Northcott Pet Day

(1.56pm 11 October 2011, Parliament House Sydeny)

Saturday 10 September was the fourth annual Northcott Pet Day. On that day inner-city pet owners brought their pets to Ward Park and Northcott Community Centre in Surry Hills for free care, services and entertainment. The day, run by volunteers, aims to increase access to animal health checks and to provide advice for public housing tenants and low-income residents. The City of Sydney hosted the event in partnership with a number of community organisations, including Housing NSW, Surry Hills Public Tenants Association, Crookwell Veterinary Hospital, the Cat Protection Society and the RSPCA. Peter and I took our dogs Banjo and Bessie to this great turnout. More than 500 people brought their 200 pets; it was the biggest Northcott Pet Day yet.

Most pets received free health checks, including 168 dogs, 26 cats and two birds, from vet volunteers and young vet students who got some useful experience in dealing with different types of animals that had different levels of training and required different levels of grooming. Every pet was wormed and every owner received a bag of goodies, which included a flea starter kit. Owners also received nutritional advice and food samples. The City of Sydney and the Cat Protection Society microchipped 40 pets and appointments were made for 27 dogs and five cats under the City of Sydney free desexing program. The RSPCA provided an animal van and the City of Sydney provided a community bus to transport people and their pets from five other public housing estates to Ward Park. Without these services many public housing tenants would not have been able to attend because they do not own a car, they cannot afford a pet taxi, bus drivers can refuse pets on board and there is a blanket pet ban on all rail services. This ban discriminates against people on low incomes, and I again call on the Government to remove it.

The RSPCA New South Wales, student representatives from the Australian Veterinary Association, the Companion Rabbit Advocates and the Cat Protection Society had stalls and provided pet owners with advice. Two agility dog trainers gave demonstrations and provided one-on-one beginners classes to train dogs to do tricks, which was fun. There was a free barbeque and pet gift packs. The event provided a great opportunity for pet owners to mingle and swap stories about their beloved companions. Importantly, some of the people got health advice, treatment, vaccinations and worming of their animals for the first time. Those beloved pets and companions had never been seen by a vet before because their owners could not afford it, which highlights the importance of the day. Northcott Pet Day is about recognising the importance of pets in the lives of people, particularly those who live in public housing, and promoting responsible pet ownership. It is a worthwhile event and I encourage all councils to hold similar events.

Pets play a vital role in people's lives. They give love, they teach children to care and they encourage people to exercise. Pets save the national health bill around $4 billion a year, which I have told this House many times. Pets are particularly important for elderly people who live by themselves and people with a mental illness, because they can help reduce anxiety and depression. Pets make people feel wanted. Recently I wrote to the Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Healthy Lifestyles, and Minister for Western New South Wales, the Hon. Kevin Humphries, about creating an assistance animal pass to enable people with a mental illness to travel with their pets on public transport and in public places, in the same way as guide dogs for the blind and hearing impaired accompany their owners. The dark side to pet ownership was the subject of a rally on Sunday 18 September in Belmore Park. I joined residents from across New South Wales to call for a ban on cruel puppy farm practices. Australians like to call themselves animal lovers, yet immense cruelty and suffering are permitted in the name of profit.

Puppy farmers breed dogs in filthy and confined conditions that do not allow socialisation and they are forced to breed continuously from the young age of six months. Members would have seen evidence of such practices on various television programs. Many dogs develop osteoporosis, urinary tract infections and stomach problems as a result of the poor conditions in which they have to live, and when they can no longer breed they are destroyed. These money machines supply cheap puppies for pet shop windows and classified sales where they can be sold to impulse buyers. Many owners abandon the dogs when they discover what is involved with their care. Abandoned pets often are not adopted, which leads to one dog being euthanased every four minutes in Australia—something about which I am sure we can all be proud.

My Animals (Regulation of Sale) Bill 2008, which would have banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet shops and limited classified sales to responsible breeders and rescuers, would have closed the main outlet of sale for puppy farms. However, the major parties, to their shame, opposed that bill. I spoke at the rally with Tim Vasudeva, the new director of the Animal Welfare League; Monika Biernacki, founder of Monika's Doggie Rescue; and Anne Greenaway, companion animal lawyer. Some people in the community who are volunteering their time are doing some really good work on this issue. At that rally we agreed that a humane and civilised society—which is what we should be—would not allow such suffering and destruction. I again call on the Government to ban puppy farms and to protect dogs from this senseless cruelty.