Companion Animals

Companion Animals

(Private Members' Statement, 21 September 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Pets are important to many of my constituents. Pets give companionship and particularly with dogs, can provide security and encourage exercise. This is particularly important in inner city areas. It has been estimated that pet ownership saves the national health budget over $4 billion a year. My constituents are concerned about some of the practices in treatment of companion animals. Data from the Office of Local Government and the RSPCA indicates that more than 36,500 cats and dogs that end up in pounds and shelters are destroyed each year. Other pets get abandoned and end up living on the streets, in parks and in the bush where, if not desexed, they produce generations of litters, and can be subject to cruel culling methods.

Meanwhile, mass breeding facilities that keep animals in appalling conditions churn out cute puppies and kittens to supply pet shops, markets and classifieds on the cheap. I welcome the reports from the Government's Companion Animal Taskforce and the Joint Select Committee on Companion Animal Breeding Practices in New South Wales and hope to see new policies and laws to prevent abandonment, destruction and cruel breeding. Both reports recommended mandatory registration of companion animal breeders, with strong standards, periodic audits and unannounced inspections. Shops, markets, classifieds and online sales of animals would need to identify registration details for animals offered for sale. With the ability to trace all animals sold, inspections could ensure all facilities meet standards.

In response, the Government introduced an online pet registry to make it easier to register companion animals but unfortunately it is not mandatory for breeders and therefore will not stop puppy farming. I share my community view that pet sales must re-home abandoned animals over selling newly bred animals. Dogs and cats should not be bred for sale while healthy abandoned pets get killed because nobody wants them. Impulse buying of pets must be addressed at point of sale. Dogs and cats can live close to 20 years and need a long-term commitment to costs and responsibilities, including veterinary care, exercise, food and toilet training. Time must be spent with prospective owners explaining expected needs, behaviours and costs. Some shelters do not allow walk-in sales, requiring a cooling-off period, a policy all shops, markets and classifieds should adopt.

Unwanted litters are a significant problem and can lead to animals being abandoned in streets, parks and in the bush where they breed. An undesexed female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in only seven years. While registration fees encourage desexing, too many animals remain undesexed and the Government should explore mandatory desexing of all companion animals before they are sold. The taskforce recommended a funding program for councils and partner organisations to deliver desexing targets and this should be implemented.

In 2014 I introduced a bill to clarify that volunteers who desex street cats under a trap neuter return [TNR] program are lawful. TNR programs involve desexing animals in a specific group or colony of unowned stray animals and returning them to where they were found where they stop breeding, allowing the population to stabilise. Currently TNR could breach abandonment and liberation offences, leaving community groups at risk of prosecution and unable to get council grants. TNR already happens in Sydney and across the world because it is a humane and effective population control method. There is growing evidence that it reduces populations more than culling animals and TNR attracts animal welfare volunteers who would never kill an animal, therefore it does not replace culling. At a minimum, TNR ensures there are fewer undesexed animals in the community.

In response to a joint letter from the Hon. Mark Pearson in the Legislative Council and me, the Minister for Primary Industries acknowledged that TNR programs can help decrease overbreeding of feral cats. The Government must stop ignoring this humane approach to managing cat colonies. Stray, feral and unowned cats are not defined in the Companion Animals Act. Without legal support, councils are limited in the actions they can take in response to concerns. Provisions are needed to help councils re-home stray cats and protect them from harm. I welcome the Government's introduction of pet friendly model by-laws in strata apartments and I hope this leads to more pet friendly buildings.

The need for pet friendly retirement villages must also be addressed, with many people being forced to abandon their beloved pet at a time when they need companionship. We should help people be responsible pet owners by making it easy for them to take their animals out or to the vet. But pets are still banned on trains and light rail, and bus drivers and ferry operators can refuse to let them on. This is a major concern in my electorate, which has low rates of car ownership. Animals give so much to people but we must take better care of the companion animals in the community and I ask the Government to make this a priority.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!