By Aimee-Lili Peters
Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. And also one of highest rates of pound animals.
Each year over 250,000 dogs and cats in Australian pounds are killed, that’s a number over three times the capacity of Sydney Olympic Stadium. If the animal is not adopted within a certain period of time, it is ‘put down’ by lethal injection or gunshot, then wrapped in a black garage bag to become landfill.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 63 per cent of Australian households own a pet. Dogs are the most common, making up 39 per cent. But why are so many of them left unwanted and abandoned?
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the RSPCA, is one of Australia’s most trusted private animal shelters. Kelly Walton from the RSPCA says, “The most common reasons we, and pounds, have dogs surrendered to us are mostly the owner having too many animals and are no longer able to care for the animal, or they can’t afford vet treatment for the animal.”
In fact, the total cost of owning a dog in the first year alone can be between $1245 and $3010 and ongoing costs for things like food, vaccinations, vet checks, grooming and toys can mean an additional $650 per year.
Justin Watson, 25, professional dog trainer and owner of Loyal Guardian K9 Rescue Shelter, says “We have more of a problem with our unwanted pet dogs more than anywhere else in the world. Families do not understand the sort of responsibility of having a dog; it’s like adopting another child.”
This was a responsibility learnt that saved Justin’s life. “I won’t go into details but I was in a bad crowd, into some bad shit.” But when Justin brought his first dog home, a Bull Mastiff by the name of Bruno, he was finally given a sense of direction.
“When I got Bruno, my dad told me that this dog is not a house ornament and I had to make time for him. Bruno ended up teaching me a lot of lessons about patience, self-discipline and responsibility.” And if it weren’t for Justin, a high maintenance breed dog like Bruno would have likely ended up in the pound.
Pound dogs are kept in small concrete kennels. They are not exercised or socialised, just kept alive with basic food and water. In Justin’s opinion, pounds are set up like a prison system. And like a prisoner put in permanent solitary confinement, the dogs end up with psychosis, otherwise known as going ‘kennel mad’.
Former pound volunteer, Emma Salterod says, “A dog in a pound is in an unfamiliar area, it’s not comfortable. You can’t expect a dog to act normal like it would in a family home. This is where families can get put off from adopting pound dogs as they seem to be dangerous or untamed.”
Pound Rounds, an animal rescue shelter, says that in pounds, the stress hormone levels of dogs surpass that of humans at extremely high levels making them “physically stressed beyond capacity”. Dogs in pounds are rarely behaviour tested with children or other small animals to determine if they are safe and/or suitable for families and once adopted, usually end up back where they started, or dead. Justin adds, “You can have the most well behaved dog in the world but it’s only a matter of time before those mental issues and those behavioral issues start to surface in a place like the pound.”
Last December, there was public outcry after two physically healthy dogs, Holly and Taj, were killed at a Blacktown pound “on temperament grounds for not coping”. Animal campaigners argued that the pounds sent them mad in the first place, kill them because of it, and then does over and over again.
But at the core of this crisis are the backyard breeders.
Dog breeding is a lucrative business, with some dogs being sold for up to $20, 000 to often uninformed buyers, but with the biggest business coming from pet stores, the retail distributors.
Animal rights campaigners and the public alike sees the backyard breeding industry as one that needs to be banned. Justin says, “It’s an unregulated industry. There are a lot of backyard breeders, people who are just putting dog over dog to make a quick buck. It’s just a factory for pumping puppies out.”
“Dogs that are bred in an unhealthy, unstable environment like a puppy farm, often develop behavioral and temperament issues, and those traits will be passed on to the pups so people and pet stores are buying dogs with issues.”
In February 2015, new legislation in the ACT saw the complete ban of puppy farms and intensive breeding, forcing people to buy from registered breeders, pounds or rescues. NSW could be next with animal welfare groups backed by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who blames unscrupulous breeders for breeding too many dogs and pet shops for supplying them.
The Animal Justice Party which won a seat in the NSW Upper House following the recent State Election, also has a policy to eradicate breeding practices which exploit animals and to develop nationally consistent legislation for the keeping, breeding and transfer of pets.
Justin agrees and feels the breeding and pet industry needs to be more tightly controlled. “The Government needs to set up a course as well as some sort of licensing system to educate people and families about the responsibilities of owning a pet so the animal doesn’t end up in a pound. There’s a licensing system for birds and reptiles, but the responsibility of owning these animals is nothing compared to that of having a dog.”
More than 1.1 million Australian households are planning to get a pet in the next 12 months, making it more important than ever for people to do their research into the dog’s breed, history, health status and where it’s come from.
As the RSPCA advises, “When bringing a dog into your family, it is extremely important that people ask themselves: Am I prepared to care for a pet for a dog for its whole life? Do I have time to care for a dog? Can I afford a dog? Will a dog fit my lifestyle? They are companion animals needing human company, and will depend on you for care and attention, not just the necessities like feeding them, exercising them, grooming and bathing them.”
To reduce the chance of a dog ending up in a pound, Justin recommends finding an experienced dog trainer or behaviourist to help source and choose your dog.
He says, “Tell them what you’re looking for, how much time and effort you’re willing to invest into the dog and get them to come with you when choosing the dog. An expert can tell you whether the traits of that animal will be compatible with you and your life.”
He also advises against buying or adopting a dog just because it’s “the cutest”. “The best looking dog is not necessarily the one that’s going to fit in your family. Make sure you choose a dog with a temperament that suits your lifestyle and personality.”