Wollondilly Pound: A Case of Discriminate Killing

Posted Sunday March 01, 2015 by Team Dog

Ruby

Ruby

In June 2014, a dog was surrendered to the Wollondilly Pound, just south of Sydney. This lovely 2 year old dog, Ruby, had been adopted from Renbury Farm Animal Shelter 12 months previous, and had been a loved family member ever since.

As sometimes happens though, her owner’s circumstances changed, and, unable to care for Ruby any longer, her owner unsuspectingly took her to the local pound, believing Ruby would be given a chance to find a new home.

Ruby was highly adoptable – a friendly, outgoing dog that socialised happily with adults, children, other dogs and even livestock. Despite this, 24 hours after being surrendered to Wollondilly pound, Ruby was dead.

Prior to her surrender, Ruby came to our attention via social media, and on the day she was surrendered we contacted Wollondilly Council in writing, knowing that dogs of Ruby’s appearance were at high risk of prejudice in this particular pound. We knew that even though she was microchipped (and previously rehomed) as an American Staffy cross it was highly likely she would be labeled a ‘pit bull’ by Wollondilly staff, and so we offered our assistance, financial and otherwise, to put Ruby through a breed & temperament assessment while impounded.

Unlike Hawkesbury council, who recently responded extremely positively when we made a similar offer, Wollondilly didn’t even bother to get back to us before they killed her, the day after she was surrendered.

When the Manager of Compliance, Robyn Cooper, replied to us the following week, we were told that one of the rangers had decided Ruby was a ‘Pit Bull cross’ and therefore unsuitable for rehoming. She also said that Ruby’s owner had informed them that Ruby had attacked without provocation, but did not detail this in the surrender form. When we ourselves contacted the owner she emphatically stated that she had said no such thing. Furthermore, she also told us that while she had received a general warning that any dog being surrendered has the potential for euthanasia in some circumstances, she was not told that Ruby was considered a ‘pit bull cross’ by staff members and therefore would not be even given a chance to be adopted. She had no reason to think this would be the case, seeing as she had adopted the dog from a pound only 12 months prior. She was devastated to hear her dog had been killed within 24 hours of surrender.

As you can imagine, we had a lot of concerns with Ms Cooper’s response and explanation for why a healthy dog was killed so quickly with no further assessment, and we emailed her asking questions about the process that lead to Ruby’s death, including whether council has any procedures in place as to how suspected restricted dogs are dealt with. Ms Cooper did not grace us with a response. As supporters of Team Dog know, we are not deterred easily, so we made an application under the Government Information (Public Access) Act (formerly known as the Freedom of Information Act) for the responses to our questions. A $30 fee is payable for such an application to cover an hour of time to respond, and in cases where an application is extremely time consuming, a council can impose a $30 per hour fee for preparing a response. We didn’t anticipate any extra fees – our questions were straightforward and the information should have been easily accessed through council’s document management system, with the surrender and euthanasia forms a matter of just photocopying and attaching.

You can imagine our surprise when we received a request for an additional $180 in order to receive a response to our application. The council alleged that it had taken SEVEN HOURS to formulate their response. We were, of course, immediately suspicious of this but decided to give them the benefit of the doubt in the hope that we would receive an extremely comprehensive document. We made the payment and waited.

Response1Response2Response3Response4
Response5Response6Response7Response8

When we received the documents, we couldn’t believe what we were looking at. Almost all of our questions regarding the council’s processes at the pound had been answered by cutting and pasting sections of the Companion Animals Act (which, as State Government legislation, we are already familiar with) and provided no enlightenment as to how this particular council applies this legislation in cases such as Ruby’s.

At this point, we suspected council had imposed these ludicrous costs on us in an attempt to deter us from accessing their information. When our concerns with the officer that prepared the response were raised, we were assured that the timeframes and charges were true and correct. We have attached scans of the response for you to make your own judgement – does this document look like it took a whole day’s work to prepare? 

We also noted that some of our questions had clearly not been answered. We were told to contact Robyn Cooper to get a response to these questions – that’s right, we were directed to ask the same person whose failure to respond the first time had been the very reason for our GIPA application!

On the 11th September 2014 we lodged with the Information & Privacy Commission of NSW a review of the response we received and the charges imposed, and a complaint as to the conduct of the council in their handling of our application and their response. To date we have not received an outcome, despite following up numerous times. We had hoped to have this resolved before breaking Ruby’s story to you, however we simply cannot wait any longer.

SurrenderForm1SurrenderForm2SurrenderForm3SurrenderForm4

Of the useful documents we did receive in our GIPA response, the most damning (of Council) was the surrender form, completed by Ruby’s owner. It describes a beautiful, happy dog – full of love, fun, excitement and joy. A dog that showed no aggression towards adults, children, other dogs or even livestock. A dog made happy by ‘treats, toys and cuddles’. A dog that loves to play games. A dog that had already made it through the system once at a pound that recognised her as the fantastic dog she was, only to have her life snuffed out within 24 hours at Wollondilly.

The "Euthanase Checklist."

The “Euthanase Checklist.”

The next document that made our heart sink was the euthanasia form. Reason for euthanasia? Unsuitable for rehoming. Why? ‘This dog is a Pitt (sic) Bull Terrier cross and is a Restricted Breed’. Never mind that Ruby was NOT a restricted dog. She was not microchipped as an American Pit Bull Terrier, nor had she ever been issued a notice by a council to declare her as one. Ruby died despite the fact that there was absolutely NO legislation preventing this council from rehoming this dog, nor was there anything preventing them from putting her through a breed/temperament test while in their care if they truly believed it necessary. The claim from Ms Cooper that Ruby’s owner had said Ruby had attacked without provocation was not borne out by the surrender form, nor by the owner when asked.

On the 4th of February this year, after we had decided we would be making Ruby’s story public, despite not yet having an outcome for our appeal, we emailed Ms Cooper one last time. Team Dog takes pride in working with councils wherever possible to achieve positive outcomes for the animals within their care. We have worked with and have good relationships with the Sutherland Shire Animal Shelter, Renbury Farm Animal Shelter, Hawkesbury Animal Shelter and Sydney Dogs and Cats Home. We wished to discuss this issue with Ms Cooper and assist the council to achieve good outcomes going forward, to ensure no dog in the future suffers the unnecessary fate Ruby did.

Our last (ignored) email.

Our last (ignored) email.

In our email (pictured right), we listed the reasons Team Dog believes the conduct of the council in this matter is contrary to the purposes of an animal shelter, and contrary to the expectations the community have of council conduct with regards to the animals in their care.

We requested Ms Cooper create, as a priority, a procedure for how ‘suspected restricted dogs’ are dealt with when they enter Wollondilly pound. Such a procedure must include the issuing of a Notice of Intention and a subsequent Breed Assessment (and Temperament Assessment if needed), with euthanasia only being carried out should the dog fail both assessments and therefore be legally classified as a restricted dog. If Wollondilly council followed these guidelines it would bring them in line with other impounding facilities within Sydney and NSW.

We asked Ms Cooper for a response within fourteen days of the date of my email, and advised we would be sharing Ruby’s story after this date and that we would be very pleased if we were also able to share with the community that the council was working to ensure this could not happen again. 

As of today’s date, three and a half weeks later, we have had no response. Once again Ms Cooper has not acknowledged or addressed our concerns. Not only is this disrespectful conduct unacceptable from a council employee to a community group, it also shows this council is unwilling to see beyond their prejudice to give every dog, no matter how they look, every chance to find a home.

This is a call to action.

Wollondilly council failed Ruby, and unless the community makes it clear that this is unacceptable, it will happen again.

How can you help?

 

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Email Wollondilly’s General Manager and Councillors expressing your disgust at the treatment of Ruby. This is especially important if you live within the Wollondilly Shire Council – make direct contact identifying yourself as a resident and ask them for the following:

  1. The council MUST implement a formal procedure outlining how dogs that are suspected of being ‘restricted’ must be handled when entering the facility as strays or surrenders.
  2. This procedure MUST NOT allow automatic euthanasia of the dog.
  3. Instead, if an authorised officer suspects a dog to be a ‘restricted dog’, they must issue a Notice of Intention to declare the dog to be restricted once the dog is owned by council, and organise for the dog to be breed assessed (and temperament assessed if needed) while impounded.
  4. If the dog passes a breed assessment, or is assessed as a ‘Pit Bull X’ and subsequently passes a temperament test, the dog must be placed for adoption and treated as per any other dog listed for adoption in the shelter.
  5. The dog must ONLY be euthanised without being placed for adoption if it is assessed as a pure bred American Pit Bull Terrier or it fails both a breed AND temperament assessment, and is legally declared a restricted dog (and therefore cannot be rehomed).
  6. Conduct of council employees, in particular the Manager of Compliance Robyn Cooper, must be investigated to ensure that legitimate community concerns regarding the animal shelter are responded to in the future, not ignored.

Don’t forget to follow our Facebook page so you can keep up to date with any developments stemming from this campaign.

It’s time for the community to stand up as #TeamDog and make sure that Ruby’s death was #NotInVain.

Team Dog

Team Dog

Team Dog works to support pet owners in times of crisis, with a focus on keeping pets out of pounds and with the families that love them.
Team Dog