ideas:

  • The Committee supports continued relationships between shelters/rescues and pet shops. An excellent idea.
  • The Committee also recommends that breeder details be linked to their microchip (an idea I suggested way back in 2010). So obviously I like this idea too.

It’s disappointing that this is all I got from 64 pages…


In Conclusion

The Committee wants to make microchipping compulsory, which is not bad in itself, but has no suggestions on how this would be enforced nor accompanying legislation on how impounding facilities would be obligated to check chips on incoming animals.

The Committee suggests a breeder licensing scheme despite there being no evidence that such a scheme reduces euthanisa in shelters.  Predominately, they want such a scheme to fund the enforcement of new breeder legislation, which is flawed as it practically obligates dogs and puppies to exist in concrete runs.

The Committee ignores the failure of the RSPCA to adequately enforce the Animal Welfare Act.

The Committee ignores the fact that most people cannot afford to microchip and/or desex their pets, and so requiring these steps through legislation would essentially make criminals out of the already disadvantaged.

The Committee calls people who surrender pets to shelters as ‘irresponsible’ despite evidence to the contrary, showing animals relinquished to shelters are often for reasons outside of impulsive buying.

The Committee fails to acknowledge that euthanasia occurs in shelters because shelters euthanise animals, instead attributing blame to external sources.

The Committee does not acknowledge the no-kill philosophies recommended in submissions.

All in all, the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare provides no evidence for the recommendations that they make, and overall disregard the submissions made by the public. What a futile process. Hello status quo.


Links of Interest:

See the Hansard.

Microchips appearing in advertisements is legislation in Victoria, but not without problems. Read more: Discussion on DOL.


DO SOMETHING! Make a submission!

Currently, the South Australian government is seeking submissions on companion animal welfare (specifically dogs and cats).  That is, they want to know what legislation could be introduced to improve animal welfare and reduce euthanasia in shelters.

You need to act before the 16th of January 2013.

You can find more details on the submission process on the Parliament of SA website.

Below, I am providing both a summary of my submission, and the body of my submission, too. Though I welcome individuals to write a submission and use mine for inspiration, I hope that you add your own personal touches to the submission, and don’t just take mine ‘word for word’. (Though I personally don’t have a problem if you do – it’s just less powerful if you do!)

If you’d like to download the submission, you easily can: download selectcommittee.pdf

Update as of 16th January: This is the submission I actually made: In Response to the Terms of Reference

Otherwise, below is the document practically copied and pasted into this blog entry: Continue reading