My Say: Mandatory Desexing

(This is the last post in a four part series on dog and cat reforms in South Australia. See post one here, post two here, and post three here.)

Screen shot of the YourSAy website.The YourSay website invites submissions to a citizen’s jury. While we could discuss the validity of allowing (quote) “32 ordinary South Australians” to decide on whether various animal species should undergo the medical procedure of a gonadectomy… Unfortunately, this process has already been decided on, and hence we must make a submission according to this format.

When accessing the site, you will need to download a word document to make a submission. It is only on this document do we get the date that submissions are due in by: Friday 10th July 2015

This form also asks the question:

Last year in South Australia over 10,000 unwanted dogs and cats were put down.
The State Government recently announced some reforms to dog and cat laws.
What further measures can we introduce or trial to reduce the number of unwanted pets?

While the downloaded word document doesn’t explicitly mention desexing, the site does with the comment:

The government has also sought a specific verdict from the Jury on the matter of whether de-sexing should be mandatory.

The form also specifies that the your submission should not be more than two pages, and yet asks for examples to be provided… It’s an impossibility to provide ample compelling evidence in these narrow frames.

However, my response (which you are, as always, welcome to use in shaping your own) is below:

I am adamantly opposed to mandatory desexing. The reasons for this opposition are:


Mandatory desexing has not been shown to reduce the incidence of euthanasia in animal shelters. In areas where it has been implemented, often there is a subsequent increase in the number of animals entering the facility, as people are financially unable to desex their pets and, to avoid risk of prosecution, they choose to relinquish them. Internationally this affect has been seen Los Angeles and, more locally, in Western Australia. Mandatory desexing has actually been demonstrated to increase euthanasia, and therefore should not be an option for South Australia on this basis alone.


However, mandatory desexing is a move that is rejected by the Australasian Veterinary Association (AVA). The AVA represents veterinarians across Australia, and so it would be sensible for policy makers to develop legislation that corresponds with statements made by this peak body. Additionally, it is anticipated that veterinarians would be responsible for performing desexings (mandatory or otherwise), and so their support is crucial for successful implementation of mandatory desexing. Considering that veterinarians have significant financial gains to be made from such a policy, yet choose to reject it is, is an indicator of the lack-of-support for mandatory desexing.


Finally, and crucially, there is evidence that desexing in dogs can pose some health risks to animals. These risks include:

  • Increased incidence of some cancers (including mast cell tumours, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, osteosarcoma, and lymphosarcoma),
  • Higher incidence of joint disorders (including hip dysplasia and cranial crucial ligament tears), and
  • Increased incidence of behavioural problems (including reactivity, aggression, and anxiety, storm phobias).

Studies that indicate these problems have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, illustrating that this is not ‘sensationalised’ content, but the results of real research on dog populations. Considering the available evidence, it seems immoral and contradictory to animal welfare goals to obligate pet owners to subject their animals to such risks.


As alternative means to reducing the number of unwanted pets, there are a number of approaches that could be trialled. The most obvious would be requiring improvements in reclaims. For many animals entering shelters, they have homes that want to get them home. Unfortunately, the large shelters in Australia are not proactive in listing impounded animals. This makes it difficult for owners to know where their pet is to bring them home. Further, if they do visit a facility to reclaim their pet, many times there are large fees that they are required to pay to get the impounded animal out. This is a barrier to individuals getting their pets home, while if they stay at the shelter they may be at risk of euthanasia. An additional barrier is poor opening times of this facility, meaning in many cases animals have to stay in the shelter longer due to their owner’s inability to access the facility. In summary, the procedure for individuals reclaiming animals needs to be improved by:

  • Impound facilities clearly listing all impounded animals online.
  • Legally enforceable guidelines regarding the scanning of microchips and the use of the information to find the owner.
  • Fees and charges for the release of impounded animals being reduced, waived, or available on a payment plan.
  • Impound facilities having opening times that make them highly accessible to the public.


Other changes that could be made at a shelter level to reduce euthanasia include:

  • Oreo’s Law – the requirement that animals are not euthanised if there is any individual or group who is willing to take them.
  • Mandated time for adoption – require facilities to offer all animals for adoption for a set period, perhaps 72 hours.


Finally, a big reason that animals end up in shelters is due to owner accommodation issues. This includes those who are renting, or fleeing their home due to violence.  If we deal with human issues, people will be more likely to retain their pets. Changes that encourage landlords to permit pets, and providing temporary accommodation that allow pets, are important to prevent animals being relinquished to shelters.


In summary, suggestions for reducing shelter euthanasia include:

  • Creating legislation that requires shelters to:
    • Do more to assist reclaims,
    • Allow adoptions for animals who have no choice but euthanasia, and
    • Allow all animals to be available for adoption for a minimum period of time.
  • And dealing with community issues surrounding owner accommodation issues.


Further reading:

“Just stop breeding until the pounds are empty”

Is desexing a cult?

Why would you NOT desex your dog???

Are you willing to be wrong about that?





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



In response to the Dog & Cat Management Board’s recent proposal for mandatory desexing, my friend Ruth Bell (Markable Curly Coat Retrievers) and I decided to create the event “My dogs are ENTIRELY FRIENDLY”. We were lucky enough to hit the media! We appeared in the City Messenger (below) and also appeared on the AdelaideNow website.

Desexing not the answer

The article can be viewed online (we are on page 10).

I would love to see you at the rally!

9am in Victoria Square
17th February 2012

Please only bring sociable and friendly dogs to the event. We recommend that bitches in season stay home. Desexed dogs are welcomed to show their support. Dogless people are also welcome!

It would be greatly appreciated, if you are on Facebook, if you could RSVP to the event. If not, that’s fine, but if you can, please do!


Further reading:

Desex the bad ones!

Guilty until proven innocent – SA’s Dog and Cat Management Board’s next grand plan