Companion Animal Shelter Summit

It was with surprise, and pleasure, I received an invitation to the Companion Animal Shelter Summit held in Adelaide, in Parliament House. This was a new venture, supported by diverse politicians (Susan Close from the Labor Party, Tammy Franks from the Greens, and Michelle Lensink form the Liberal Party), and, pleasingly, gaining attendance from a number of different animal welfare organisations. This function promoted itself to be, and was, a great networking opportunity.

I attended this function on the 10th of October and share my notes on the program below. I must admit that I neglected to take detailed notes on many ‘cat things’ (not a surprise), but I did make some notes and did include them below.

Dr Michael Moyer and Mr Tim Vasudeva at the Companion Animal Shelter Summit.

Dr Michael Moyer and Mr Tim Vasudeva at the Companion Animal Shelter Summit.

They keynotes speaker for the Summit was Michael R Moyer, a veterinarian practicing in Pennsylvania, with an extensive history in animal welfare, and what he approximates to be 20 years experience in sheltering practices.


Sheltering and Animal Welfare in the USA

Moyer began by describing the many organisations that function in the USA. Like the ASPCA, an old organisation with roots in equine welfare, who have a turn over of $189million in gifts and donations on an annual basis through public awareness campaigns.  A lot of this money goes into things like ‘Animal Cops’ (they’re behind the TV show). They do run a shelter and hospital for companion animals, which holds about 3,200 animals.

Moyer also looked at the HSUS, who earns itself $233million on an annual basis through TV advertisements and mailouts. They are a highly ‘visible’ organisation, dipping their fingers into many pies. They do not run shelters for domestic anials, but have about 6-8 wildlife sanctuaries across the country.

The American Humane Association is a little novel in this day-and-age as it looks at the humane treatment of animals and children.  This organisation is largely unknown by the public, despite it placing “No animals were harmed” labels at the end of movies. Their focus is not so much on companion animals, but producing animals on farms and accrediting these facilities. They gain about $22million in donations annually.

Best Friends Animal Society logo.I included Best Friends Animal Society’s logo on the left here because I just think it’s one of the most adorable logos I’ve ever seen.  BFAS often focusses its attention on ‘crisis’, such as hurricanes or other disasters, and providing boarding for animals in times of evacuations.  Through these disasters, they seek fundraising, leading to an intake of about $53million a year.  They often frequently take on high-profile cruelty cases.  They have a 1000 dog and cat animal sanctuary (with some large animals) and often have animals in long-term housing scenarios. They have recently taken over No Kill Los Angeles, including off site adoption sites and with 14 different rescues using these sites.

Moyer mentioned Humane Alliance, that focusses on desexing surgeries on a large scale – about 4 million pets being sterilised in the USA in a year, including transport to and from their desexing facilities. The desexing they provide is of high quality and they also have unique, high-volume training camps for vets.

Additionally, Petsmart Charities was mentioned. Even here in Australia, we have heard of ‘Petsmart’ (the pet store), but what we don’t hear about how they encourage customers to donate on purchase. Moyer described Petsmart Charities as ‘data driven’ in the type of recommendations they make for life saving in shelters. Petsmart Charities earn about $79 million, mostly from customers, annually.

Overall, Moyer described Animal Sheltering in the USA as:

  • Highly localised, highly fragmented, highly variable in success.
  • Often funded by municipality and not for profit runs it.
  • County shelters in more regional areas.
  • Large numbers of shelters in USA – 3500-5000 individual shelters.
  • The term ‘SPCA’ is used by counties and the public is confused because they think it relates to the ASPCA.
  • Regional variation in scope of challenges/success – climate/culture has an impact – as there are differences across the country with free ranging dogs and they care of dogs, geographical differences.

When someone brought up PETA, he called their sheltering an “active euthanasia program” instead of a shelter, as 88% of their intakes are euthanised. He clarified, though, that sheltering isn’t really PETA’s thing and they’re more into other animal rights agendas.

Across the USA, there are many universities teaching shelter medicine alongside their veterinarian studies.


Pediatric Desexing

Part of Moyer’s talk was surrounding pediatric desexing, which he defined as desexing from 6-16 weeks of age.  He noted that many recommend that desexing take place at 6-8 months of age, but there is no evidence to back up this being the ‘best time’ for desexing. Indeed, animals are still quite young at 8 months, so arguably it’s still a pediatric desexing procedure then, too!

While some idnividuals advocate that large breed dogs should be desexed at 14-18 months, Moyer saw “no reason” for this to occur, as surgery is more complex and serious the older the dog is. Moyer poo-pooed the idea that someone with (his example) a Neopolitian Mastiff may want the dog to look as substantial as it would be given the time to mature, and thought the other health benefits were far more pressing.

His main focus was on research that indicates that desexed animals live longer. He does not think urinary incontinence is a big deal (you can medicate it), and made reference to some rare types of cancers being less common in entire dogs, but concluded that this was because they died earlier so never got the chance to have cancer.

Moyer described some guidelines regarding the surgeries themselves:

  • Pediatric desexing should avoid and/or prevent:
    • hypothermia (from premed precautions need to be in place!),
    • long procedures,
    • fasting (controversially, Moyer suggests that young animals are not fasted before a surgery),
    • and NSAIDS.
  • In dogs, anaethetic is riskier if there is mask induction, xylazine, or injectable induction with halothane maintence.
  • In cats, intubation increases the risk of death by 3 times!
  • Young animals should be fed after surgery.
  • Pediatric desexing should house litters together before and after.
  • Hygiene is importnat, including true sterile hemostats.
  • Moyer recommended an inguinal tattoo (which is not common practice in Australia).
  • Pediatric desexing: Consider autoligation, in dogs and cats, males and females!
  • Flank/abdomen spays a matter of preference.

Moyer included several studies regarding desexing in dogs and cats:

Moyer talked about applying a process orientated approach to surgery.  He made reference to ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ by Atul Gawande.  You may be surprised to know that there is evidence that checklists improve patient outcomes in surgery.  That is, less patients die or experience complications if checklists are in place.  Even something as simple as requiring staff to introduce themselves to one another can improve patient outcomes. For this reason, checklists are good and should be implemented!

The benefits of taking a process orientated approach to surgery include:

  • Improved consistency and efficiency
  • Patient care is improved as it is process based, quality assured
  • Facilitates training and cross training
  • Facilitates leadership development
  • Facilitates continuous improvement – with individuals questioning every step of a process, assessing themselves and one another, and being comfortable to discuss problems.
  • Documented processes in place

The alternative to SOPs are: inconsistency, neglect, inefficiency, stagnation, tribal knowledge, and so forth. Moyer argued that not following a SOP should be grounds for discharge (while following them well should be grounds for promotion and other rewards).

With SOPs in place, mass-desexing is done effectively and with good patient outcomes. Moyer wants to dispel the ‘chop shop’ myth – if someone is desexing a lot of animals on a daily basis, they’re going to get very good at it.


Intake protocols for shelter, foster and rescue: Vaccination

Moyer emphasised the importance of shelters vaccinating animals on intake.  Any pet that is at risk of acquiring a disease (including pregnant animals) should be vaccinated against it on intake.  The particular diseases that are relevant will vary between facilities.

Dogs and cats respond to shelter environments, and pathogens, in different ways. For cats, many have latent viruses on intake to a facility and, because of the stress of being held in a shelter environment, they develop illnesses. Dogs on the other hand are normally healthy when they enter the facility, but they develop diseases from exposure to pathogens within the shelter environment.

Moyer joked that the ideal time to vaccinate incoming animals is two weeks before they enter the facility. Of course, that’s not possible (though it suggests that community education and discounted vaccination in the community may have a role in bettering shelters). Failing vaccination before intake, the recommendation is that animals get vaccinated within 30 minutes of entering a facility.

It’s a matter of weighing up risks: surrenders are at a low risk, in terms of disease, while strays are at a higher risk. Young puppies and kittens are the greatest risk of contracting disease.

These vaccinations should take place with modified live products that have been properly stored and reconstituted.

In Australia, we do not have a problem with rabies. For this reason, we do not have animal sheltering intertwined with public health. Moyer described how, in the USA, an interest in public health has funded much of animal control.


Intake protocols for shelter, foster and rescue: Other

Moyer argued that many shelters should have particular intake areas and protocols, with intake staff, an intake processing area, and a ‘receiving area’. But these spaces have to be appropriate. He used an example of intake-kennels where dogs had nose-to-nose contact through the fence, meaning diseases were spread among the 12 or so current intake animals in no time, and then spread to the rest of the shelter population.

Intake procedures should include:

  • health assessment
  • identification (collar/tag/microchip)
  • vaccination
  • anti-paraciticies
  • adoption status assignment (e.g. is it on stray hold or available for adoption immediately?)
  • data capture
  • schedule follow up needs (e.g. a second vaccination? desexing?)
  • for kittens, Pen-G injection


Shelters/Rescues/Fostering Interconnectedness

While Moyer has been in the sheltering industry for the last 20 years, he describes the recent popularity of rescue to be ‘an explosion’.  Rescues are great for shelters: they prevent surrenders and save impounded animals (especially impounded animals that need rehabilitation and special adoptive homes).  This work of rescue has seen a reduction in shelter intakes in many areas.

Shelters are typically the largest resource in the community. They offer opportunities for community engagement including collaborative adoption events. They hold a lot of resources and data.

Moyer considers fostering to be ‘an offsite location of the shelter’.  One of the key challenges with fostering is ‘staying in touch’ – this can sometimes be rectified by providing a list of dates for the animal to come back to the shelter (for example, coming back for surgery, vaccination, of adoption events).  Moyer also advocated the use of ‘foster to adopt’ in some settings. Foster carers need to be fully informed about the disease risks of bringing in foster animals, especially to their existing pets.

In contrast, ‘rescue’ is a broad term that covers networks of kennelling and fostering in an external network. A ‘transfer to rescue’ is a (desirable) outcome for a shelter.  They are a big potential resource and often can specialise in pets at high risk of euthanasia – and, by taking them, effectively reduce euthanasia.


Neonatal kitten care and medicine – and cats

Moyer talked about Austin Pets Alive Bottle Baby Program, and its high density housing of high need neonatal kittens.  The program vigorously and positively recruits volunteers, and these volunteers are staffed around the clock. (Staffing numbers are calculated from the intake data of past years.)  Obviously, this is a big job, and there are coordinators for both foster and adoption.

The program uses a ‘all in, all out’ batching system, where there are three rooms which fill and empty in a week, and then that one room has an entire clean. This reduces the spread of disease.

Moyer believes kittens are easy to place in new homes, because they’re cute and just need a little bit of marketing.

Moyer explained how the unowned cat population produces the cat population (as most owned cats are desexed), so it’s targeting this unowned population which should be the focus of number-reduction efforts.

Shelters need to provide intake alternatives for free ranging cats.

Moyer recommended that cats are cleaned ‘in residence’, so there is less stress for the cat and there is less spread of disease. There is no reason for a cat to have a completely disinfected cage every day.


No Kill Communities

A shelter’s capacity describes a shelter’s resources, associated rescue’s resources, and their foster resources. In that way, the life saving capacity of the community is interlinked with the shelter facility.  Moyer doesn’t like to use the term ‘no kill’ to describe facilities but, rather, communities. Despite the fragmented nature of the animal rescue/sheltering system, it is still ultimately one system.  In this way, it is a community working towards the ‘no kill’ goal, rather than an individual facility’s pursuit.

Homeless pets are a social problem. Not vetrinarian, not biological, not legal. As homeless pets is a community issue, then community and social solutions are the best.  If political support is available use it.


Extra thoughts from Moyer:

  • Moyer described dogs as having a ‘supply/distribution mistmatch’ – not an overpopulation problem.
  • In Moyer’s mind, there is a ‘native rate’ of animals entering any shelter. It’s not a high number, but it’s inevitable that shelters will have an intake of animals, as that is the role the community.
  • Moyer dismisses some individual’s focus on adoption returns, as the number of animals returned is a negligible number.
  • “Make rehoming the primary source of pet acquisition” and a lot of sheltering problems get easier. This includes removing barriers to adoption, like price.
  • Make return to owner easier – that is, impounded animals should easily be able to get home.
  • Make surrender harder.  This means making it less necessary and less attractive (e.g. required surrender appointments).
  • Asking this question pre surrender: “What would you need for you to keep your pet?” and working to supply this. (Like Downtown Dog Rescue.)
  • Many people don’t realise that their veterinarian can euthanise pets. It seems silly, but many people would choose this option if they knew it was available, over ‘surrender for euthanasia’.
  • And a neat idea: reward transport volunteers with naming opportunities!
  • Leasdership must: inspire change, incetizise staff and volunteers, instutionalise success, innvoate collaborative models


Barriers to life saving

I was in a group that broke away to discuss ‘barriers to life saving. The questions included “What is dying? Why? What can be done about it?” 

What is at highest risk of euthanasia? Our group suggested:

  • council pound
  • aggressive
  • anti social
  • medium sized or bgigger
  • bull breeds
  • untrained
  • unsocialised
  • senior dogs – greater than 8 years
  • ‘escape artists’
  • health conditions
  • request euthanasia
  • fearful and stressed
  • working dogs that don’t work – including greyhounds
  • kitten season

Moyer (who we were lucky enough to have chairing our focus group) suggested that we need shared reporting/data and greater trasnparency. There is no state requirement for this type of record keeping. Some groups are ‘concerned about backlash’ (if I may personally comment… if groups are doing things that may produce backlash, then perhaps they should cease to do things that create backlash…), so perhaps data could be aggregated to prevent this problem.

Reasons for surrender:

  • rental isues
  • behaviour – sep anxiety, destructive, untrained/hyperactie, escapes, aggression
  • deceased
  • not enough time
  • council number enforcement
  • life changes – including relationship breakdown or pregnant/new baby

What animals are most at risk of being unclaimed?

  • bully breeds
  • kelpies
  • lack of info on process
  • lack of finances
  • untrained
  • lag for cat owners (i.e. they wait a few more days to start looking for a lost cat)

Just as a note, the suggestions above were just the result of brainstorming of the group, and there was no need to substantiate individual suggestions to these lists. What I am saying is this is ‘ideas only’ stuff, and places to research more, not to accept as gospel.

Found Pets App

Tim Vasudeva from RSPCA SA (formally AWL NSW) spoke about his ‘Found Pets App’.

He briefly mentioned the importance of using visually appealing images to capture the attention of adopters, and suggested promoting animals on Facebook and PetRescue on Fridays (so they can come look at those pets over the course of the weekend).

Found Pets is an app that aims to ‘fufil a gap’ for pet owners, as we, as a community, are ‘bad’ at supporting people through the stressful time of losing a pet. The community needs more information about the reclaim process.

The Found Pets app is for all animals, and it is a ’1 minute’ process for Animal Management Officers/Rangers to upload an animal. The ranger uploads a photo, specifies the species, and the suburb that the animal was found (and the app adds the date, council contact details, and relevant pound contact details.

Found Pets is a website and a mobile application.

Owners can set the app so it alerts if a relevant pet (i.e. one amtching their lost pet’s description) is found.

It saves councils money. It saves pet owners money.

It’s a $30 per user per month expense for council. (The funds go to the app developer, not the RSPCA.)


Further reading from the Paw Project: CASS: Companion Animal Shelter Summit


Is desexing a cult?

There are two definitions of ‘cult’ (according to Google):

  • A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease, or
  • Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.

The community’s perception of desexing fits well into both of these categories.


Border terrier bitch on a table at a dog show, being examined by a judge.

The weird dog show culture.


How is desexing a cult?

There is relatively little data on desexing. You may be surprised to hear this, considering how the procedure is so loudly advocated, but there are few long-term controlled studies on gonadectomanies (i.e. removal of ovaries or testicles) in the dog. By this I mean that desexing is quite ‘nonscientific’ in that there is little research on what it actually does (or doesn’t) do for dogs.

Despite this, desexing is claimed to have “exceptional power in curing a particular disease”.  For example, desex your dog to fix humping, aggression, to ‘calm your dog down’, to stop testicular cancer, stop mammary cancer, and so on and so on. In this way, the desexing mantra clearly fits into the first definition of ‘cult’. Desexing is a nonscientific method that has exceptional power in preventing and curing particular diseases and behaviours.

The way that the community embraces desexing could be described as obsessive devotion. The RSPCA, PETA, and even the (government run) Dog and Cat Management Board all promote desexing. The community follows suit. There is a devotion to desexing – it is loved, embraced enthusiastically, has a committed following. The community loves desexing, despite little evidence.  This obsession towards desexing can also be described as cult-like.

In this way, desexing is a cult as it is:

  • a nonscientific method claimed to have exclusive power, and
  • obsessively followed by individuals and the community.


Logical Fallacies

Logical fallacies allow individuals to avoid a fundamental lack of evidence. The Glossary of Logical Fallacies explains:

… some individuals will attempt to derail the [scientific, evidence-based] process by diverting the progression of the debate with fallacious arguments.  Such efforts have the intent of masking the indefensibility of a flawed theory by muddying the waters with emotive rhetoric and fractured logic, with the ultimate goal being to convince someone to believe some idea that is not scientifically valid or that they might not otherwise accept.

Logical fallacies are inherent in both definitions of the desexing cult: a disregard of evidence underlined by a devotion to desexing.  In all things desexing, there is a fundamental lack of critical thinking. Any attempt to debate desexing often descends into a sphere of logical fallacies, like those described in the graphic below.

Rational Thinking

I frequently make arguments against mandatory and default desexing.  I say things like, “but breeding causes more dogs, not just gonads” and “there is no overpopulation problem, so it doesn’t even matter if people breed their dogs” and “desexing is correlated with some types of cancer“.

These arguments are met with responses like “Rescues desex their pets, so it’s obviously good for pets” (bandwagon) and “The Dog and Cat Management Board says desexing is good” (appeal to authority).  They make strawman arguments like, “So you’re saying that no dog should ever be desexed?” and even just deny the claims all together, “It really doesn’t make sense that desexing would cause an increase in lymphosarcoma” (personal incredulity).

People make black and white arguments like “We can either have mandatory desexing or we can let everyone have a several litters in their backyard every year”, that then extend to slippery slope arguments, “If we don’t encourage people to desex, then people will breed more puppies”.

One of my big pet hate is anecdotal evidence.  “I had a dog that was desexed at 12 weeks and it lived to 15 years old and died of a stroke” and “I knew an entire dog that used to bite everyone, and it was desexed and then it stopped biting”.

The false cause, “But so many dogs are dying in pounds because people don’t desex!” and “Entire dogs bite more, so testicles clearly cause dogs to bite.”

They ask loaded questions like, “So you are okay with the number of dogs dying in pounds?” or “So backyard breeders are okay by you?”.

In all these claims there is a lack of logic, validity and reasoning. Logical fallacies are a flaw in logic. These logical flaws are overwhelming in discussions on desexing. Debates should be argued and won on factual evidence and sound reasoning – and logical fallacies are neither.


What to do?

Unfortunately, the very nature of a cult is that it is difficult to break one. The devotion of to the thing itself is in the very definition of cult. Indeed, there also seems to be a veneration of gonads itself within the desexing cult.

I guess the only thing to possibly do is to logically state our claims for entire dogs, not use logical fallacies, and hope that people are willing to be wrong about that. We need to demand evidence that desexing has exceptional power – evidence in the way of articles in peer-reviewed papers. At the same time, we can supply our own evidence that desexing isn’t all it seems to be.

At the same time, we need to support dog science that allows us to make more solid conclusions on desexing. When evidence becomes available, we need to embrace it – even if that potentially means changing our view on desexing. I am not prepared to personally commit logical fallacies, just as I reject those exclaimed by others.


Further reading:

5 Logical Fallacies That Make You More Wrong Than You Think

The Great Spay-Neuter Fallacy

Understanding Science – Logical Fallacies

Border-Wars Comment Policy (or the Disagreement Hierarchy)


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.


Why would you NOT desex your dog???

Why wouldn't you desex a dog?


Desexing advocates seem to minimise the many real reasons that people choose to keep their dogs entire. In Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA, at some other countries, desexing (spay and neuter) is the default, and anyone who chooses for their dog to not undergo the surgery is treated with suspicion.

However, there are a number of reasons that people choose to keep their dogs entire. Here are some of them.


The question is: Why is your dog entire?


They want their dog to physically and mentally mature before desexing.

It is well documented that desexing dogs early can cause them to grow taller and leaner. While for many people this is not a problem, others particularly want their dog to develop ‘the way nature intended’, especially if the dog will be partaking in strenuous sports like agility. Others want their dog to mentally mature before desexing, too. In this case, “My dog is entire to ensure that it naturally matures.”


They want their dog to look or act like their given breed.

On a similar note, it is well know that desexing causes dogs to know only grow taller (in the case of early aged desexing) but, in all desexing, it is common for the coat to change texture and not ‘blow’ as normal. Quite simply, while you may purchase a purebred, desexing may cause the dog to look dissimilar to the breed your purchased.  The answer may be, “My dog is entire because I want my dog to look and act like the breed I purchased” and “My dog is entire because I don’t want it to grow tall (i.e. I want a small dog)”.


There are risk factors associated with desexed dogs that they are not prepared to risk.

They are aware of the health conditions associated with desexed dogs, and some owners may choose to minimise the risks of these health conditions by keeping their dogs entire.  These risks include an increased incidence of cranial cruciate ligament tears, and the risk of cancer.  They could say, “My dog is entire because I believe it is in their best interests, for health reasons, for them to remain entire.”


They want their dogs to act like its appropriate sex.

They like a dog who acts like their sex, which is mostly controlled as hormones.  This is best expressed as, “My dog is entire because I want it to act like a dog or act like a bitch”.


They feel the risks of desexing surgery is too great.

They are concerned about the risks of anaesthetic, especially if their pet already has health conditions (e.g. heart conditions).  These owners could say, “My dog is entire because the risks of anaesthetic are too great”.


They compete in dog shows in which their dog is required to be entire.

While many dog shows in Australia have a neuter class, they are not competitive, and only have one title awarded after 100 points.  This is, the neuter classes in Australian dog shows are not highly competitive. It would make sense for owners to justify keeping their dogs entire by saying, “My dog is entire because I enjoy participating in a competitive way in dog shows”.


They don’t believe their is anything wrong with their dog in current form.

Why fix what isn’t broken? Many dog owners are happy with their dog behaviourally and/or phyiscally and don’t want to change it. Indeed, they are scared that desexing may change their pet’s temperament. They could say, “My dog is entire because I see no reason to desex them – I like them just the way they are”.


They want to have the option to breed from their pet one day.

Before becoming alarmed (Oh no! Breeders!), I am referring to ethical ways in which breeders seek to ensure they only breed from the ‘best dogs’ and preserve genetic diversity.  For example, many breeders run on several dogs from one litter, to give them time to determine ‘the best one’.  Some breeders (like myself) may choose to put males out on terms that require them to remain entire, so I can collect semen from them and store it to preserve genetic diversity.  Some people also keep dogs entire as insurance – again, in my case, my bitch Clover is still entire just in case something happens to her progeny and so I’m therefore left without anything to go on with. So, people may be able to say, “My dog is entire because I am committed to ensuring only the best dogs are bred from, while also having a committing to preserving genetic diversity within the breed”.


They can’t afford to desex!

This is a big one! Many people want to desex their pets, but they do not have the finances to do so. Statistics from groups like Downtown Dog Rescue show that poverty is a big problem when it comes to many matters concerning pet ownership, including desexing.  If you asked these people, “Why is your dog entire?” the answer would probably be “My dog is entire because I do not have enough income to pay for rent, groceries, medications, and to also pay for surgery for my dog”.


They believe it is cruel to desex.

Desexing is a medical procedure that certainly causes short term suffering for an animal, and has some long term health implications. Many believe that desexing is a superficial procedure, mostly performed in order to make pets easier to ‘control’ (presumably).  How ethical is it to maim an animal for personal convenience? These people could say, “My dogs are entire because I believe desexing is cruel.”


The law doesn’t allow them to desex.

This is real. In Norway, desexing is illegal except in extenuating medical circumstances. Routine desexing is outlawed. “My dog is entire because it’s illegal to desex them.”


They chose alternative contraceptive options for their dog.

Just because a dog appears to be entire (like the lovely bull terrier illustrated above), that does not mean that they are actually able to reproduce.  Dog owners may choose to have a vasectomy, a tubal ligation, or use a contraceptive like the Superlorin. In this way, “My dog is entire because I have chosen a form of sterilisation (temporary or permanent) that not a gonadectomy”.


Unfortunately, we have set desexing as ‘the norm’ for companion animals. People take their pets into their vet for their first consult, and they vaccinate, microchip, and book them in for desexing.

While there may be many reasons that people choose to desex their pets, these are readily and openly discussed. This post aims to produce an alternative dialogue and provide legitimacy to the practice of keeping pets entire.


Downtown Dog Rescue have Dog Rescue Down

Would you like to keep your pet out of this shelter? Ask us how.

I recently ‘liked’ the Downtown Dog Rescue Facebook page and since have had my newsfeed collect many wonderful good news stories from the organisation. I had to share at least some of their amazing stories in South LA.

So what’s to like about Downtown Dog Rescue?


Surrenders are a Poverty Issue, Above All Else

Downtown Dog Rescue recognises that the number one reason that people surrender their pets is poverty.  South LA has 40% of its population living below the poverty line, and there is only 1 job for every 7 people (from the DDR website).

Mandatory spay neuter and prohibition of chaining means that owners must have their pets spayed or neutered, and must have fences to keep their pets.  When people cannot afford to meet their legislated ownership requirements, they feel they have no choice but to surrender their pets. While there is low cost spay and neuter available, as DDR says, ‘Low cost is not low enough’ and it’s true.

Downtown Dog Rescue makes it really clear that there are real human issues that prevent dogs being at home. For example, this son went to reclaim his deceased father’s dog, but couldn’t afford the reclaim fee and also pay for his dad’s funeral. DDR helped him out, but it’s just one example where very real, poverty-related issues impact upon pet ownership.

Importantly, poverty doesn’t make someone ‘irresponsible’ or otherwise unworthy of pet ownership – and DDR never makes this claim.


Part of Dog Rescue is Preventing Dogs from Needing Rescue

An overlooked part of dog rescue is to prevent dogs ever being in the position of needing rescue. That is, preventing animals from entering shelters to begin with.

On the 31st of July 2013, they proudly posted that they intercepted 30 surrenders. 33 animals were presented to the shelter for surrender, but DDR managed to keep 30 of those animals out of the shelter! Wow! On the 27th of July, they proudly intercepted 23 surrenders. That’s over 50 dogs kept out of a shelter in less than a week.

Earlier that month, they intercepted 20 pets and 30 pets.

So how exactly do you stop animals from ending up in the shelter? The pie chart below shows areas that DDR are helping in regard to the 650 intercepted animals in April-June 2013.

Downtown Dog Rescue Shelter Intervention Service

Spay/neuter is the big problem. When people come to the shelter wanting to surrender their pets because they can’t afford spay/neuter surgery, DDR refers them to their free spay neuter program. Like this dog.

Some people feel they need to surrender their pets because of their current housing arrangement. In some situations, like this cat, DDR helps by paying the necessary pet bond and thereby keeping the family together.

The ‘humane euthanasia for senior pets’ always brings tears to my eyes when reading their Facebook posts. Many pet owners, knowing their pet is elderly and sick, can’t afford euthanasia and so bring the pet to the shelter to surrender-for-euthanasia. Instead of allowing animals to die in a foreign and scary environment, surrounded by strangers, DDR helps families be by-the-side of their pet in a vet clinic euthanasia. It’s a small last act of kindness that made a difference for this dog, and this one, and this one, and this one, and many more.

You can read more statistics here.


Utmost Respect for their Community

Downtown Dog Rescue never blames the ‘irresponsible public‘ for anything. They never condemn or complain about the people they are working with, or shame them. In fact, they take the opposite approach: faming families for desexing their pets or faming individuals who go to great lengths to desex pets. They acknowledge real human issues (such as fear) which inhibits uptake of spay and neuter surgeries, and educates instead of dictates. There is no shaming even those who don’t choose to desex their pets (despite what some of the Facebook commenters may say).

DDR respects the community that they’re working with to improve animal welfare in the area.


Rehome from Homes, Not the Shelter

An important role that DDR accomplishes is preventing surrenders by networking and advertising ‘at risk of surrender’ dogs. That is: If a dog presents to the shelter to be surrendered, DDR can try to keep the dog out of the shelter by exploring alternative rehoming avenues. For example, they gave a shout out to find Butter a home, and this litter of puppies were lucky enough to be rehomed without ever setting foot in the shelter.  Excellent outcomes in these two examples, and just one of the many ways DDR is trying to reduce relinquishment of pets to the shelter.


Paying Reclaim Fees

It’s a common pattern internationally: Dogs who get impounded, for whatever reason, often have an owner who wants them back, but can’t afford the reclaim fee, and so dogs are effectively held ransom by the council or the shelter until a release fee is paid.  While the motive is to recoup expenses associated with the impounding, and perhaps fines for dogs ‘roaming at large’, in reality it just prevents dogs going home with their families. This is a scenario that DDR has seen time and time and time again. Luckily for the pets involved, the DDR will often assist in paying reclaim fees to ensure pets go home instead of stay in a shelter.


Providing Containment Options

Another big thing that DDR contributes to the community is assistance with fencing problems, chiefly, fixing fences or building pens. Many of the fences they fix are so simple, but make a big deal to the life of pets and their owners: They get to stay together.


And that’s not all!

DDR does anything they can to keep pets out of shelters, or just improve the welfare of pets in the area. Like:


And, of course, they have dogs for adoption too!


What we've learned; it's not that people who come to the shelter don't care, but they think they have run out of options.

“What we’ve learned; it’s not that people who come to the shelter don’t care, but they think they have run out of options”.

The situation in South LA is also a careful reminder that introducing animal welfare legislation (such as mandatory desexing or ‘no chaining’) can also have an impact on surrenders… Which in turn effectively nullifies any welfare benefit from the legislation in the first place.

In a world where my Facebook newsfeed is often overwhelmed with sensationalist animal rescue stories, my eyes constantly fall on the understated but hugely significant work of Downtown Dog Rescue. Their good news posts bring tears to my eyes. I can’t get enough of these happy stories! I am so excited for the dogs and people that this rescue is helping.


How you can help

DDR works on donations. They currently running a ‘donation special’, where any $1 donated by the public will be matched by the ASPCA. So now is a fantastic time to make a donation to all the good work DDR are doing. There can be no doubt that their services are truly helping pets and people, and providing the exact type of help that is needed. Donate here!

Downtown Dog Rescue



Further reading:

The Revolving Door: A poverty problem, not a pet problem

Poverty, shelter surrender, and what makes a difference (on DDR from Maddie’s Institute)

“All they need is love”