Companion Animals Taskforce submission

Submissions to the NSW Government's Companion Animals Taskforce Report have now closed. Thank you to everyone who took the time to make a submission.

The current recommendations will not achieve the urgent goal of massively reducing the number of abandoned pets that are unnecessarily killed every year.

About 60,000 pets are killed in NSW annually because they are abandoned or surrendered to pounds and shelters. Many of the Taskforce's recommendations, such as breeder licensing and community education are important but do not go far enough.

The way to effectively prevent thousands of healthy animals being killed is to:

  • ban the sale of pets in pet shops, markets and fairs to prevent impulse buying by owners not equipped to meet the costs and responsibilities of owning a pet;
  • require compulsory desexing of companion animals not used for breeding; and
  • expand support for the animal welfare and rescue organisations that work to re-home pets, including pounds and shelters with 'No Kill' policies.

Australia has the highest rate of pet ownership in the world. The pet sector generated sales of nearly $7 billion in 2011-12 and Australian surveys have shown that owners value their pet as a family member.

Research has repeatedly shown that pets improve the quality of life and health of their owners. Pet owners pay fewer visits to the doctor and have better cardiovascular health. A number of studies found dog owners had lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Pets improve children's immunity and make them less sensitive to allergens. One study found that children who grow up with a dog are 50 per cent less likely to be overweight. Pets play a vital role in helping people manage mental illness. Companion animals support people living with depression and disabilities as well as troubled children.

The current Taskforce recommendations must be strengthened to effectively support responsible pet ownership.

Changes to state legislation and regulation could remove unnecessary barriers to pet ownership and support the welfare of companion animals. Most importantly, well behaved pets should be permitted to travel on public transport and be able to live with their owners in nursing homes, retirement villages, apartments and rental accommodation.

A widespread public education campaign is needed to promote responsible pet ownership, including the requirements and support available for owning a pet, and to create greater understanding of the importance pets in peoples' lives.

The recommended Reference Group needs to give priority to immediate action to prevent the unnecessary killing of thousands of healthy pets every year.

Animal welfare agencies working on the ground with these issues every day must be involved in the implementation of Taskforce recommendations.

Below is my submission on the Taskforce Report.

RECOMMENDATION 1 - A breeder licensing system should be established and the Companion Animals Register should be updated to capture breeder licence information for each animal record.

Breeder licensing needs to be managed by the NSW Government or an independent authority. Breeding premises must be inspected before a licence is issued and licensees must be subject to random inspections to ensure compliance with an enforceable Code of Practice. There needs to be public reporting of licence holders and their compliance. High penalties are needed as a deterrent for unlicensed breeding. Agencies must be adequately resourced and authorised to act on complaints and initiate random inspections with the power to suspend, remove or amend a licence. There should be no exemptions to the requirement to obtain a breeding licence.

RECOMMENDATION 2 - The Animal Welfare Code of Practice - Breeding Dogs and Cats should be revised to ensure that the existing guidelines it contains become enforceable standards.

The Code of Practice must be enforceable and protect the welfare of the breeding animals. Relevant standards should include requirements for housing, including size and cleaning as well as feeding, regular medical check-ups, pest treatments, exercise in open areas and interaction with people and other animals. Broad and ongoing community education about the Code of Practice is needed to inform the community about expectations of breeders.

RECOMMENDATION 3 - Relevant animal welfare codes of practice should be amended to require the sellers of cats and dogs to display an animal's microchip number (or the breeder licence number) in all advertisements, and at point of sale in pet shops, markets and fairs.

The sale of animals in pet shops, markets and fairs encourages impulse buying and should be banned. Legislation should prohibit promotion or advertising for the sale of cats and dogs online unless the breeder licence number and microchip number are displayed.

RECOMMENDATION 4 - The Companion Animals Regulation should be amended to remove the existing provision that allows recognised breeders to sell unmicrochipped cats and dogs to pet shops.

The sale of animals in pet shops, markets and fairs encourages impulse purchases and should be banned. These pets are frequently surrendered or abandoned because people are unaware of the reals costs and responsibilities of owning a pet. The sale of animals should be restricted to registered breeders and licensed pet dealers that provide a mechanism to ensure responsible pet ownership.

Sales restrictions on pets in pet shops exist in Austria, Belgium and Croatia. Pets are rarely sold in shops in the United Kingdom. Last year the Cities of Los Angeles and Burbank in California passed ordinances to end or significantly restrict pet store sales. Throughout the United States and Canada, a total of 31 cities have passed similar ordinances.

RECOMMENDATIONS 5 and 6 - An information sheet in relation to the advertising and sale of cats and dogs and mandatory standardised information on socially responsible pet ownership should be developed to be given out at point of sale.

The sale of animals in pet shops should be prohibited as it encourages impulse purchasing. A comprehensive education campaign in needed on responsible ownership and how to reduce the unnecessary killing of healthy animals. The campaign needs to outline the responsibilities of owning a pet and the financial and time commitments required to provide throughout the life of a pet including:

  • Daily commitments to feeding, exercising and socialisation;
  • Costs such as food and minimum veterinary costs;
  • Early age desexing;
  • Requirements under legislation including registration and picking-up dog waste;
  • Services that provide discounted desexing for eligible people;
  • The benefits and importance of pets in peoples' lives; and
  • Processes for finding a lost pet.

RECOMMENDATION 7 - Relevant animal welfare codes of practice should be updated to require that at least one staff member working in a pet shop, breeding establishment, pound or animal shelter must hold a Certificate II - Animal Studies qualification.

This qualification should be held by a manager with authority to take action and implement necessary measures to improve animal welfare. The sale of animals in pet shops encourages impulse purchasing and should be banned.

RECOMMENDATION 8 - The Companion Animals Act should be amended to require cats and dogs to be registered on an annual basis.

I understand this is proposed along with a number of other recommendations to increase incentives for desexing animals. However, replacing lifetime registration with annual registration provides no practical benefits for reducing surrender/abandonment and euthanasia or, for improving animal welfare. It imposes burdens on responsible owners especially people on low incomes and people with desexed pets.

RECOMMENDATION 9 - Cat and dog registration fees should be reviewed and set at such a level to provide an additional incentive for owners to desex their animals.

Compulsory desexing is the most effective way of reducing the number of animals that must be killed.

Concessions in registration fees must be provided for pensioners. Cheap or free veterinarian desexing clinics and support for existing groups that supply this service must be provided.

The City of Sydney offers discounted microchipping and desexing for pension card holders. I attach a copy of a brochure about a program for discounted desexing and microhipping the City of Sydney is currently running in suburbs with a large number of public housing tenants.

RECOMMENDATION 10 - The Companion Animals Regulation should be amended to require a cat to be registered from the time it is 4 months of age.

I understand this is recommended as the required age for registration is often associated with the suitable age of desexing. This recommendation needs to be accompanied by the introduction of high volume, low cost desexing schemes for cats throughout NSW including stray cats, such as with mobile desexing clinics similar to those which operate in New Zealand.

I support changes to the legislation to encourage desexing and release schemes for colonies of stray cats that exist throughout the inner city.

RECOMMENDATION 11 - The Companion Animals Regulation should be amended to allow cat and dog registration fees to be indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

I support amendment of the Regulation to allow registration fees to be indexed to the Consumer Price Index to provide funding for education on responsible ownership, discounted desexing programs and further research and work into companion animal welfare.

RECOMMENDATION 12 - A new discounted registration category 'Desexed animal - purchased from a pound or shelter' should be established to further encourage the purchase of desexed cats and dogs.

I support establishing a discounted registration category 'Desexed animal - purchased from a pound or shelter' to encourage the purchase of desexed cats and dogs. This should attract a significantly more discounted fee than undesexed animals and the standard desexed animal fee.

RECOMMENDATION 13 - A grant funding program should be established for councils and partner organisations to deliver targeted microchipping, registration and desexing programs.

I support a grant funding program for councils and partner organisations to deliver targeted microchipping, registration and desexing programs.

The City of Sydney has a comprehensive grant funding program which has supported Pets in the Park, a veterinary service for homeless and low income people, and Animal Liberation's cruelty free festival.

RECOMMENDATION 14 - Measures should be introduced to improve compliance with companion animal legislation data entry requirements.

This recommendation must work to improve lost pets being returned to the owners including requirements by council, pounds and shelters to maximise efforts to find the owners of lost pets within the compulsory impounding period.

RECOMMENDATION 15 - A community-wide socially responsible pet ownership education campaign should be developed.

I support the development of a community wide education campaign to promote responsible pet ownership and animal welfare. Information for pet owners and prospective pet owners needs to include:

  • The ongoing costs of pet ownership including food and veterinary visits;
  • Daily commitments to feeding, exercising and socialisation;
  • Requirements under the legislation including registration and the requirement to pick-up waste;
  • The need for early age desexing and the availability of discounted desexing services;
  • Information about choosing an appropriate pet suitable for the owner's home and lifestyle;
  • The benefits and importance of pets in peoples' lives;
  • Processes when people lose their pet; and
  • The unacceptable number of healthy animals that are killed every year and how people can help reduce it.

An important aspect of education for dog owners is training. Many dogs end up in pounds because of behavior and it is often it is minor things like barking or chewing. People do not know how to handle it and they surrender or abandon the dog.

The City of Sydney offers free dog obedience training courses and distributes our Dogs in Public Places brochure to dog owners in parks throughout the local government area. I attach a copy of the brochure.

RECOMMENDATION 16 - The socially responsible pet ownership school-based education program should be expanded to include the preschool age group.

I support extending the existing school-based education program to preschool aged children. In addition to education on safety around dogs, school based education programs need greater focus on responsible pet ownership, the costs and obligations of owning a pet and the importance of early age desexing. School based programs should include statistics that around 250,000 cats and dogs are killed every year in Australia as well as some of the causes of this unacceptable level of killing animals.

RECOMMENDATION 17 - Comprehensive education material about the importance of confining cats to their owner's property should be developed.

I support comprehensive education about confining cats to an owner's property especially at night; however, this recommendation does not address the significant problem in the inner city of large colonies of stray cats living in vacant sites and public housing estates.

Stray cats are not effectively managed by the Act. Amendments to the Act to allow people or animal welfare agencies to catch, desex and release or re-home stray cats should be considered. This would reduce the number of cats living with no food shelter and serve to relieve pressures faced by impounding facilities, shelters and cat welfare groups.

RECOMMENDATION 18 - Funding should be provided for research into key cat and dog issues.

I support funding for research into key companion animal issues including the important role of pets in many peoples' lives. Some important areas for research include:

  • Causes and practical solutions for healthy pets being abandoned and killed, including problems experienced by new and inexperienced owners;
  • Barriers and attitudes to pet ownership in rental and strata accommodation, including the education of landlords, real estate agents and strata management agents about the rights and responsibilities of pet owners;
  • Allowing pets in retirement villages and nursing homes so older people are not forced to part with their pets; and
  • Lifting restrictions and inconsistent guidelines so owners are permitted to travel with pets under responsible control.

RECOMMENDATION 19 - Better practice guidelines should be issued to councils with a view to standardising impounding practices.

This recommendation must work to improve lost animals being re-connected with the owner and prevent the killing of healthy animals. Councils should be encouraged to collaborate with animal welfare and rescue organisations to re-home pets such as with foster care programs, training of staff and volunteers and ensuring pounds are accessible to the public.

The City of Sydney engages a No Kill shelter that works to connect lost owners with their and re-home the animal if the owner cannot be found. The Taskforce should recommend Councils partner with No Kill animal shelters as well as regional collaborations between councils, pounds and shelters to maximise vacant capacity and rehoming opportunities. Many councils and pounds are not used to collaboration with other groups and support and education would be required around the process and management of working in collaboration with rescue groups.

RECOMMENDATION 20 - The Companion Animals Register should be updated to provide a centralised impounded animal management tool for use by all relevant councils, State agencies and animal welfare organisations.

I support proactive measures to reduce the surrender and abandonment of pets such as preventing the sale of animals in pet shops, compulsory desexing and requiring a No Kill policy of pounds and shelters, and to improve lost animals being returned to their owners and the re-homing of unclaimed pets.

RECOMMENDATION 21 - The Minister for Local Government and Minister for Primary Industries request the Minister for Fair Trading review barriers to cat and dog ownership in relation to residential tenancy laws.

The above recommendation would remove the prohibitive approach to pets in apartment and rental accommodation. There are no specific legislative restrictions on pets in apartments and rental accommodation but many landlords and owners' corporations automatically impose bans. Apartments in major cities around the world - Paris, New York and London - generally allow pets. Changes to legislation must remove blanket bans on pets in apartments, retirement villages and rental properties. Individual pet refusals should only be used where there are proven problems.

A Queensland survey has found people would pay up to 10 per cent more for properties where they can keep their pets - a reflection of how important pets are in peoples' lives - and agents have reported that pet friendly properties can create 50 per cent more interest in a property.

Existing mechanisms need to be rolled-out to be more commonplace in NSW, such as:

  • A pet resume and pet bond system to provide incentives to counter landlord concerns about tenants who own pets; and
  • A pet agreement that enables an owner's corporation to outline its expectation of how pets will be kept and managed.

RECOMMENDATION 22 - An ongoing reference group on cat and dog management issues should be established.

Independent Rescue Groups and Animal Welfare Advocacy Groups must be significantly represented in the reference group. It must not be a reference group comprising pet industry or industry interests.

Key issues for further work by the reference group include:

  • Initiatives to reduce causes of pet surrender and abandonment;
  • Overturning current pet bans on public transport;
  • Increasing the number of public places where responsibly owned are permitted; and
  • Improving community understanding of the important role in peoples' lives.

Unlike many European countries where pets travel freely with their owners on public transport, the law in New South Wales provides no such guarantee. Many pet owners find it impossible to take their pets to the veterinarian or to visit go away with them to visit friends and family. Restrictions and inconsistent guidelines need to be changed to permit owners to travel confidently with their pets under responsible control.

Outright bans should also be lifted from other public places such as bars, restaurants, hospitals, beaches shopping centres, holiday accommodation and beaches so pet owners can maximise the benefits of pet ownership and socialisation time for their pets.

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