Intense scrutiny and pressure from the community provided the catalyst that led to positive change at a council-run animal shelter on the NSW central coast.
With the dedication of staff and volunteers, and the support of Wyong Council, the number of dogs and cats euthanased at the shelter at Charmhaven dropped by almost two-thirds over comparative three month periods between 2007 and 2008, despite a 44 per cent increase in animal arrivals. The number of dogs and cats sold to new owners or sent to re-homing organisations jumped almost five-fold.
Among the criticisms of the shelter, first raised by animal welfare advocates, was the suggestion that staff were too quick to euthanase some sick or injured animals that could have been nursed to recovery. Others claimed not enough effort went into re-homing animals or tracking down owners of seized animals.
In particular, the high kill rate of 52 per cent caught the public eye and led to demands for immediate change from communities and organisations across Australia.
Wyong Council stepped up to the challenge and practical measures to:
1. Reduce the number of animals arriving
2. Increase the number of seized animals returned to their owners
3. Reduce the number of days each animal stayed at the shelter
4. Increase the number of animals re-homed
5. Reduce the number of animals euthanased
6. Set fees to deter people from surrendering animals, encourage owners to reclaim seized animals, and reflect the time and care given to animals for sale.
Critical to success would be the shelter’s supportive management and enthusiastic staff. But funding was also required. Wyong Council increased the shelter’s budget, hired an administrative assistant to help the expanded army of volunteers, and allocated a part-time ranger to pursue unregistered pets and take action against owners who didn’t reclaim seized animals.
The shelter adopted a policy to only euthanase dangerous dogs, restricted breeds, feral cats and animals in irremediable suffering. Animals were only killed by a vet rather than by other staff, and only with written managerial approval. The shelter also broadened its partnerships with re-homing organisations. This increased the potential for animals to be re-homed, and saved council funds for free microchipping days and subsidised desexing.
Increasing community concern set in motion these and other strategies, resulting in the shelter at Charmhaven setting a benchmark for other shelters to follow. Results were even so impressive that, after a while, re-homing organisations preferred to accept animals from other councils with a higher kill rate! Overall, it’s clear that opportunity, enthusiasm, strategy, cooperation and financial support combined to make a real difference to the lives of hundreds of dogs and cats.