Companion Animal Welfare

(10.09am 4 April 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

I move that:

(1) A select committee be appointed to inquire into companion animal welfare with the view to improving their welfare.

(2) That the committee consider the following matters:

(a) The number and cause of companion animals arriving in NSW shelters and pounds each year and their outcome, such as whether they get re-homed, re-united or euthanased;

(b) The breeding of companion animals;

(c) The practices associated with the sale of companion animals including from pet shops, markets, pounds, shelters, online, classifieds, or to the overseas market;

(d) Mandatory desexing, including prior to sale;

(e) The effectiveness and enforcement of the Department of Primary Industries' companion animal policies, standards and guidelines;

(f) The effectiveness of the Companion Animals Act and its application by local government;

(g) The effectiveness of micro-chipping;

(h) The treatment of companion animals travelling by airplane;

(i) The impact of pet bans in accommodation including apartments, strata, retirement villages, and rental properties;

(j) The impact of pet bans on public transport;

(k) The existence and effectiveness of education programs on responsible pet ownership, including the importance of desexing;

(l) Data collection by government and non-government agencies to inform and monitor companion animal welfare; and

(m) Any other matter relevant to improving companion animal welfare.

(3) That the committee consist of six members as follows:

(a) Ms Clover Moore, who shall be Chair of the committee;

(b) Three Government members; and

(c) Two non-Government members.

(4) That the members be nominated in writing to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly by the relevant party leaders within seven calendar days of the passing of this resolution.

(5) That at any meeting of the committee four members shall constitute a quorum.

This is a very significant issue. Animals are live, sentient beings. Pets give unconditional love and companionship. Pets teach us to care and nurture, encourage us to exercise and save the national health bill over $4 billion a year. How could a civilised society allow around 60,000 cats and dogs to be destroyed every year in New South Wales? The Animals (Regulation of Sale) Bill 2008 I introduced would have stopped impulse buying of pets, resulting in fewer cats and dogs ending up in pounds and being destroyed. It also would have removed an outlet for cruel puppy farming and backyard breeding. My bill was rejected even though companion animal welfare is seriously inadequately addressed. During debate on the Animals (Regulation of Sale) Bill the then Opposition, now the Government, called for more information and moved to defer the vote to establish a select committee to inquire into companion animal welfare. This motion now calls for that select committee to be established.

Thousands of people across New South Wales support this initiative. An open, transparent and independent inquiry is a vital opportunity for Parliament to improve the welfare of companion animals. The RSPCA has seized from puppy farms thousands of dogs in appalling conditions. These mass breeding facilities churn out puppies en masse while thousands of healthy animals are destroyed every year. The Pet Industry Association's recent claim that it will sell puppies only from accredited puppies is welcomed, but there is no independent oversight or enforcement of the sale of pets, and many pet shops are not association members. Puppy farms will continue to sell pets through classified advertisements, at markets and overseas.

While most registered breeders are responsible, concerns have been expressed that some dog breeds have exaggerated physical features, such as overly large eyes or head, that cause breathing, walking, eye, skin, hip and back problems, and a lifetime of pain. Professor Paul McGreevy of the University of Sydney Veterinary Science Faculty, who worked on the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, expressed such concern that a parliamentary inquiry was held in the United Kingdom. The New South Wales Parliament should consider mandatory desexing of animals. Unwanted litters account for a significant number of animals in pounds and shelters. A non-desexed female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in seven years, yet cats can be desexed as young as eight weeks. Non-desexed animals are more likely to show antisocial behaviours, get into fights or escape from their surroundings.

Many abandoned pets are not microchipped, including some from pet shops, despite legal requirements. Often the details for microchipped pets are out of date, making it difficult to link impounded animals with owners. Education is essential to achieve responsible pet ownership. The City of Sydney companion animal policy focuses on education and provides for free microchipping, dog obedience training, subsidised desexing and pet taxis for low-income earners. Not all councils do this and animal welfare charities do not have the resources to run large education programs on pet welfare. Governments should run statewide education campaigns to ensure a consistent message about animal welfare and care. Stray cats are vulnerable to attacks from dogs and people as well as health issues from lack of food, water and veterinary care, but councils have no rights or legal support to protect stray and feral cats as they are not defined in law. We need animal law reform to help councils rehouse stray cats and protect them from harm.

Last year two of my constituents lost their beloved French bulldog Kransky, who died at Sydney Airport from heat exhaustion while waiting to board a plane. Animal protection groups have told me similar stories. Parliament should investigate whether the Companion Animal Transport Agencies Code is sufficient to prevent a similar fate for other pets. Parliament should assess all animal welfare codes and policies to determine if they meet expectations. Code reviews are regularly overdue and often support industry interests over animal welfare needs. Shelters and pound practices vary greatly and good models need to be identified as benchmarks. The term "free to a good home", for example, creates problems particularly for cats, with non-desexed cats having kittens and thereby adding to the number of unwanted pets.

The City of Sydney has a partnership with the low-kill Sutherland Shire Animal Shelter, where only dangerous or seriously sick animals are euthanased. Healthy animals remain at the shelter until they are rehoused, microchipped and desexed. New South Wales should aim to become a pet no-kill State. Blanket bans on pets in apartments, retirement villages and rental properties force many people to give up their beloved companions at a difficult time of their life. Apartments and retirement villages in New York, London and Paris generally allow pets. Similar bans on public transport make it difficult for people with pets to get to a vet or visit a friend, particularly if a low-income person does not have access to a private car. CityRail imposes a complete ban on pets being allowed on trains, but the State Transit Authority allows pets to travel on buses at the discretion of the driver. However, sometimes public housing tenants who are able to get to a vet cannot return home because they are prevented from taking their pet on the bus.

In cities such as San Francisco, Berlin, Paris and London it is normal for people to take their pets on public transport. The terms of reference for the committee I propose would include the collection of comprehensive data on pet sales, pound and shelter numbers to trace the origin of pets to assess any under-reporting. The Government set up the Companion Animals Taskforce in response to lobbying for this inquiry. A taskforce cannot replace an inquiry because it has strong industry representation and does not hold public meetings. With a taskforce we do not know what is happening. Many members in this place have said they are animal lovers, and I guess many of them will talk about their pets. Those who really care about animals will support this motion so that the Parliament can gain an understanding of the problems associated with companion animal welfare and make informed recommendations on this important issue. This motion is about establishing an inquiry, understanding the issue and getting to the facts. It also is about the Parliament making the right decision. Respect and compassion for animals are essential to a humane and just society. I commend the motion.

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