Update On Wollondilly Council – A Case of Discriminatory Killing

Posted Friday September 18, 2015 by Team Dog

Update On Wollondilly Council – A Case of Discriminatory Killing

This post is an update on Wollondilly Council case of discriminatory killing of Ruby.

Thousands of you voiced your outrage when we broke the story of Ruby, a dog killed by Wollondilly Council, NSW simply because of her appearance, despite having other options at their disposal, as well as the offer of assistance from Team Dog. The council subsequently avoided answering our questions and provided a completely unsatisfactory response to our formal request for information, including imposing huge charges that we believed were unreasonable and designed to deter us from accessing the information we requested.

I’ve been working behind the scenes on this one for some time, and we are now able to provide you with an update on the improvements made by council as a result of our campaign and your strong and clear voices.

 

Firstly – the good

I’d like to congratulate council’s General Manger, Luke Johnson, for organising a lengthy teleconference with himself, Director Planning Chris Stewart and myself, to discuss our concerns and recommendations for council to develop best practice procedure and policy that would allow impounded “Suspected Restricted Dogs” every chance the legislation allows them.

Luke was very good to communicate with and showed a genuine interest in potential improvements. As the General Manager he must have an extremely high workload, however he always responded to emails extremely promptly – a big issue we have had when dealing with other council staff members (who didn’t reply at all).

I’d also like to congratulate council for having implemented a formal procedure in regards to Suspected Restricted Dogs entering the impounding facility. The current procedure is an enormous improvement on prior practices, and will increase the likelihood of good dogs that have done nothing wrong being rehomed from this pound, rather than killed.

The current procedure is here [1] and the flow chart used by officers to determine their actions here [2].

 

Secondly – the not so good

Unfortunately, council has chosen not to implement best practice protocols that would ensure that each Suspected Restricted Dog is given every chance to be released chance to be released under the legislation afforded to them.

The current procedure provides that a Suspected Restricted Dog that is classed as suitable for rehoming as far as their temperament will be made available to rescue or adopters pending successful breed and temperament assessments. Council, however, will not cover the cost of these assessments.

This means that anyone wanting to adopt the dog needs to come up with an extra $303.50 on top of the adoption fee of $110-$280, then be prepared to lose that money and not come home with the dog in the unlikely event that the assessments are failed.

Additionally, council’s procedure specifies that a ‘Notice of Intention’ to declare an impounded dog to be restricted will be issued immediately on the dog, regardless of whether there is adoption or rescue interest, essentially allowing the dog only 28 days max in their care to find an adopter or rescue before they are subsequently declared restricted and killed.
Other dogs are regularly held for 6 weeks and longer at this shelter, but it seems that council is unwilling to afford the same opportunity to Suspected Restricted Dogs.

I questioned the Director, Chris Stewart, as to the reason to why council wouldn’t wait until the dog had adoption/rescue interest before issuing the notice via email on the 29th of June, but as of the time of this blog post, I have received no response.

So, while this is obviously a huge improvement compared to dogs being killed arbitrarily based on breed assumptions by council staff, the current procedure still places Suspected Restricted Dogs at an enormous disadvantage compared to the other dogs in the pound, and council is unwilling to do the two things that would negate that problem – cover the costs of assessments and hold the dogs as long as any other dog would be held for.

We were advised that it was stated at council’s Companion Animals Reference Committee (CARC) meeting that council does not think its ratepayers should bear the cost of assessment of these dogs. If you are a ratepayer in Wollondilly Shire I strongly encourage you to write to your council directly and let them know what you think about that.

 

Other concerns

We had other big concerns while digging deeper in to this matter and obtaining further information.

In late 2014, following the killing of Ruby and our GIPA request seeking information as to council’s procedures in regards to Suspected Restricted Dogs at the pound, it seems the council actually did put together a procedure for such a scenario. A copy of this procedure was forwarded to us by council following our campaign, and was also presented at council’s CARC meeting to the committee members.

The old procedure is here.

This procedure detailed an agreement between the council and Dogs NSW members, whereby council would forward photographs of Suspected Restricted Dogs being held at the pound to these members and ask their opinion of the dog’s breed. The procedure said that if the member stated they believed the dog was a purebred ‘Pit Bull’ OR a cross breed ‘Pit Bull’, the dog would be killed.

We had enormous concerns with this, for so many reasons:

  • This informal process as described in the procedure completely circumvents the formal procedure as set out in the legislation and facilitated by the Office of Local Government. Informal assessments like this are worthless and in fact the guidelines for breed assessors expressly states that unless an Notice of Intention (NOI) is issued a breed assessment cannot take place.
  • A dog being breed assessed via photograph is completely inadequate, especially when the life of that dog depends on this ‘assessment’.
  • Council states that even dogs described by the assessor as Pit Bull X would be killed, even though such a dog that passes a formal temperament assessment is not a restricted dog and is eligible for rehoming.
  • Given the fact that this and the member’s contact information was contained in a formal procedure, this implied that Dogs NSW and its members had agreed to this partnership that would allow council officers to potentially kill dogs based on their ‘advice’, without going through the formal process.

Because of the above, I contacted Dogs NSW expressing my strong concerns and requesting further information and explanation as to why this partnership was taking place.

I received an extremely outraged reply from a Dogs NSW representative, denying the involvement of its members as detailed in council’s procedure and demanding an apology from Team Dog for voicing our concerns to them directly. She also defended council’s decision to kill Ruby within 24 hours of her entering the facility without doing any sort of temperament assessment or independent inquiries as to her suitability for adoption.

My response firmly stated that if it is true that Dogs NSW members had no involvement and had not agreed to what was detailed in council’s formal procedure, then their (legitimate) outrage should better directed at the council that documented a very questionable agreement without permission, rather than at Team Dog for expressing concern. I didn’t receive a response.

This also leads to another big concern of mine, which is that council’s procedure and verbal advice to me is that they are now considering any American Staffy without papers, owned or unowned, as a potential ‘Pit Bull’, and will be pursuing a restricted dog declaration on any such dog.

Their previous and current procedure states that this decision has been made on Dogs NSW advice following council officers attending their ‘Breed Identification’ course. I was advised by council that attendees were told that it would be advisable to issue NOIs on any Amstaff that does not have papers by the Dogs NSW teacher. Unfortunately we have heard similar from various other council officers that have attended the course.

I have not personally attended the course, so I cannot state whether this is simply a miscommunication or whether Dogs NSW is actually providing this information to council officers, potentially condemning many loved family pets without papers to death. I do believe that if more than one council have come away from the course with this idea then Dogs NSW need to consider the delivery of their information if they did not intend to impart such harmful advice. I stated this in my email to the representative months ago – the one I did not receive a response to.

This means that any dog living in the Wollondilly Shire or entering the pound that council officers consider to be an American Staffy will receive an NOI to declare the dog to be restricted unless the owner can provide pedigree papers. If you are a member of Dogs NSW, I encourage you to contact them yourself and ask whether they are teaching this to council officers, and express your huge concern if they are.

 

Outcome of Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) review

In Mid-July, nearly ten months after we submitted an application for review to the IPC in regards to council’s exorbitant costs of $210 imposed for a very poor response to our GIPA application for information (costs that we believe were imposed to attempt to deter us from obtaining this information), we received an outcome.

The IPC response is here.

The response is lengthy however the main takeaway is that the IPC agreed that the council should not have imposed charges for most of what was provided to us, given that the information they sent was either freely available online (simply copy/pastes of the Companion Animals Act), or was council’s procedures, which should also be freely available.

The IPC has recommended the council make ‘another decision’ as to the processing charges, acknowledging that their initial decision was neither correct nor fair.

These charges, imposed by council to a charity, should have gone towards families in need of help, and we are looking forward to a sizeable refund.

This week, we received a response from Wollondilly in regards to their ‘new decision. Astoundingly, they simply advised that they disagree with the IPC’s recommendations and they continue to defend the obviously exorbitant charges imposed. Instead, they offered a refund of 50% of the money because Team Dog is a not-for-profit. It seems obvious to me that they have simply found a way to refund a good proportion of the money imposed to hopefully shut us up, but without admitting fault.

The most recent decision is here.

I wish I had the time and the energy to take their new decision to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal on a matter of principle, as I’m sure we’d win. Unfortunately working full time and the time already invested in Team Dog means I can’t.

 

Conclusion

Council has certainly made improvements and should absolutely be congratulated for that. Our campaign was partially successful in that Suspected Restricted Dogs now have a much better chance of survival in Wollondilly pound.

Because Wollondilly council chose not to implement a best practice procedure, such as the one at Sutherland Shire Animal Shelter, Suspected Restricted Dogs are still at a huge disadvantage for adoption compared to the other dogs in the shelter, and will not be afforded the same amount of time to find new homes as other dogs of a different size or shape.

If you think this could be improved on, and you are a Wollondilly resident, we encourage you to continue to please continue to lobby your council for change. We’ve gotten the ball rolling and done all that we can do at this point – change now lies in the hands of passionate locals who expect their council to do better.

– Mel Isaacs
Director of Team Dog

 

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.
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