Max the Pointer was a Dog Rescue Newcastle foster dog, surrendered into their care when the owners were travelling long term. He was placed with experienced foster carers and spent Christmas 2011 with them, their large family and their dogs. Max was about 8 years old, and a big, delightful boy who got on well with everyone, human and canine alike. Christmas Day at the foster carer’s home is chaotic, with over two dozen people and about a dozen dogs. Max was impeccable, and he stole everyone’s hearts.
Max found his forever home with a single mum and her young son, in the Cessnock area (Hunter Valley). Again, he got on fabulously with everyone, though he was a bit of an escape artist when the owner went to work. In May 2012 he was picked up by Cessnock council and passed through to RSPCA’s Rutherford shelter which Cessnock council had recently (and controversially) contracted to outsource its shelter facilities.
Max’s owner, as a single mum, couldn’t raise the impound fee immediately, but spoke to RSPCA several times and asked for a few more days to pay past the 14 day statutory period, and arranged for a retired neighbour to adopt Max on his return so that his escaping problems would be solved. At no time was she given the slightest impression that Max would be at risk at the RSPCA facility.
Max was wearing his rescue group tag, with the rescue’s phone number.
When we found out that Max had been impounded at RSPCA, a shiver went through our collective spines as we are well aware of RSPCA’s extremely high kill rate, and the low chances of an older, larger dog such as Max making it out of there alive. Unable to reach the owner immediately, and not knowing the full story yet, Max’s carer rang RSPCA Rutherford to ensure his safety and request for his return to the rescue group if his owner did not collect him. Messages and an email to the shelter manager were not returned.
Eventually getting through, and despite quoting Max’s microchip number (from the adoption records), RSPCA said that Max was not there. We managed to reach the owner that afternoon and were told what happened, then rang RSPCA back. Again we were told that Max was not there, but when we pressed the issue, we were told that the owner should contact RSPCA “to reclaim him”. When we questioned them about how he could simultaneously be “not there” and be available for reclaiming, the shutters went down and they refused to speak, citing “privacy”.
The owner rang the RSPCA shelter that same afternoon, and was put on hold for over half an hour, until the shelter closed. She then went to the shelter the next morning, only then to be told that they had killed him a few days earlier (in fact just one day after RSPCA’s Million Paws Walk fundraiser). They said he had failed a temperament test: look at the linked photos and video of Max and judge for yourself whether he was a threat to society. Ask whether Max’s death has made the community a safer place?
Video: (better quality video to come…)
As to the failure of RSPCA to call the owner or the rescue group to offer options before deciding to euthanase him: was Max’s life worth less than a phone call?
Below are some facts about RSPCA’s kill rate, why their kill rate is so appalling compared to other facilities, what needs to change and what you can do to help:
In 2011, RSPCA NSW euthanased over 20,000 cats and dogs, which is more than 51% of all cats and dogs entering its facilities. Once the animals which are reclaimed by their owners are deducted, RSPCA NSW killed more than 2 cats and dogs for every animal it re-homes. In contrast to RSPA’s kill rate of 51%, comparable council shelters such as Gosford & Wyong Shire facilities have reduced kill rates to under 10% – mostly sick or genuinely aggressive animals – by encouraging transparency and working with the community and the foster care rescue groups to rehabilitate (where necessary) and re-home the animals.
In 2012, RSPCA NSW’s kill rate for cats and dogs remained over 50%, despite their figures showing a 30% drop in intake, and them claiming in their Annual Report “a shortage of rehomable animals”.
Their 2012 Annual Report also recorded another $10 million plus annual profit, a cash and share portfolio exceeding $40 million, and executive remuneration totalling nearly $1.35 million (up 18%). By the 2014-15 year, RSPCA NSW had averaged profits of $7.5 million each year for the past 5 years.
By 2014-15, the number and proportion of animals killed by RSPCA NSW had dropped a little, though progress is glacial, and driven entirely by a reduction in intake, not by increased rehabilitation and rehoming. Meanwhile, RSPCA fell further behind best practice as other organisations continued to improve.
Why are RSPCA’s kill rates so high?
There are several reasons for RSPCA NSW’s appalling kill rate compared to other facilities, and compared to other state RSPCAs:
- Taking on more (highly paid) council contracts than their shelters can accommodate, e.g. Rutherford shelter (where Max died) was built for 2 council areas but now services 4 councils.
- Temperament testing which looks for any reason to euthanase the animal, not testing for public safety and for identification of issues which need more training.
- Lack of will to rehabilitate any problem behaviours.
- Refusal to release animals to the community foster care groups which achieve almost 100% rehoming rates, and which routinely take on cases which the RSPCA would put down on the spot. RSPCA claims “We don’t usually release to rescue, but there is no law that says we have to”. (note: after much public pressure, RSPCA now releases a very small number of animals to rescue, but even then asks the volunteer groups to legally indemnify RSPCA).
- Underutilisation of RSPCA’s own foster care network.
- Underutilisation of online facilities for dogs and cats. Very few of those animals which do pass RSPCA’s temperament testing and are available for adoption can be viewed online, with photos and write ups. These are vital as they allow prospective new owners to view them and commit their time to travel to meet the animal. e.g. in one survey RSPCA Hunter & Central Coast shelters had a total of just 17 dogs listed online. Volunteer rescue groups covering the same areas had over 150.
What can be changed?
RSPCA NSW needs to make a genuine commitment to achieving best practice rehoming rates. At present a dog entering one of their NSW shelters is 5 times more likely to die than the same animal arriving at a best practice council shelter. And twice as likely to be killed than in other state RSPCAs.
- Councils should terminate council contracts, or RSPCA hand them back, unless RSPCA can meet stringent performance benchmarks.
- Ratepayers must start to take an interest in the performance of their local council in rehoming of animals from their council area, whether this is done as a direct council function or outsourced.
- RSPCA NSW can learn from the foster groups and other shelters which achieve superb results, and from other state RSPCA branches such as ACT which have much lower kill rates than NSW.
- RSPCA needs to open its temperament testing criteria for public review, and focus this on safety issues not on looking for reasons to fail the animal.
- All RSPCA and other shelters must be compelled to release to foster groups which have the relevant government approval (i.e. Reg 16(d) certificate)
How can you help?
- Support your local animal rescue groups or council shelter. Foster. Adopt. Donate. Volunteer.
- Join online and twitter forums or write to/email RSPCA NSW. Tell them their current kill rates are unacceptable. Remind them that the animal welfare comes first.
Ask RSPCA to live up to its motto, “for all creatures great and small”.
Until we post some more material, for more information, please see the following:
- Justice for Max FB page: http://www.facebook.com/justice4max