A group of homeless dogs that could have been rescued from a rural municipal pound in Australia were instead put down as a precaution against spreading COVID 19 on orders of a local council. The action has sparked outrage in Australia and across the globe, with animal advocates calling the deaths of the 16 dogs – including a mother dog and her puppies – both heartbreaking and unnecessary.
New South Wales’ Bourke Shire Council ordered the dogs killed just before volunteers from a no-kill shelter were scheduled to pick them up, according to the Sydney Morning Herald in an article published on August 22, 2021.
The reason given? To prevent the volunteers from possibly spreading COVID-19, the council’s watchdog, the Office of Local Government (OLG) reportedly told the Herald.
“OLG has been informed that the council decided to take this course of action to protect its employees and community, including vulnerable Aboriginal populations, from the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” a spokesman from the government agency told the Herald.
Rescue volunteers from Rural Outback Respite/Rescue, the group reported to have been scheduled to pick up the dogs, are said to be both shocked and alarmed because they had COVID-safe measures in place for when they would arrive to take the dogs.
Also cause for alarm was the method by which they dogs were said to have been put down. The dogs were reportedly shot dead. But this information conflicts with what Emma Hurst, an MP for the Animal Justice Party In NSW, has been told. She wrote in a Facebook post that contacts had told her the dogs were euthanized by injection.
Hurst and her team had tried to stop the dogs from being put down, writing, “Last week my team and I worked desperately to stop Bourke Shire Council killing every homeless and lost dog in their care, only to find out they had been killed already.”
Hurst indicated that she had heard the reason that the council had euthanized the dogs because they “could no longer care for them during the COVID-19 outbreak.” However, she pointed out that she knew of at least two animal rescue groups who had indicated that they could rescue the animals. She wrote on Facebook:
“We have been told there were 16 dogs killed in total, including a mother dog and her puppies. While there are reports the dogs were shot, our contacts have told us they were euthanised (barbiturate overdose).
“Council staff say the dogs were killed because they could no longer care for them during the COVID-19 outbreak. It seems to me that no genuine attempt was made to get the dogs into foster care or to rescue groups. I’ve heard there were at least two groups who were open to taking the animals in. These lives could have been saved.
“Council may have breached the Companion Animals Act. The Act states: “Before destroying a seized or surrendered animal as authorised by subsection (1), it is the duty of the council concerned to consider whether there is an alternative action to that of destroying the animal and (if practicable) to adopt any such alternative.” We will be further investigating the situation and if a breach has occurred.”
She added, “I’m sharing this to make it clear there is NO health order for pounds to kill all the animals – please share this so it doesn’t happen again.”
Pounds and shelters in Australia are currently able to remain open to the public in areas of the country that are not locked down due to the pandemic. Furthermore, staff with animal welfare organizations are considered authorized workers in locked-down areas in Australia and therefore can travel to the shelters.
Animal welfare campaigner Lisa Ryan of the Animal Liberation group is also calling for an urgent investigation. “We are deeply distressed and completely appalled by this callous dog shooting and we totally reject council’s unacceptable justifications that this killing was apparently undertaken as part of a COVID- safe plan,” she said.
Questions that need to be clarified are what method did they use to kill the dogs? Why did the council proceed with euthanizing the dogs when they have a mandate to try and find the pets a home? And why do so when they clearly had rescue groups interested in the dogs?
The Herald indicated that neither the Bourke Shire Council or Rural Outback Respite/Rescue responded to their calls for comment.
Greens animal welfare spokeswoman Abigail Boyd put it succinctly, telling the Herald, “Council pounds are paid for by local communities, and it is clear that shooting lost and unclaimed dogs housed in these publicly-funded facilities falls far short of community expectations.”