We’re pleased to announce RSPCA Victoria’s five advocacy goals for 2020-21:
We believe these are the current “big ticket” items for animals in this state. We chose these goals based on the scale and scope of each issue as well as the potential to achieve change for the animals affected. By setting ourselves five focused goals we hope to achieve some real wins for animals. We’ll advocate in our usual RSPCA Victoria way – using an evidence-based, ethical approach and ensuring we build direct relationships with policy decision-makers, industry and those who influence animal welfare policy and management.
In the lead up to the 2018 state election, RSPCA Victoria advocated for major parties to commit to amending the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (the Act). Our aim was to make it easier for animal shelters and vet clinics to directly reunite registered lost animals with their owners, instead of having to transfer the animal to the local council. We hoped to improve animal welfare by reducing the amount of time animals are away from their owners and the requirement to transfer them between multiple sites, which can be very stressful for them.
At the time we secured bipartisan support to amend section 84D of the Act to allow veterinarians and animal shelters to reunite registered and microchipped animals with their owners without the requirement for a section 84Y agreement with their local council. The Victorian Government is now taking steps to implement this change, recently inviting public submissions for its “Reuniting lost pets review”.
In our submission we recommended enabling vet clinics and animal shelters to reunite lost registered pets without the need for an 84Y agreement with local councils. We outlined many potential benefits, including reducing periods of separation, avoiding additional transferring of the animal, reducing the load on pounds and potentially lowering rates of euthanasia. This will have a positive welfare impact for animals found wandering, while also providing further benefits of pet registration and lower operational costs for local councils.
In our submission to the “Reuniting lost pets review” we made several recommendations for amending the Act to improve animal welfare including:
Amending section 84D of the Act to allow vet clinics and animal shelters to return animals directly to their owners without needing an 84Y agreement
Amending the Act to require vets and animal shelters to report to local councils regarding lost/reunited pets (reporting requirements should be reasonable and not onerous)
Providing clarity in the Act about whether microchips or registration are the primary identification tool for lost pets, particularly for when an animal’s details may differ
Amending the Act to require cat owners to contain cats to their property at all times. This would include a comprehensive and integrated support and compliance scheme to provide education and assistance to cat owners when transitioning their cats indoors.
The Act does not currently require cats to be confined to an owner’s property (as is required for dogs). Allowing cats to roam can lead to several welfare problems including greater risk of injury, disease and misadventure/accident, and if a cat is not desexed, a greater likelihood of unwanted kittens. This is in addition to the welfare risks cats pose to wildlife.
Amending the Act to require cats to be contained on their owner’s property would have many welfare benefits. Not only would widespread cat containment reduce the risks listed above, but it could also change community perceptions about wandering cats and prompt people to be more concerned or intervene if they see cats wandering in their neighbourhood.
We did, however, emphasise that any legislative change to require cat containment must include a comprehensive and integrated support and compliance scheme, which provides education and support for cat owners about ways to transition cats indoors and provide them with enrichment to ensure their welfare is not compromised.
Want to keep your cat safe and enriched at home? RSPCA Victoria and Zoos Victoria created Safe Cat, Safe Wildlife to show you how. Join our growing community of cat owners whose cats are living happy, enriched lives indoors – find out how by vising the website: https://www.safecat.org.au
The world of animal sheltering is complex and sometimes controversial, with different and emotional views about what is “best practice”. RSPCA Victoria is one of a growing number of organisations joining the socially conscious sheltering movement, and we believe it represents the current best practice approach to animal sheltering.
As a socially conscious shelter, RSPCA Victoria believes we have a responsibility to create the best outcomes for animals in our care and the community. We treat animals respectfully, we are ethical and transparent, we accept every animal into our care, and we rehome every healthy and safe animal.
There are eight fundamental tenets of socially conscious sheltering – we list them below, and how RSPCA Victoria addresses each one:
RSPCA Victoria accepts any animal offered into its care.
RSPCA Victoria only offers for adoption animals that are healthy and safe and will not offer for adoption any animal that is irremediably suffering or dangerous to the community.
RSPCA Victoria, through its medical team and its animal behaviour team, provides a holistic approach to ensuring each animal's needs are met.
RSPCA Victoria recognises its responsibility to the public and ensures its programs and policies reflect and support this obligation.
RSPCA Victoria accepts that sometimes animals are irremediably suffering and cannot live without experiencing severe, unremitting pain or other serious health and behavioural challenges. In these situations, it is most humane to relieve an animal's suffering with compassionate euthanasia.
RSPCA Victoria works with potential adopters to make sure animals they select are suitable matches for their lifestyles, the adopter can properly care for and handle the animal and considers other relevant factors to make certain the placement is successful. RSPCA Victoria provides post-adoption support to adopters to ensure the placement thrives.
RSPCA Victoria is committed to upholding the highest ethical standards and transparency in meeting its goal. We work respectfully with stakeholders including other animal welfare shelters and rescue groups, we are guided by clear, evidence-based policies that prioritise animal welfare, we adhere to relevant codes and legislation and we publish statistics and information about our shelter operations and the animals in our care every year.
RSPCA Victoria seeks to continuously improve its operations while increasing community understanding of best practice animal sheltering.
To find out more about the socially conscious sheltering movement visit www.scssheltering.org
Discover ducks! is a new campaign that will bring our native waterbirds to the public’s attention and highlight their uniqueness and beauty. RSPCA Victoria commissioned research by independent agency Colmar Brunton to determine Victorians’ attitudes towards ducks. This research found that just over 60% of Victorians have positive attitudes towards ducks and believe that their welfare is important. However, 37% of respondents were neutral towards ducks and 27% believe that duck welfare is neither important nor unimportant.
We think more Victorians would love ducks and care about their welfare if they knew more about them. Discover ducks! aims to motivate Victorians to learn about our native waterbirds, then explore their local parks or regional wetlands to enjoy the sight of ducks in nature. This will hopefully inspire Victorians to protect our native ducks and the wetlands where they live.
Discover ducks! aims to build a community of native duck lovers who are motivated to visit wetlands and build ecotourism in regional areas. In our own research, 37% of Victorians told us that they were likely to visit wetlands to find native ducks. With tourism to regional Victoria more important than ever following the summer bushfires and the impacts of COVID-19, we’d like to see a more Victorians visit regional wetlands to ’discover ducks’ once Victoria’s restrictions are lifted.
While species extinction, wildlife conservation and animal welfare are often framed as, and responded to as, separate issues, they all involve caring for and ensuring the wellbeing of animals as individuals and as species. The UK Farm Animal Welfare Council’s five freedoms of animal welfare - freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom for pain injury and disease, freedom to express normal behaviours and freedom from fear and distress - are all compromised if the habitats of animals continue to decline.
In August, RSPCA Victoria made a submission to the Victorian Government’s Inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria. In our view, ecosystem decline in Victoria is having a considerable impact on the welfare of animals, both native and introduced. In the submission we outlined several concerns for the welfare of animals due to ecosystem decline, including habitat loss, destruction, encroachment, hunting activities and the impact of feral species. In particular, we spoke about:
Newsletter #2 July 2nd
Recent lengthy court cases and heated debate have delayed Parks Victoria’s plan to cull feral horses in the Alpine National Park. It’s an emotive issue for many – whether to allow feral horses to roam free in national parks, or employ the most humane method available to manage the population and protect the native species and habitats they are currently threatening.
Feral horses – known colloquially as brumbies – live in Victoria’s Alpine National Park and Barmah National Park. Feral horses, along with feral deer, goats and pigs, are not a natural part of the Australian ecosystem and can cause severe damage to alpine and sub-alpine environments, including the destruction of habitat critical to many native wildlife and plant species. This damage negatively impacts the welfare of native animals and their environments – the Mountain Pygmy Possum, Northern Corroboree Frog, Smoky Mouse and Broad-Toothed Rat are just some of the native species currently subjected to welfare impacts due to feral horses destroying their habitat, leaving them vulnerable to predation and impacting their food availability.
A comprehensive aerial survey across the Australian Alps in late 2019 found a significant increase in feral horse numbers, with estimates of those in Victoria rising from around 2,300 to 5,000 over the five years since the previous survey. Compounding this is the damage from the 2019-20 bushfires, which caused major losses of high country native wildlife, native plants and habitats. For this reason, Parks Victoria wants to act now to reduce the impacts introduced animals are having on native ecosystems within the Alpine National Park
It is because of our passion for all sentient creatures that RSPCA Victoria believes it is necessary to manage populations of wild animals when they impact the welfare of other species. This is a very tough ethical equation – allow feral horses to drive native species to extinction while impacting their welfare by disrupting the ecosystem, or employ the most humane method available to manage the population to a less damaging level to support the welfare of all species, including horses, in that environment.
In our view, introduced species that negatively impact the welfare of native animals and their environments should be proactively managed in the most humane, effective and target-specific way available. To ensure the welfare of all animals, this should only be done under appropriate government-supervised management programs.
Importantly, all introduced species should be treated equally and no single species should be exempted from humane control, as has been the case with feral horses up until now.
The mountain pygmy possum, northern corroboree frog, smoky mouse and broad-toothed rat are just some of the native species whose habitats are being destroyed or threatened by feral horses, leaving them vulnerable to predation and impacting their food supply.
The broad-toothed rat - which has lived in the Alps for thousands of years - is now listed as a vulnerable species. There are currently only 2,000 mountain pygmy possums left in the wild. In contrast, feral horses are not native, endangered or at risk of extinction. They also suffer from poor welfare when they compete for resources due to their large population numbers. Because of these animal welfare impacts, RSPCA Victoria recognises the difficult but sometimes necessary case for controlling numbers of a particular species – in this case, feral horses.
RSPCA Victoria supports rehoming of feral horses and passive trapping where there is demand for horses from appropriate horse rescue groups or homes that have the expertise and ability to provide for their long-term care. The evidence suggests that there are simply not enough places like these.
Media coverage in 2019 clearly illustrated the market for horses in Victoria is currently saturated, with hundreds of unwanted horses being sent to abattoirs and knackeries. This is further illustrated as Parks Victoria has only received three expressions of interest to rehome feral horses.
Therefore, we can’t see how rehoming could be the principal control method for feral horses, rather, it should be utilised in conjunction with other control methods, such as humane shooting according to best practice standards and exclosure fencing. We encourage anyone with experience in homing horses and an interest in rehoming feral horses to contact Parks Victoria.
Kangaroo harvesting for commercial purposes needs to be very carefully regulated. The RSPCA believes harvesting should only be permitted as part of a wild animal management program supported by clear evidence that kangaroos are having an adverse impact on the environment, agriculture, tourism or transport. Currently, that is not the case in Victoria.
In our view the current Victorian Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan doesn’t adequately protect animal welfare. RSPCA Victoria would like to see more rigorous requirements along with greater monitoring and compliance enforcement. We shared these views with the Government during a recent consultation process on commercial kangaroo harvesting.
Kangaroos are harvested for pet food and other commercial uses and there is a market for exporting kangaroo products overseas. In 2019 the Victorian Government introduced a kangaroo harvesting program following a trial that ran over several years. The Victorian Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan 2020 (“the Plan”) permits accredited shooters to harvest a quota (set by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning - DELWP) of kangaroos and sell them to the domestic pet food industry. Shooters are required to shoot with high accuracy and aim for the head to prevent suffering.
In addition, the Australian Government recently consulted on the Draft developmental wildlife trade operation for the sustainable harvest and commercial export of Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroo products in Victoria. This would see Victorian kangaroos harvested as per the guidelines in the Plan for overseas export in addition to the domestic pet food market.
In most States or Territories, quotas are set for the commercial harvesting of kangaroos which no longer relate population reduction directly to damage mitigation. Kangaroo management plans treat kangaroos as a sustainable resource available for commercial use, rather than making a decision for control as a result of examining of their impact on the environment. Given the effects of drought and climate change, there is debate about the effect of the sustainable use approach on future populations of commercially exploited species.
We believe that the issue of whether kangaroos and wallabies should continue to be killed under a sustainable use policy should be reviewed by both federal and state governments. Continuing research is needed to determine the impact of current culling practices on kangaroo populations and their environment.
Additionally, we are concerned that the Victorian Plan is not sufficient to protect the welfare of animals harvested for either domestic or export purposes.
There are several areas where further research is required to improve welfare outcomes for kangaroos under the Plan including:
Additionally, we’d like Victoria’s Plan to incorporate more rigorous auditing and compliance enforcement measures such as:
RSPCA Victoria will continue to advocate to the Victorian Government to make changes to the commercial system to increase protections for the welfare of kangaroos.
Community attitudes to animal welfare in farming
are changing, and so too are expectations regarding appropriate standards. In
2019, tension between animal activists and the agriculture industry prompted
the Victorian Government to hold an Inquiry into the impact of animal rights
activism on agriculture. This month the Government released its response to the
Inquiry recommendations and it was pleasing to see a commitment to some
RSPCA Victoria does not support any kind of illegal activity in the pursuit of animal welfare objectives. We believe that animal welfare improvements can be achieved through productive engagement with key stakeholders and democratic processes rather than through illegal activities. We made our views clear during the Inquiry and are looking forward to seeing some good outcomes. Read our submission here.
The RSPCA encourages transparency throughout the
supply chain to enable consumers to make informed choices about animal
products. Transparency and communication of agricultural practices at all
stages of the food production process can be an effective way of increasing
consumer confidence and understanding. Therefore, RSPCA Victoria is pleased to
see that the report is highlighting the need for greater transparency around
farm practices to better inform the community.
Moving forward, we will work with industry groups and farmers to assist them to proactively engage with the community to address concerns about farm animal welfare and build community trust.
RSPCA Victoria welcomes the recommendation to improve independent federal oversight of development of Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines by creating an Australian Commission for Animal Welfare. We’re concerned that the current development process has resulted in the production of inadequate standards that are not sufficiently supported by science and do not meet community expectations. The Standards and Guidelines produced to-date fail to raise the bar on animal welfare standards and simply reflect current industry practice.
RSPCA Victoria welcomes the recommendation to implement closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Victorian abattoirs. At abattoirs, saleyards, and other commercial facilities where large numbers of animals are handled on a daily basis, there is the potential for the welfare of the animals to be at risk. Implementation of CCTV would ensure evidence that animal welfare standards are maintained and never compromised. Facility management must ensure that animal welfare is seen as a priority and that there is a zero-tolerance policy towards animal abuse. CCTV is now used in many workplaces and public spaces, and the use of CCTV in commercial animal facilities sends a strong signal to those people working with animals that animal welfare is of the highest priority and that cruelty will not be tolerated.
RSPCA Victoria is looking forward to working with the Victorian Government on the modernisation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTAA) to ensure that animal welfare is better protected. As POCTAA covers all animals, this is an important piece of work that is independent of the national animal welfare standards setting process for livestock. We agree that reviewing and strengthening codes of practice for animal welfare and making them mandatory is vital for ensuring the protection of animals.
RSPCA Victoria does not promote an end to animal
use or consumption by people. Instead our philosophy is that all animals should
live a good life and die a humane death. The RSPCA advocates for the humane treatment of
all farm animals. We believe it is important to work with the farming community
and other stakeholders to affect positive change and improve animal welfare
throughout the lives of the animals.
Attitudes and expectations of ordinary Australians are evolving and if industry practices do not keep pace to meet these expectations, it will result in eroding levels of trust in animal agriculture and increasing challenges to its social licence.
You can read more about the RSPCA’s policies on agriculture here at our national Knowledgebase.
RSPCA Victoria has long been concerned with animal welfare issues across all three of Victoria’s racing codes – flat racing (thoroughbreds), harness racing (standardbreds) and greyhound racing. We’ve been advocating behind the scenes for a long time – including directly with the peak racing bodies – and this year we’re focusing our efforts to advocate for specific improvements in all three codes.
The 7.30 Report story shone a much-needed spotlight on horse oversupply and “wastage” – literally those horses that are no longer racing that become by-products of the racing industry. Overbreeding is a fundamental problem – we simply don’t know how many horses are being bred. However, at RSPCA Victoria we believe this is just one of many serious animal welfare problems within the horseracing industry. Others include a lack of transparency, risk of injury, use of painful devices such as whips, use of banned substances, racing immature horses, jumps racing and inadequate regulation of the industry overall.
This year our top priority is to see the introduction of a national horse register. Many are surprised to know that there is currently no registration system for horses in Australia. Introducing a national horse register would help to track all horses and their ownership throughout their entire lifecycle. Lifetime traceability would be very useful for tracking and monitoring the welfare of racehorses, rather just tracking them to their first post-racing home. Horses can live for thirty years and may change hands multiple times throughout their lifetime, so lifetime traceability is vital for understanding how many horses are bred and where they end up.
Our goal is to see significant improvements in animal welfare across the racing codes and this year we plan to do this by:
Excitingly, the Victorian Government is currently undertaking an animal welfare legislation reform project as part of a promise made at the last state election. This involves updating Victoria’s animal welfare legislation to ensure that it is contemporary and in line with current scientific evidence of what is good animal welfare.
We are pleased to be able to provide valuable input into this prodigious government initiative to ensure new legislation incorporates key changes that RSPCA Victoria would like to see for better protections for all animals in Victoria.
RSPCA Victoria has nearly 35 years of experience in enforcing the POCTAA and our Inspectorate receives the majority of animal cruelty complaints in the state. For this reason, we are uniquely positioned to make recommendations on what is needed in the new legislation.
The current POCTAA presents several barriers to enforcement including lack of early intervention tools available for Inspectors, the use of non-enforceable Codes of Practice and the ability to prosecute only once a breach has been made. The current Act also includes little reference to promoting positive experiences for animals and does not explicitly acknowledge that animals are sentient.
This year we’ll be working to ensure new legislation addresses these limitations and reflects contemporary understanding of animal welfare by incorporating concepts such as sentience and duty of care.
Sentience is most commonly defined as the ability to feel, perceive or experience subjectively. Importantly, this includes not only negative feelings such as pain or distress, but also positive emotions such as comfort and happiness. A significant body of research from a range of scientific disciplines supports that all vertebrates, including fish, and certain classes of invertebrates, namely cephalopods (i.e. squid and octopi) and decapods (i.e. crabs and lobsters), are sentient. Contemporary legislation should reflect this scientific evidence.
We’d also like to see duty of care incorporated into the new legislation. Duty of care is the legal obligation of any person in charge of an animal to provide the prescribed level of care in a way that is reasonable and appropriate. Failure to provide this care is in itself would be an offence and could be investigated before harm has been caused. This would allow RSPCA Victoria Inspectors and other authorised officers to take a more preventative approach to animal welfare.What is good animal welfare? Visit RSPCA’s Knowledge Base to find out.