Newcastle Herald

OPINION: Animals are not the problem, it’s people



  • ABANDONED: So many animals should not be winding up in shelters.ABANDONED: So many animals should not be winding up in shelters.
  • ABANDONED: So many animals should not be winding up in shelters.ABANDONED: So many animals should not be winding up in shelters.

EVERY year an unacceptably high number of animals are euthanised in NSW pounds and shelters.

Of animals that enter these facilities, some 60 per cent of cats and 30 per cent of dogs never leave alive. These figures have been at these awful levels for some years.

This is why the NSW government established the Companion Animal Taskforce which, as a veterinarian, I have chaired.

Our task is to provide recommendations to the government to help reduce these rates of euthanasia and to help stamp out abhorrent breeding practices such as “puppy farming”.

In May this year the taskforce released a discussion paper with 20 proposals put forward for public comment.

These included a breeder licensing system, enforceable standards for animal husbandry, changes to microchipping and registration to improve the return rate to owners, education programs, minimum qualifications for pet shop staff and other recommendations designed to reduce the oversupply of animals in the community and reduce the numbers of animals entering pounds.

The paper provided an opportunity for individuals and groups to contribute; we received more than 1400 submissions.

Pet ownership is more than just acquiring a puppy or kitten and ensuring they are fed regularly.

Proper care and socialisation are absolutely vital, particularly for juvenile animals. One of the most common reasons for animals to be dumped is behavioural issues.

An owner may either have not correctly socialised their new pet or they may have chosen a breed that is unsuitable for their environment. This is one of the reasons why education is vital in reducing euthanasia rates.

Most reported dog bites are inflicted upon children. As a vet and as a father of two young boys, I cannot stress enough that children should always be supervised around dogs, no matter how reliable they have traditionally been.

There are five key factors that contribute to a dog bite occurring: a failure of early socialisation, a failure of later socialisation and training, genetic predisposition, medical conditions and victim behaviour.

Any one of these factors can lead to tragedies, such as the recent death in Melbourne.

This is one of the reasons why most organisations apply a temperament test to an animal before it is re-homed in the community. In many cases these animals can be rehabilitated through training and organisations such as the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League have proud records of leading the world in this field.

Tragically, some animals – for no fault of their own – will never be able to be re-homed. It is a dark, unpalatable fact, but still a fact.

Recent media criticism of welfare organisations is unfortunate. These organisations are part of the solution and should not be treated as if they were the problem.

The problem is the fact that many people in our community, either through negligence or ignorance, do not care for their animals properly. These animals should not be winding up in shelters.

The recommendations of the taskforce are designed to reduce the number of animals being euthanised, through a comprehensive package of reforms.

Our recommendations aim to reduce the oversupply of unwanted puppies and kittens into the community. We will improve the current system of microchipping and registration to increase the number of animals successfully returned to their owner and reduce the time they spend in pounds and shelters.

We intend to make collaboration and data sharing between pounds, shelters and rescue groups a more seamless process, ensuring more animals spend less time waiting for a new home.

Most importantly, education of the community will be central. People need to understand their responsibilities when it comes to caring for an animal, acquiring or selling an animal and how to help your pet be a good citizen.

The taskforce will today provide our final recommendations to the government. I believe the reforms that the taskforce are presenting will result in innovative and comprehensive reforms for our pets.

These reforms will make it easier to be a socially responsible pet owner and harder to be a socially irresponsible one.

Owning a pet is proven to be good for your health. Pets help teach children empathy and they bring comfort and companionship to many people in our community.

The human-animal bond is a partnership that should be celebrated. As a part of this bond we need to ensure that we protect and nurture those animals in our care.

Animals are not the problem. The problem is people.

Andrew Cornwell is a veterinarian and the member for Charlestown.


Showing 25 comments

  • Tlouisn

    Andrew, you failed to address the real fact, which is that the vast majority of animals surrendered to pounds and RSPCA are NOT surrendered due to any behavioural problem, they are surrendered
    for human factors such as their owners being unable to get rental accommodation allowing pets, family breakdown, going into hospital or nursing home or dying. Or excuses such as having a baby and no longer having time for the pet. Those minority of animals which do have behavioural problems which need addressing (or more often, just APPEAR to have problems due to the stress of the pound environment) don’t get any help, they get a big needle. Others get the needle just for expediency. Andrew, please explain why there are no representives from rescue groups on your all powerful committee?

  • kimbo

    worldwide statistics indicate that 60-80% of dogs surrendered are due to behavioural problems and this is only those that admit it.
    those of us who work in behavioural medicine find that approximately one in six dogs have a problem with anxiety. This is similar to the statistics for humans.
    While I am personally uncomfortable with the temperament test , I do believe it is important to be aware of anxiety when rehoming as it is the most common precursor for aggression.
    Definitions which may help those posting here:
    1) Problem behaviour: a behaviour which is normal for the dog but a problem for humans…eg: digging, marking etc….training problems
    2) Behaviour problem: a behaviour which is out of context, extreme, which requires behavioural modification and medical management.
    The ideal assessment would therefore be made by a veterinary behaviourist capable of making a correct diagnosis….this would involve working out what was a normal response to shelter stress, as opposed to abnormal and excessive responses.
    Of course there are not enough qualified people to do this on a daily basis so perhaps the rescue groups could be trained to distinguish between training problems, and true abnormality and refer those dogs for diagnosis to a behaviourist. That doesn’t mean euthanasia is inevitable….just education of potential adopters of the best ways to manage these dogs

  • Gary

    The real problem is pets are to easy to come by little charlie wants a dog jessy wants a cat Question is do mum & dad want to take on the resposability of educating the child &the pet. Things like puppy school  are a waste of money if not followed up The biggest problem is anyone can get any breed of dog without prior education or knowledge

  • DMA

    Mr Cornwall – stop make excuses for the RSPCA’s unwillingness to perform to the community’s expectations. You’re own Companion Animal Taskforce paper, which is referred to in your article, reported that the RSPCA kill rate for dogs is 44% whereas the state’s pound kill rate is 28%. The difference speaks for itself where pounds cooperate with rescue groups and don’t use the RSPCA’s behavioural test. Nonetheless they do their own testing, as do all responsible rescue groups, yet manage to far greater results.

    It is about time the senior management and the board of the RSPCA NSW were held responsible for their lack of action especially when they ask for millions of dollars in donations, get millions of dollars in government grants, and earn millions of dollars from councils who have contracted their impounding services to the RSPCA. That’s all public money and the RSPCA must be held accountable as a consequence.

    I still state, though, that my heart goes out to the volunteers at the RSPCA, and the ordinary staff, who do everything they can to help the animals albeit under far from satisfactory leadership. Please understand that our criticism isn’t aimed at you but is aimed to ensure that you, like all the rescue group volunteers, can save as many of the dogs and cats get a far better second chance at life.

  • Judyfuller112

    Recent media criticism of welfare organisations is unfortunate?????
    MR ? Cornwell, the criticism is not aimed at the welfare organisations per sae, but as you seem to omit from your story…NSW RSPCA…’s about time you stopped sugar coated this matter and faced facts!
    The one thing I do agree with in your story is that humans are the problem
    Stop denying the facts and FIX the problem…revamp the RSPCA so that it works for the benefit of the animals that are unfortunate enough to end up there…where the hell is all the money that should be going to animal welfare??

  • Vinfimoult

    Mr Cornwall… nice political hype as chairman of the task force.. You neglect to say as to why rescue organisations are not represented on this committee…. You dont mention RSPCA and its terrible record in NSW of killing over 40% and the current practices being used to test behaviour at the RSPCA  Rutherford facility. It seems NSW is the only state with such a high kill rate …and yes animal owner education is essential in the first instance..

  • pam

      ‘In many cases these animals can be rehabilitated through training and organizations such as the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League have proud
    records of leading the world in this field.”
    Are you serious Mr Cornwall!! lol lol lol,
    Only one statement here that I can agree on and that’s “Animals are not the problem.
    The problem is people” yes it is.

    (Edited by a moderator)

  • Leila Desborough

    Why cant the RSPCA give rescue groups the opportunity to rehab these rejected animals rather than kill them right away? Most are experienced dog handlers and give a much clearer view of an animals temperament than a terrified animal in a huge building full of all sorts of dogs and strangers. The criteria for the RSPCA is ridiculous with shaking and barking being included in the reason to kill them.

    (Edited by a moderator)

  • Mark

    Mr Cornwell.. you can’t be serious about this comment of yours, surely?

    This is one of the reasons why most organisations apply a temperament
    test to an animal before it is re-homed in the community. In many cases
    these animals can be rehabilitated through training and organisations
    such as the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League have proud records of
    leading the world in this field.

  • Pet owner

    Thank you Mr Cornwell for being the voice of reason in this debate – we need to look at the people who are being irresponsible pet owners who are not getting their pets desexed, who are not registering them and are not giving them the love and care they deserve. As Christmas approaches, and pets are purchased on a whim, look out for an increase of dumpings into the RSPCA and other welfare organisations in the new year.

  • Gabbie Mathews

    While I defiantly agree that animal care and training starts with pet owners, the high euthanasia rates across NSW pounds and rescues shouldn’t be ignored in the upcoming reform, a new behavior assessment system should be introduced along with the other reforms you addressed.
    I find it hard to believe 30% of dogs in pounds and rescues are deemed unfit for society.

  • Mariette

    irresponsible pet owners, backyard-breeders and puppy farmers are to blame for
    the many dogs and cats ending up in pounds and shelters. But given that, the
    kill rate varies hugely between different pounds and shelters, from around 10%
    to over 50%. Why?

    is ironic that the state’s biggest animal welfare group, the one with the most
    funds, yet which kills 40% of its dogs, RSPCA NSW, is on the NSW Government’s
    Companion Animals Taskforce which was established to reduce the numbers of
    animals killed annually in NSW Pounds and Shelters. What would the RSPCA know,
    what can they contribute, since they seemingly cannot reduce their own very
    high kill rate?

    it a conflict of interests that you, Mr Cornwell, and the RSPCA are on a
    Taskforce supposedly aimed at reducing the numbers of animals killed, when you
    both actually support flawed, unrealistic methods of behaviour assessing dogs
    as a basis for killing them?  It seems
    that so very little is known about methods employed by others to reduce the killing,
    and to increase the rehoming of animals.

    was there no-one on the Taskforce representing the myriads of small animal
    rescue groups who do such sterling work on shoe-string budgets? They are the
    true animal lovers – they are not there for the smell of money like some of the
    other Taskforce members, eg. the PIAA, AVA, ACAC.

    (Edited by a moderator)

  • Lisa J Ryan

    Andrew Cornwell is also the head of the NSW Taskforce which is supposed to come up with some solutions regarding kill rates in NSW shelters and pounds. The Taskforce has not yet released its final paper and yet Mr Cornwell is defending RSPCA NSW and Steve Coleman whilst ignoring the concerns voiced by the rescue groups and No Kill success stories. They (RSPCA NSW) and supporters like Cornwell do NOT want to change.

    (Edited by a moderator)

  • Vinfimoult

    Mr Cornwall I take it you have read the following???
    Are temperament tests effective in identifying aggressive behaviours in dogs?Many adoption shelters in Australia, including those of the RSPCA, and around the world use temperament tests as a means to gauge the suitability of dogs for adoption. Although the tests that are used by individual shelters can vary in nature, most temperament tests involve the assessment of a dog’s reaction to certain stimuli such as the approach of a stranger or the response to a veterinary examination. If the dogs react in an aggressive manner such as by growling or biting a human then they are not considered suitable for adoption.Unfortunately, there is little evidence to suggest that the current methods of temperament testing prevent the adoption of dogs that have aggressive or anti-social behaviour. This is a concern because behavioural problems areone of the most likely causes for dogs being surrendered to shelters in the first place. In an attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of standardised temperament tests in preventing the adoption of unsuitable dogs, Christensen et al. investigated the incidence of aggressive behaviour in dogs that had passed a temperament test and had been adopted from a shelter. To do this, the owners of dogs that had been adopted from a shelter were surveyed about different aspects of their dog’s behaviour in their new home. The results of the study showed that a very large proportion (roughly 70% of 66 respondents) of surveyed owners reported incidences of aggressive behaviour in their adopted dogs in the 13 months post-adoption. Unfortunately, the results of this study have limited consequence for several reasons; firstly owner’s interpretations of their dog’s behaviour may not be objective (i.e. barking for attention could be confused with barking out of aggression), secondly, because it used data from only one shelter in New York State in the U.S. and finally, because the dogs that had been adopted had only been subjected to oneparticular standardised temperament test. However, this study does highlight some of the problems associated a reliance on behavioural tests when deciding whether a dog is suitable for adoption and indicates the importance of taking other factors into account, such as behavioural evaluations from shelter staff.Christensen, E. et al. (2006). Aggressive behaviour in adopted dogs that passed a temperament test. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. InPress.

  • Bobg

    So the ability of a dog owner has no bearing on these results?, is it not possible that the owner got their dog and tried to humanise it?, is it not possible that some of these results were made in a short time after the dog was re-homed?. People need to realise that a dog is a dog, it is not your son or daughter, it lives and “works” as good as an owner shows it, enhances it and loves it. Opinions of dog behaviour put in the media after one study from people who have NFI should be shrugged off as crap.

  • Nonkill

    Mr Cornwell So off track! we rescue groups with No-Kill or low Kill are not the target of this investigation so don’t sidetrack by implying we the problem or you justifying us! ARRG like others is No-Kill and rescues from tough areas 3 pounds, many battered and neglected others direct from uncaring disposable type owner and we don’t KILL. We don’t use a temp test instead, our animal knowledge, compassion and choice of correct carer/training before rehoming and we have no attack/bite incident on record for 17 years operation. Fix the oversupply of unwanted litters born by recommending that the government and the RSPCA spend big & fund High volume Low/free desexing in target areas identied with unemployment low income. This prevents free/giveaway animals that are easily obtained by the disposable pet public a repeated and repeated behaviour. We know the source of unwanted pets we know whose to blame!! but publics wrong doings don’t justify RSPCA high kill rate their supposed to be on the side of the animals and if we small rescue groups with no paid staff can rehabilitate so successfully then why can’t RSPCA?

  • elizabeth smeaton

    mr cornwell i have several questions for you . qhestion 1 is if you are trying to cut down the number of puppies bred why are people who operate these farms allowed to have so many breeding dogs in the first place. surely you as a vet must realize thats where the behavioural problems start. 2. if the R.S.P.C.A. is so against these places why are they not closed down end of story . 3 why cant the R.S.P.C.A. have mobile desexing units like they do in america to encourage people to have their cats and dogs desexed money to do this is often a problem as vets charge the earth to do this simple procedure. 4. cats and dogs should not be allowed to be sold in pet shops would you like to pay huge money for a puppy with problems because very often these little animals are in a small cage bored brainless for weeks before they are sold its not right and shoulnt be allowed. ponds need to work with shelters and rescue ajencies to rehome these poor creatures through no fault of there own end up in pounds. back yard breeders should be licenced and should have regular council inspections as they are as prolific as the puppy farmers.

  • Kat’s Whiskers

    Mr. Cornwell, how does the RSPCA rehabilitate animals? I thought it was the temp. test that decided life or death? I know about RSPCA NSW. Not much rehabiltation occurs at that establishment, all the dogs are too busy preparing for the temp. test. Judging by the number they kill, very few dogs make the grade.

    You say animals are not the problem, then why the temp. test? I agree people are the problem Mr. Cornwell, and profits!!!

  • Kat’s Whiskers

    I am totally confused. Mr. Cornwell, is chairman of the Companion Animal Taskforce, while, at the same time he supports the Temp. Test, and excuses the high-kill rates at the RSPCA NSW.

    Have I missed something…have I failed the Temp.Test…???

  • Anne Greenaway

    Animals are not the problem. The problem is people.

    Yes, people like Cornwell who defend the RSPCA temperament test.

  • Daniiwatson

    I wonder if Mr Cornwell has ever spent time working in a rescue organization, though I seriously doubt it because if he had mixed with people who are really serious about this particular issue he may have been motivated and able to come up with something that hadn’t been said and done before … Like maybe a new approach that had a chance in hell of changing things for the better

  • Joanddave

    How come that country’s like Sweden does not have a RSPCA? Might be a good idea to look in to how they deal with all this?

  • Bobg

    As per our recent email contact, I hope that the changes, if any, to legislation that your group may want changed is in fact not against section 117 of the Constitution. Andrew, the more people from the real world, people who know what animals are about especially dogs, that are included in these “committee’s” can only benefit the outcome that we all deserve, we have enough garbage legislation which was forced on us by “societies”, The Companion Animals Act is a perfect example, the one you are chasing up for me at the moment in regard to section 117 of the Constitution, hopefully Andrew we don’t go down the same incompetent path with any new law changes.
    You have my contact details if you wish to discuss this further, my door is always open and I am a few minutes away for a yarn if you want one re this.
    Bob Gilbert

  • Anne Ward

    Spoken like a true politician. Put the blame where the blame is due. The RSPCA IS the largest killer of healthy animals in Australia.
    Get the facts correct. It is over 40% of dogs and much more for cats.
    The public is being deceived that their donations are helping animals to live.
    After repeated requests, NO animal Rescue group was asked to join this committee…..Please explain?
    Your one sided eyes view of this situation is extreamly disturbing, considering so many animals die.
    Very few of these animals would ever pass this temp test, but could quite easily be rehomed if allowed to interact with a Rescue group or foster carers home.
    The temp test is the RSPCA’s excuse for killing so many animals, and people in authority should be questioning what the reason for this is. If they do not then they do not deserve to be in authority. The continued blah blah, of dangerous dogs is a beat up to scare people, not one of my dogs would bite, BUT, not one of my dogs would pass this temp test either.
    Take a leaf out of the book from the RSPCA in ACT, they have changed their methods and now they have turned their kill rate around to minimal. do you think they are sending dangerous dogs out into the community, just so they can lower their kill rate. I think not.
    You, Mr Cornwell have shown your ignorance in this statement, your one sided view and your lack of compassion for animals. Shame on you.

  • JB

    Well said Andrew. Maybe this is a subject suitable for teaching in schools. The value of pets to individuals and the community is always underestimated.


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