Our animal welfare advocacy goals for 2021-22

Published on 13 February 2022

We’re pleased to announce RSPCA Victoria’s five advocacy goals for 2021-22:

  1. End duck shooting in Victoria
  2. Ban battery cages in Victoria
  3. Significant welfare improvements across the three racing codes
  4. All owned and semi-owned domestic cats in Victoria are desexed
  5. Wildlife legislation reform in Victoria
  6. Animal Welfare Legislation Reform in Victoria

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 six 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.

MORE HAPPY REUNIONS

Under section 84D of the Domestic Animals Act 1994, currently veterinary practices and other animal shelters cannot lawfully reunite stray pets with their owners unless they have established an 84Y agreement with the local council.

Proposed changes to the legislation mean that all vets and shelters will be able to immediately contact an owner about their lost pet, avoiding the need to send the animal to the local council pound.

RSPCA Victoria has significant experience operating pounds and shelters and reuniting pets with their owners and supports reunification pathways that see dogs and cats returned to owners directly. RSPCA Victoria currently has 84Y agreements in place with local councils across Victoria to enable it to directly reunite owners and lost pets.

Prior to the 2018 state election, RSPCA Victoria advocated for lost pets to be directly reunited with their owners and in August 2020, provided feedback on the Reuniting Lost Pets review.

The Victorian Government acknowledged that the Bill’s reforms are important for Victorians, as we have a high rate of pet ownership; an average of 665,000 dogs and 215,000 cats are registered with councils each year.

Currently more than 53,000 stray animals are impounded in Victoria each year. Of these, approximately 21,600 are reclaimed (17,885 dogs and 3,734 cats). Assuming that the proportion of reclaimed animals that are registered is similar to the overall rate of registration within the community (approximately 68% of dogs and 21% of cats), we can conclude that as many as 12,174 registered dogs and 791 registered cats are being needlessly impounded each year.

We believe this change in legislation is a great outcome for pet owners in Victoria that will have a positive welfare impact for animals found wandering, while also lowering operational costs for local councils.

We encourage all pet owners to ensure their pets are microchipped to help lost pets find their way home quickly and safely.

HOW CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ANIMAL WELFARE

We believe that action is urgently needed to address the impacts of climate change on animals in Australia. Companion animals, animals in sport, farm animals and wildlife are at risk of being directly and indirectly affected by climate change across both land and water environments. Many animals have and will continue to suffer and die from the effects of climate change.

Our Climate Change Policy is:

  • RSPCA Australia recognises the significant impact that climate change is having on the welfare of animals, whether living in the wild or in the care of humans.
  • RSPCA Australia considers that action is urgently needed to address the impacts of climate change in Australia to reduce the impacts on animals.
  • RSPCA Australia advocates for the consideration of animal welfare in the formation and adoption of national, state and industry climate policy and policies related to drought, fire, flood and other extreme weather events.

At RSPCA Victoria, we recently provided two submissions to the Victorian Government on the Natural Environment Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan 2022-2026 and the Primary Production Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan 2022-2026. Our Natural Environment Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan 2022-2026 submission advocated for consideration to be given to animal welfare in the formation and adoption of state climate change planning and policy. Our recommendations were:

  1. The plan prioritises the impact of climate change on the welfare of Victorian wildlife species.
  2. The plan includes management plans to conserve Indigenous Victorian wildlife species that will be impacted by climate change.
  3. Ban recreational duck shooting to maximise ecosystem resilience and remove additional pressure on valuable wetland ecosystems and native waterbird populations.
  4. The plan includes invasive pest species management programs that are aimed at reducing adverse impacts rather than simply reducing the number of animals.
  5. The plan focuses on the research and development of more humane pest control methods to ensure good animal welfare for both target and non-target species.
  6. The plan incorporates more information on the animal welfare impact of disease caused by climate change.
  7. The plan considers the risks for animal welfare associated with bushfires and other natural disasters and incorporates preparedness strategies.

In the Primary Production Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan 2022-2026 submission we outlined some of the ways in which climate change will continue to affect the welfare of farm animals and proposed some recommendations on how the Plan can better incorporate animal welfare considerations. These included:

  • ensuring the plan includes information about adaptation of farm environments and operations to mitigate climate change impacts for animals
  • focusing on researching humane pest control methods to ensure good animal welfare for species being controlled
  • considering the risks for animal welfare associated with bushfires and other natural disasters and incorporates preparedness strategies.

We know that climate change has serious implications for the welfare of all animals – and we’re seeing an increase in concerns from the community about the impact of climate change on animals in Australia.

Our aim is to increase awareness and drive action on climate change as an animal welfare issue. We can play a vital role in addressing animal welfare concerns relating to climate change by integrating these concerns into policy, operations, advocacy, communications and research.

Read our policy and research report here.

PROTECTING PETS FROM FAMILY VIOLENCE

Sadly, in many cases, our Inspectors are called to investigate animal cruelty where family violence is present. And we know that perpetrators of family violence use overt threats and actual harm against pets to control members of their family. Family violence to be a significant animal welfare concern. The Victorian Government is set to review the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (FVP Act), and we were grateful for the opportunity to submit nine recommendations to strengthen these protections to ensure all pets are better protected in situations of family violence.

In our recent submission to the Victoria Government, we made several recommendations about how the Victorian Government’s FVP Act could be strengthened. These included:

  • clarifying how pets are affected by family violence in the Act
  • clarifying how pets are used to perpetrate family violence in the Act
  • enhancing formal training to authorised officers so more animals can be seized from family violence situations

RSPCA Victoria also believes that ongoing, sustainable government funding for animal welfare organisations is essential so they can continue to support people and pets impacted by family violence. Funding and support for family violence organisations is also needed so they can provide refuge, housing and care to enable pets to remain with their owner when they have fled family violence.

We welcome the Victorian Government’s commitment to this work. Family violence is a serious animal welfare concern and the proposed reforms to the FVP Act will explicitly recognise how pets are impacted by family violence to ensure pets are better protected.

OUR PUSH FOR WELFARE GROOMING

Unlike humans, if animals can’t get a haircut in lockdown, it can have serious welfare implications. As Melbourne extended its lockdown mid-2021, RSPCA Victoria – in partnership with the Australian Veterinary Association (Victorian division), Lort Smith Animal Hospital and Greencross – highlighted the animal welfare impacts of grooming services being closed due to COVID restrictions. Because for some breeds, grooming is an essential service.

With our partners, RSPCA Victoria provided a joint report on the animal welfare impacts of closing grooming services during lockdown. For many of our furry friends, there are vital health benefits to grooming, such as:

  • preventing the formation of hairballs, which can cause intestinal blockages (cats and rabbits)
  • promoting a healthy, shiny coat
  • providing the opportunity to check for fleas, skin problems or lumps
  • preventing the formation of fur matts
  • enabling the removal of debris, burrs, twigs, leaves etc
  • preventing flystrike (rabbits)
  • mitigating the risks of overheating and dehydration
  • helping promote good skin health.

As Melbourne entered lockdown in spring, we were concerned about the problems many animals would experience if animal grooming remained closed. For example, data from Greencross vets revealed an increase of 10% in skin-related conditions over a two-month period during lockdown this year compared with the same period last year.

Thankfully, welfare grooming was introduced in September! Together with our partners, we developed Welfare Grooming Guidelines to help pet owners and groomers make decisions on when a welfare groom is required. This change in COVID restrictions recognised that welfare grooming is a necessity for some domestic pets due to their coat or condition and that failure to groom these dogs can result in serious welfare and health problems.

Our hope is that once Victoria reaches the 80% vaccinated target, pet grooming will reopen as usual – and we’re sure there are many pups out there ready to get the pampering and grooming they deserve!

Online forum – Shaping Victoria’s new animal welfare legislation

On Thursday 30 July 2021, we held a webinar where our CEO and Head of Prevention discuss our six new advocacy goals, our latest community pet program in Mildura and a do deep dive into the biggest animal welfare issues in Victoria during this live Q&A session.. This event was recorded and you can view it via the window below…

Advocacy: our goals this year

RSPCA Victoria’s advocacy goals for 2021-22 aim to improve the welfare of wildlife, domestic and farmed animals. Here’s what they are:

1. End duck shooting in Victoria

Recreational duck shooting continues to be legal in Victoria, despite being banned in most Australian states and territories. An open season usually occurs between March and June each year – this year Victoria had a season of around 20 days, despite our recommendation that it be cancelled outright due to the unnecessary fear, pain, suffering injury and death hunting inflicts on thousands of native waterbirds each year. We’ve long been opposed to duck shooting and we’re disappointed that it continues in Victoria. While there have been some positive indications that change may be coming, we’d like to see a definite move to ban duck shooting this year.

2. Ban battery cages in Victoria

In Australia more than 10 million egg laying hens are confined to barren battery cages, despite being banned in many countries including the UK. At RSPCA we believe battery cages are one of the biggest animal welfare problems in Australia right now because the evidence shows hens suffer from poor welfare throughout their lives in these housing systems. We are strongly opposed to battery cages and believe their use must be phased out. They must be replaced by housing that better meets the behavioural and social needs of hens and improves their welfare. This year – together with our RSPCA colleagues around the country – we will be focusing our efforts on advocating for an end to battery cages in the egg industry, once and for all.

3. Significant welfare improvements across the three racing codes

There are inherent welfare issues in horse and greyhound racing. To ensure the welfare of racing animals continues to improve, we have worked hard to develop constructive relationships with the peak bodies for the three racing codes in Victoria. We continue to be concerned by the ongoing use of whips in horse racing, wastage, injuries, fatalities and outcomes for animals after their racing career has ended. We’re advocating for further reform, accountability and transparency to support better welfare for all racing animals.

4. All owned and semi-owned domestic cats in Victoria are desexed

There are an estimated 3.3 million cats in Australia; cats are the second most popular pet and 29% of households have one. Unfortunately, at least 30% of owned cats are not desexed before six months of age, resulting in unplanned litters from young, sexually mature female cats prior to desexing. Unplanned litters contribute to the cat overpopulation problem, which leads to significant welfare issues for cats. Unplanned litters also impact Victoria’s pound and shelter system, the broader community and the environment. Desexing is key to reducing our overpopulation of cats and improving cat welfare. This year, we’ve set ourselves the ambitious goal of desexing all owned and semi-owned cats in Victoria. We’ll advocate for this, and we’ll also support this goal in practice by providing low cost desexing clinics.

5. Wildlife legislation reform in Victoria

The Wildlife Act 1975 sets the rules around how people interact with wildlife in Victoria. It hasn’t been reviewed since it became law more than 45 years ago. Since then, community values and expectations around wildlife have changed significantly. In May 2020, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change announced a comprehensive review of the Act. We’re recommending significant changes to see better protections for wildlife under the Act.

6. Animal Welfare Legislation Reform in Victoria

Animal welfare legislation in Victoria no longer meets scientific understandings of good animal welfare nor community expectations. The state government is currently undertaking an animal welfare reform project in Victoria as part of an election promise and its Animal Welfare Action Plan. This will result in draft contemporary animal welfare legislation to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA Act). RSPCA Victoria has provided input about the key changes that we would like to see to ensure better protections for all animals in Victoria.

Time to end battery cages

Around half of the layer hens in Australia are confined to battery cages – small, barren wire cages about 40cm tall that typically house four to seven hens. The evidence is clear that battery cages result in poor welfare – hens are constantly standing on a wire floor, their movement is restricted, they have no perches, and they can’t exercise or express normal behaviour such as stretching or flapping their wings. As a result, hens suffer from high rates of disuse osteoporosis, fatty liver disease and bone breakage, along with chronic stress and frustration.
The mental and physical problems experienced by hens in battery cages are caused by the cage itself and cannot be improved by good management practices. Put simply, good welfare is not possible for hens in battery cages.

For this reason, battery cages have been banned for many years in the UK and are now banned in New Zealand. Unfortunately, they are still being used in Australia – but this year presents a chance for positive change. Australia’s Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry are under review and RSPCA Victoria – together with RSPCA colleagues around the country – is advocating for a phase-out of battery cages to be included in the new standards.

It may be surprising to hear that around half of Australia’s eggs come from hens in battery cages. While most Australian consumers now buy cage-free carton eggs from supermarket shelves, the cage eggs tend to go into food services (cafes and restaurants) or are used as ingredients in packaged and processed foods.

Nationally, the RSPCA has been advocating for an end to battery cages for 40 years. We’re excited that the moment has now arrived where positive change may occur. It’s a chance for Australia to come in line with other progressive nations and ensure millions of layer hens have better lives.

In Victoria we are advocating directly to the Minister for Agriculture to try to ensure a phase out of battery cages in the new poultry standards. Nationally, the RSPCA is running a digital advertising campaign to let Australians know that 2021 is a big opportunity for change.

Taskforce on rehoming pets

The creation of the Taskforce is a welcome step toward improving rehoming outcomes for dogs and cats in Victoria. The Taskforce comprises three MPs and is chaired by the Member for Western Victoria, Andy Meddick of the Animal Justice Party. The members are currently consulting with groups across Victoria to consider:

  • Ways to improve the welfare and survival rates of cats and dogs requiring rehoming while ensuring community safety.
  • A regulatory framework for rehoming pets in Victoria.
  • Ways to improve transparency around the movement of animals between shelters pounds, rescue groups and community foster networks.
  • Ways to improve information, advice and further develop ways for scientific organisations and animal ethics committees to support the rehoming of cats and dogs used in research and teaching.

Members of the Taskforce visited RSPCA Victoria’s Burwood East headquarters in June to consult with us. RSPCA Victoria has also made a written submission to the Taskforce – some of our recommendations are to:

  • Introduce mandatory standards and regulations for all organisations that operate rescue and rehoming activities. Currently shelters and pounds are regulated in Victoria – we’d like to see this extended to animal rescue groups and community foster organisations to ensure consistent, quality care across the network.
  • Require community foster carer networks and rescue groups to be registered, whether as a domestic animal business or under a licensing scheme.
  • Make it mandatory for all organisations that rescue and rehome companion animals to publish reports on animal intake, animals rehomed, animals transferred to other rehoming organisations and animals euthanased.
  • Consider an entire review of the Code of Practice for the Management of Dogs and Cats in Shelters and Pounds (the Code) to reflect contemporary standards, best practice animal welfare and to include community foster carer networks and rescue groups.
  • Amend Section 2.4 of the Code to reduce the current eight-day quarantine period to three days.
  • Promote and support pre-pubertal desexing for cats to reduce numbers of unwanted litters.
  • Offer subsidised cat desexing programs to assist in reducing Victoria’s cat overpopulation.
  • Promote and support cat containment to owners’ properties at all times to reduce roaming cats and keep cats safe.

We look forward to seeing what the Taskforce recommends to support better welfare for many cats and dogs in Victoria.

Wildlife Act review in full swing

The Wildlife Act 1975 sets the rules around how people interact with wildlife in Victoria. It hasn’t been reviewed since it became law more than 45 years ago. Since then, community values and expectations around wildlife have changed significantly. It’s time for Victoria to enact more modern legislation to better protect our wildlife and promote their welfare.

RSPCA Victoria made a total of 16 recommendations to the Independent Expert Advisory Panel. Our recommendations are underpinned by our core belief that wherever human activities have the potential to negatively impact wild animals – whether directly or indirectly – we have a duty to ensure those activities cause as little injury, suffering or distress to animals as possible.

Some of our 16 recommendations included:

  • Animal sentience should be recognised in the Wildlife Act, to determine appropriate use and management of wildlife and what should be prohibited
  • All sentient vertebrates and invertebrates indigenous to Victoria should be included taxa under the Wildlife Act
  • Indigenous animals should not be hunted and their protections should not be removed from the Wildlife Act
  • A scientific advisory committee should be formalised in the Act
    Sentencing guidelines are needed to provide guidance on appropriate sentencing and ensure consistency of sentencing.

Read our full submission to see all 16 recommendations we made. We look forward to the opportunity to present to the expert panel and to hearing the thoughts of all those committed to the welfare of our wildlife.

150 years of the RSPCA in Australia

In 1871 a group of citizens was very concerned about the welfare of horses in Melbourne. At the time horses were worked very hard. A meeting was called – it was held at the Mechanics Institute in Collins Street, which is the site of the present-day Athenaeum Theatre. At the meeting the Victorian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was officially formed. This was the birth of the RSPCA and the animal welfare movement in Australia.
A few decades earlier, in 1824, the English RSPCA had been formed. This came after the landmark Martin’s Act passed in 1822 – the first ever animal welfare legislation, which forbade the cruel and improper treatment of cattle. People were becoming aware that animals had the capacity to suffer and that wherever humans were interacting with or using animals they were responsible for their welfare.

When the first Australian society formed in Victoria it hired two Inspectors, starting the long and proud tradition of RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectorate, which now comprises Inspectors working across the state to enforce animal welfare legislation. In 1875 the society extended its work beyond horses and began caring for and protecting other animals such as geese, sheep and goats. Royal patronage was granted in 1956 and the society officially became the RSPCA that we know today.

Today RSPCA Victoria is a modern organisation focused on its vision to end cruelty to all animals. This is done by working with the community through education, advocacy, animal care and protection. Today, RSPCA Victoria:

  • Cares for around 20,000 animals that come through its shelters every year
  • Responds to more than 10,000 animal cruelty reports each year
  • Educates thousands of school children and adults each year
  • Partners with around 30 animal rescue groups across the state to rehome vulnerable animals
  • Prosecutes more than half of the animal cruelty cases in Victoria each year.

RSPCA Victoria has a long, proud history of advocating for change. There have been many highlights over the years, including:

  • Successfully ending puppy tail docking
  • Helping to end cruel puppy and kitten factories in Victoria by advocating for changes to Victoria’s Domestic Animals Act
  • Advocating to allow renters to keep their pets with them in rental properties
  • Working directly with governments to influence and amend countless pieces of legislation, including the new Animal Welfare Act that is currently being developed.

We know that we still have a lot of work to do to end animal cruelty – our 150th anniversary is a chance to reflect on how far we’ve come and look to the future with renewed resolve. We want to thank all the people who have been part of our history and the Victorian community for continuing to support our work. We won’t stop working until we have ended animal cruelty.

Pets and family violence

The link between family violence and animal abuse is well-documented, both in research and in the experience of RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectors. Numerous studies have shown there is a high probability of animal abuse in households experiencing domestic violence. One Victorian study reported that 53% of women entering a refuge to escape domestic violence and abuse reported that their pets had been harmed (Volant et al. 2008).Animal abuse in domestic violence situations not only leads to animal suffering, but can also impact significantly on family members witnessing the abuse, particularly children.

However, it is often difficult for those leaving violent situations to keep their animals with them. As a result, individuals and families will often delay fleeing a violent situation due to concerns regarding the safety of their companion animal, with one study reporting that 35% of women delayed seeking refuge for this reason (Fawcett et al. 2002).

The Animal Justice Party’s motion called on the Victorian Government to review the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 to recognise that companion animals are affected by family violence. The motion also called for more funding to support victim survivors of family violence, including for the care of animals, and removing barriers for victims who are trying to escape abusive households but don’t want to leave their pet behind.

RSPCA Victoria applauded the motion and is supportive of any improvements to legislation to better protect both people and animals in these situations. RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectors investigate thousands of animal cruelty reports every year and often see that where animal abuse exists, so does family violence. Inspectors are trained to identify signs of abuse and work closely to refer these cases to relevant social services, Victoria Police and family violence agencies.

RSPCA Victoria currently offers support to people experiencing domestic and family violence in the form of emergency pet boarding. Changing the legislation will increase the support available across the board and encourage further cross-agency collaboration to identify signs of animal abuse before it is reported.

With respect to pets and domestic violence RSPCA Victoria believes:

  • veterinarians, community service workers and other frontline staff should be trained and supported to identify and report suspected cases of animal cruelty;
  • key agencies need to be empowered to create more opportunities for companion animals to be accommodated at refuge centres and other emergency housing facilities; and
  • relevant state and territory legislation should allow for the inclusion of companion animals in violence intervention/restraining orders.

Wildlife Act review gets underway

Victoria’s Wildlilfe Act 1975 sets out how people can interact with wildlife in Victoria. As the name suggests, it was enacted in 1975, and over the past 45 years community attitudes and expectations have certainly changed. So, the Minister for Environment’s decision to announce a review of the Act is great news and very timely.

The review will be conducted by an expert advisory panel appointed by the Victorian Government. Organisations and individuals can have their say on:

  • contemporary values and expectations around wildlife
  • the need to protect and conserve wildlife and to prevent wildlife from becoming extinct
  • interests in sustainable use of, and access to, wildlife
  • the role of wildlife in the cultural practices and beliefs of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians
  • the impact of wildlife on agriculture and other activities
  • the impact of eco-tourism and other activities on wildlife
  • the benefits of activities which foster an appreciation of wildlife
  • emerging issues affecting wildlife protection and conservation, sustainable use and access
  • any gaps or inconsistencies resulting from changes to other legal frameworks or policy settings
  • insights from reviews of similar legislation
  • the most appropriate and effective ways to encourage compliance with the Act and punish wildlife crime.

Submissions open on Engage Victoria this month so take the opportunity to have your say. RSPCA Victoria will be making a submission focused on wildlife welfare – we look forward to lots of positive change and progress coming out of this review.

Country Mile race series trials limited whip use

We recently welcomed Racing Victoria’s call to reduce the use of the whip and believe whip reform is a necessary and positive change. The whip can no longer be defended as a tool for performance enhancement and we encourage the Australian racing industry to follow other countries around the world and introduce hands-and-heels racing.

During the recent Country Mile series, Racing Victoria trialed limited whip use. During five heats and a final held throughout February and March, riders were forbidden from using their whips more than five times during a race. The trial was a significant reduction compared with the current Australian Rules of Racing, which permit the use of the whip a maximum of five times in non-consecutive strides prior to the 100m mark and at the rider’s discretion in the final 100m of a race where its use in consecutive strides is permitted.

Numerous whip use breaches occurred during the Country Mile series, but it was promising to see Racing Victoria handing out appropriate suspensions and penalties. The RSPCA believes penalties are important for deterring riders from using whips unnecessarily as this establishes expectations about the industry’s standards and sets clear consequences for breaches of the rules. Having these penalties is essential for driving behaviour change within the horse racing industry.

A study released late last year effectively debunked traditional arguments that the whip is needed for performance enhancement and to maintain racing integrity. Therefore, hands-and-heels races could be added to race programs in Australia right now, with no change to race outcomes.

Norway has observed a ban on the use of whips in racing since 1986 – jockeys are allowed to carry whips but can only use them if their safety is jeopardised. Whereas countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany have placed limitations on whip use in races and introduced stronger penalties for riders who breach these rules. In the interim, we support more whip-free races being held across Victoria, but believe the focus must be on banning the use of the whip in the thoroughbred racing industry.

Managing feral horses in the Alps

It’s an emotive issue, but RSPCA Victoria acknowledges that in some circumstances it is necessary to manage populations of wild animals when they impact other species. We always emphasise that any management measures undertaken must recognise that whether an animal is native, introduced or viewed as a ‘pest’ does not affect its capacity to experience pain, suffering or distress.

In our view, all introduced species that negatively impact native animals and their environments should be managed in the most humane, effective and target-specific way available under appropriate proactive government supervised management programs. All introduced species should be treated equally and no single species should be exempted from control, as has been the case with feral horses.

Native Australian species that are being threatened by the impacts of feral horses include the Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) and Tooarrana (Mastocomys fuscus), Alpine Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii alpina), Alpine Water Skink (Eulamprus kosciuskoi) and Guthega Skink (Liopholis guthega) and Alpine Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus crassu).

The 2019-20 bushfires caused major losses of high-country native wildlife, native plants and habitats which is why management of the impacts introduced animals are having on these ecosystems is now critical.

How do feral horses cause damage?

Feral horses 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 caused to habitat can have significant impacts on the individual welfare of native wildlife. Feral horses cause damage to Victoria’s natural environment by:

  • Grazing and browsing – they consume native plants and destroy the habitat of native wildlife.
  • Pugging and streambank collapse – they compact soil, increase erosion, cause wet areas to dry out and degrade waterways.
  • Impacting water quality – they remove vegetation, reduce water filtering, cause muddier water and harm native aquatic species.
  • Trampling and opening of bare ground – they harm soil and plant growth.

Habitat destruction can limit some species access to shelter placing them at greater risk of predation. For example, grazing and trampling horses affect the habitats of several nationally listed threatened species of amphibians. Access to food can also be compromised, with species such as the Broader-toothed Rat, who require specific plant availability to survive, competing with horses for food. Together, these factors can see the welfare of some of Victoria’s most critically threatened species compromised.

If you would like to complete the feedback survey and have your say you can do so here: https://engage.vic.gov.au/alpine-feral-horse-action-plan

Ecosystem decline in Victoria

The Parliamentary Inquiry into Ecosystem Decline in Victoria gave organisations and individuals the chance to voice their concerns and recommendations to help address this problem. RSPCA Victoria’s submission focused on the welfare of both native and introduced species. You can read our full submission here.

At a public hearing at Parliament House in March, RSPCA Victoria presented its key
concerns including:

  • the need for Victoria to end duck shooting to protect the welfare and sustainability of our native waterbirds;
  • the need to promote wetland ecotourism to positively engage Victorians with our precious native waterbirds and wildlife;
  • the need for further research into humane solutions for pest species management; and
  • a coordinated approach to the management of domestic and feral cats in Victoria.

The Inquiry held several days of hearings from December 2020 to March 2021, which included presentations from environmental groups, wildlife groups, hunting bodies, climate and environmental researchers, as well as several government agencies. We look forward to seeing the Committee’s final report in September 2021 and their recommendations to stop ecosystem decline and the impact this has on animal welfare.

Victoria’s animal-friendly budget

A total of $19.1 million is allocated in the Victorian Budget 2020-2021 to support pets and animal welfare over the next four years, in addition to funding for wildlife, biodiversity and agriculture. The funds are earmarked for a range of measures including grants for organisations undertaking pet re-homing activities and those providing free or low-cost de-sexing of cats and dogs for vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians.

Funding pets and animal welfare is compassionate as well as smart. Not only do these programs directly help animals by reducing neglect, but they also support people at a time when such support has never been needed more.

In 2019/20, 10,600 Victorians benefited from adopting companion animals from RSPCA Victoria alone. For some, their animal was their only companion during the pandemic. Longitudinal research has found a correlation between human physical health and pet ownership. Pet ownership has been linked to everything from reduced headaches and sleep disturbances to fewer annual doctor visits, lower rates of smoking and lower body mass index scores.

Pet ownership also has a strong association with improved mental health and social connectedness – vitally important as we navigate a pandemic. For example, teenagers who own pets have a more positive outlook on life and report less loneliness, restlessness, despair and boredom. Research has also shown that pet owners report less depression and appear to cope with grief, stress and loss better than non-pet owners. Moreover, there is a strong body of literature supporting the importance of animals to vulnerable members of society such as people experiencing homelessness, the elderly and people with a disability.

The funding will also support horse rehabilitation programs and provide funding to rehoming organisations for equipment upgrades and service expansions. Animal welfare compliance and enforcement will be supported by funding for Victoria’s Pet Exchange Register, the work of the RSPCA Victoria Inspectorate and Animal Welfare Victoria. A new taskforce will be set up to look at best practice models for Victoria’s pet foster care, as well as opportunities to rehome animals utilised in medical research.

Increased funding for pets and animal welfare is great news for all Victorians. When we take care of animals and promote the human-animal bond, the evidence shows that everybody wins.

Victoria poised for new animal welfare legislation

Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTAA) has served our state well, but over the last three decades much progress has been made in animal welfare. Scientific understanding and evidence of what represents good welfare has expanded, and community attitudes have also changed. It’s time to update Victoria’s animal welfare legislation to reflect the latest knowledge and attitudes.

The Victorian Government consultation period finished on 14 December 2020. To aid consultation, the Directions Paper identified twelve potential areas for improvement compared to current POCTAA legislation under the broad themes of:

  • Safeguarding animal welfare by recognising animal sentience, introducing a requirement for people to provide minimum standards of care to animals, better defining cruelty offences and providing a framework to regulate painful husbandry practices.
  • A simplified and flexible legislative framework to increase consistency and clarity when applying the law, adopt national welfare guidelines and ensure laws are applicable across state jurisdictions, recognise the role of non-government bodies in animal welfare regulation and consider animal welfare science in legislative responses.
  • A better compliance and enforcement model to give law enforcement agencies greater powers to monitor animal cruelty offenders, streamline legislation in relating to permit based activities using animals and set out clear alternatives to manage seized animals.

All these proposals have clear implications for RSPCA Victoria, particularly our Inspectorate. We are pleased to see many of our suggestions taken on board to contemporise animal welfare legislation and broaden the definition of what constitutes ‘cruelty’.

Last week we submitted our recommendations, recommending key areas that should be addressed for effective animal welfare legislation:

1. Clear recognition of animals as sentient beings and protection for all animals that have been demonstrated to be sentient;

2. Promotion of animal welfare through the imposition of ’duty of care’, including promotion of positive experiences;

3. Escalating offence categories supported by sentencing guidelines;

4. Removal of broad exemptions currently allowed under POCTAA

5. Introduction of a comprehensive set of regulations supported by best practice guidelines;

6. A model for enforcement that allows for more tools for Inspectors to intervene earlier, including use of infringement notices, enforceable undertakings, banning orders as a mandatory part of cruelty sentencing and emergency entry powers for Inspectors;

7. Better management of seized animals to allow them to be adopted, sold or euthanased (as required) rather than being held for the duration of a court case;

8. Formalisation of Victoria’s Animal Welfare Advisory Committee as well as including guidance in the Act on how science and expert opinion should be used to inform decisions and develop regulations

RSPCA Victoria is looking forward to continuing to collaborate with Animal Welfare Victoria and the Agriculture Minister to ensure that we have robust contemporary animal welfare legislation in Victoria. We are excited to see the draft Bill during the next consultation in 2021.

Welfare issues in racing – deaths, injuries and the issue of whips

The RSPCA believes there are inherent animal welfare issues in horseracing. Whenever there is an adverse outcome for an animal, our expectation is that the industry will do a comprehensive review to identify ways to improve, in an effort to avoid unnecessary injury or trauma in the future.

Whips need to go

RSPCA Victoria welcomed the increased penalties for whip rule breaches handed down at this year’s Melbourne Cup. However, we maintain that more needs to be done to phase out the use of whips entirely.

A state-wide survey conducted in July – August 2020 showed that seven in 10 (69%) Victorians feel horses should not be hit with a whip in the normal course of a race, illustrating that most Victorians do not believe the use of whips in horseracing is necessary or reflective of community sentiment.

The research was conducted with a representative sample of the Victorian community by data insights and consulting firm, Kantar. Key findings include:

  • 69% of Victorians feel horses should not be hit with a whip in the normal course of a race;
  • 61% of punters and racing attendees feel that horses should not be hit with a whip;
  • 71% of Victorians who attend or bet on horse races would be undeterred if whips were banned and would continue to participate in horse racing events and activities;
  • The majority feel that whipping horses causes pain, is inhumane and is unnecessary.

Additionally, another study released late last year showed that whipping horses does not make them run faster, effectively debunking traditional arguments that the whip is needed for performance enhancement and to maintain racing integrity. Therefore, hands-and-heels races could be added to race programs in Australia right now, with no change to race outcomes.

We recently welcomed Racing Victoria’s call to reduce the use of the whip and believe whip reform is a necessary and positive change. The whip can no longer be defended as a tool for performance enhancement and we encourage the Australian racing industry to follow other countries around the world and introduce hands-and-heels racing.

2021 Duck hunting season considerations

RSPCA Australia is opposed to the recreational hunting of any animal for sport due to the inherent and unnecessary injury, pain, suffering, distress or death to the animals involved.

Data from the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey has shown long-term declines in both duck numbers and breeding behaviours, meaning that in addition to having a significant welfare impact, duck shooting cannot be undertaken sustainably. In our presentation to the GMA we outlined four key arguments for cancelling the 2021 season:

  • Duck hunting is inherently cruel and inflicts pain and distress, with an estimated wounding rate of 26% and new data showing a lack of hunter knowledge around humanely dispatching injured ducks further exacerbating the suffering;
  • Current climatic conditions and a hot year predicted ahead, coupled with predicted rainfall being unlikely to be sufficient to relieve long-term rainfall deficits, will not support the duck population into the future;
  • Game bird abundance is declining year on year with breeding species richness being the sixth lowest on record;
  • Duck hunting is not in line with community values and sentiments of good animal welfare.

You can read our written submission to the GMA here.

The meeting was also attended by representatives of several other stakeholder organisations including BirdLife Australia, Animals Australia, Field & Game and Sporting Shooters Association, who were also given the opportunity to present their recommendations for the 2021 season. This annual consultation process helps inform the GMA’s recommendation about a duck hunting season to the Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Environment, who then can authorise a season and any relevant conditions.

We are hopeful that the clear and compelling scientific data will encourage the cancellation of the 2021 season. Until the Victorian Government makes its decision, we will work with our contacts and key stakeholders to advocate for the cancellation of a 2021 season and an end to duck shooting in Victoria.

Reuniting lost pets with their owners

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.

Improving the Act

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.

Why cat containment?

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

What is socially conscious sheltering?

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:

TENET 1
Ensure every unwanted or homeless animal has a safe place to go for shelter and care.

RSPCA Victoria accepts any animal offered into its care.

TENET 2
Make every healthy and safe animal available for adoption.

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.

TENET 3
Assess the medical and behavioural needs of homeless animals and ensure those needs are thoughtfully addressed.

RSPCA Victoria, through its medical team and its animal behaviour team, provides a holistic approach to ensuring each animal’s needs are met.

TENET 4
Align policy with the needs of the community.

RSPCA Victoria recognises its responsibility to the public and ensures its programs and policies reflect and support this obligation.

TENET 5
Alleviate suffering and making appropriate euthanasia decisions.

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.

TENET 6
Consider the health and wellness of animals for each community when transferring animals.

RSPCA Victoria transfers animals within its own shelter network and to other animal welfare shelters or rescue groups in areas of Victoria that are experiencing a shortage of shelter animals. RSPCA Victoria ensures that animals transported through these programs do not suffer from physical or behavioural problems that could endanger animals or people in their new communities.

TENET 7
Enhance the human-animal bond through thoughtful placements and post-adoption support.

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.

TENET 8
Foster a culture of transparency, ethical decision-making, mutual respect, continual learning and collaboration.

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!

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.

Ecosystem decline in Victoria

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:

  • Wetlands and native waterbirds, citing evidence of the impact of prolonged dry conditions and the impact of the annual duck shooting season on the welfare of native waterbirds
  • Kangaroos, and the impact of urban growth on their welfare along with concerns about Victoria’s Kangaroo Harvest Program
  • Native wildlife in the Victorian alpine regions, and the impact of introduced species on the welfare of native animals and their habitats.
  • The importance of proactively managing wild animal populations, including feral horses, deer and cats, to help prevent ecosystem decline while doing so in the most humane way possible.

For each of the issues above, RSPCA Victoria is engaged in ongoing dialogue and advocacy to try to improve animal welfare outcomes and prevent further ecosystem decline. This includes:

  • Advocating to the Victorian Government for an end to duck shooting in Victoria
  • Making recommendations to the Victorian Government to ensure any kangaroo harvesting is strictly regulated and only permitted when evidence shows it is humane, justified and effective
  • Advising Parks Victoria on the proactive, humane management of introduced species within national parks to prevent further ecosystem decline
  • Advocating for the proactive management of wild animal populations to prevent suffering and help preserve sustainable ecosystems.

Controlling feral horses helps all creatures

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.

Why are feral horses a problem?

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

Proactive, humane management

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.

Why can’t they rehome all the 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.

Roo for improvement: kangaroo harvesting in 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.

How does kangaroo harvesting work?

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.

Why are we concerned?

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.

Adaptive management and research to improve welfare

To improve animal welfare, we are encouraging the Victorian Government to facilitate adaptive management and research.
There are several areas where further research is required to improve welfare outcomes for kangaroos under the Plan including:

  • Developing more effective and humane methods for killing orphaned joeys
  • Assessing potential welfare impacts of disrupting mobs following harvesting
  • Assessing feasibility and benefits of developing a quality assurance program for any person conducting kangaroo management activities (e.g. body cameras worn by shooters)
  • Collecting data to determine if and how commercial harvesting reduces the number of kangaroos who suffer during drought.

Better auditing and compliance measures

Additionally, we’d like Victoria’s Plan to incorporate more rigorous auditing and compliance enforcement measures such as:

  • Twice yearly auditing of all accredited shooters to ensure accuracy and humaneness of shooting;
  • In-field auditing of shooters every three years to ensure accurate brain shots;
  • Assessment of shots during kangaroo processing to ensure head rather than neck shots;
  • Site inspections of carcasses left in the field to assess shooting accuracy;
  • Field assessment to ensure orphaned joeys are treated humanely;
  • Regular population audits to ensure ecological sustainability of quotas set for shooters;
  • Requirements for harvesters to demonstrate understanding of the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes (the Code);
  • Investigation and follow up for 100% of reports of non-compliance.
    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.

Improving transparency and confidence in agriculture

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 positive changes.

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.

Transparency improves animal welfare

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.

Independent oversight is important

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.

Use of closed-circuit television

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.

Modernising Victoria’s animal welfare legislation

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.

Humane treatment of all farm 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.

Out for a duck – no shooting under current restrictions, but what about a permanent ban?

The circumstances around COVID-19 have been challenging for many Australians, but the announcement that duck shooting is not permitted during the COVID-19 lockdown will be welcome news to many who value the welfare of our native waterbirds and are concerned about sustainability. Duck shooting season was due to commence in May, despite strong recommendations from RSPCA Victoria that it be cancelled due to the unnecessary injury, pain, suffering and distress caused to our native ducks as well as the unprecedented environmental conditions. Hundreds of thousands of ducks are killed or wounded each season. Not every bird is killed outright and data from last year’s season indicates around 24,000 ducks were wounded and left to suffer. Although this year’s duck shooting season had been shortened and modified, we have consistently recommended that the 2020 season shouldn’t proceed at all and that duck hunting should be banned. Our recommendations for cancellation of the 2020 season were also based on long-term dry climatic conditions, along with drought conditions in NSW and Queensland and lack of available water, which have reduced available habitat for waterbirds and impacted their breeding and sustainability. Latest data from the annual Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia – which has been running for more than 30 years – reflects the dire conditions wetland birds are facing and presents compelling evidence of long-term declines in game bird abundance. Furthermore, the full impact on wildlife of the devastating summer bushfires is not yet fully understood but has the potential to be significant. Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, the decision to allow a duck shooting season this year was especially disappointing given public concern for protecting wildlife has increased significantly since the bushfires. A recent Public Attitudes to Bushfire Fundraising report revealed strong public concern for native animals, and a desire to rescue, treat and protect those animals. This was illustrated by the fact that animal charities and causes received the largest proportion of bushfire donations. A recent survey showed that 61% of Victorians are opposed to duck shooting. While it has been banned for years in nearly all states and territories, duck shooting continues in Victoria and South Australia. As a state that prides itself on progressive values, it’s time for Victoria to follow other states and territories and ban duck shooting.

The long run – improving the welfare of racing animals

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:

  • Continuing to advocate for Government commitment to a national horse traceability register
  • Encouraging the Victorian Government to commit to developing a mandatory code of practice for horse racing
  • Influencing the peak racing bodies to develop robust equine welfare strategies
  • Continuing to advocate for an end to the use of whips in racing
  • Continuing to advocate for ongoing improvements to greyhound welfare.

Read more about animal welfare issues in racing on RSPCA’s Knowledgebase.

Justified, effective and humane – management of wild animals

If you’re an animal in Victoria, the way you are treated can vary vastly depending on how you are classified under the law. Wild animals can be classified in several ways, while we often think of protected native wildlife but there are also countless species classified as pests, unprotected or game. Whatever category an animal falls into, at RSPCA Victoria we believe that any management of wild animals should be justified, effective and humane. Overabundance of certain species is a problem that we believe needs to be proactively managed. Overabundance of certain species can negatively affect ecosystems, natural habitats and can result in the suffering of animals. For example, we are increasingly seeing hungry deer encroaching on Melbourne’s urban fringes searching for food and kangaroos being hit by cars more frequently as the urban fringe expands further north. Unfortunately, many of the methods used to control animal populations are only implemented when a population has reached crisis point and control methods can vary in their humaneness. RSPCA Victoria supports proactive population management for animal welfare reasons. It is crucial that management plans are developed early on and that any control methods are adequately considered and justified, appropriate targets are put in place and that there is ongoing evaluation to ensure that the impacts of the animals being controlled are effective. This year we’ll be advocating for more humane management of wildlife and pest animals and we’ve identified a few specific opportunities already:

  • We’ll advocate for key changes to the Victorian Government’s Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan
  • We’ll advocate for a robust, proactive and humane Victorian Deer Management Strategy
  • We’ll advocate for development of feral cat management code of practice
  • We’ll work to ensure that a clear feral cat definition is included in the Code of Practice for the Management of Dogs and Cats in Shelters and Pounds.

Read more about RSPCA’s policies on humanepopulation control here.

A good life and a humane death – improving the lives of Australia’s 500 million farm animals

At RSPCA Victoria we believe that engaging directly and building constructive relationships with farm animal enterprise is vital to ensure incremental improvements are made to farm animal welfare.

We work with a range of stakeholders in the livestock sector to improve the standards and conditions for farm animal welfare. Around Australia, RSPCA’s work with farmers includes supporting research and development, engaging with producers through the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme (run by RSPCA Australia), and actively contributing to the development of Standards and Guidelines for different livestock industries.

There are some current issues that present real opportunities to improve the welfare of farm animals. These include the ongoing review of the national poultry standards, recent exposés on treatment of animals at knackeries and abattoirs and the recently released recommendations from the Inquiry into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture. They all provide valuable opportunities to liaise with decision makers and industry groups to advocate for improvements to farming standards and to improve transparency around farm practices. We believe that increasing transparency around farm practices is vital for building public confidence and accountability within the sector.

This year we’ll be specifically focused on:

  • Encouraging farmers to provide increased transparency regarding their farming practices
  • Continuing to advocate for the Victorian Government to commit to a phase out of conventional (battery) cages
  • Advocating for improved animal welfare at both domestic and export abattoirs
  • Continuing to develop constructive working relationships with key industry bodies.

Read more about RSPCA’s work to improve the welfare of farm animals here.

1986 was a great year…but it’s time to update our animal welfare legislation

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.

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RSPCA calls on Victorians to ‘Go Big’ with dog adoption promotion

Larger dogs looking for new homes RSPCA Victoria will aim to rehome as many larg...

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Rising cost of living may impact ability of people to care for their pets

Surrendering a pet provides best chance for loving new home As the cost of livin...

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RSPCA welcomes mandatory reporting of animal fate data

RSPCA Victoria welcomes today’s announcement from the Victorian Government reg...

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