Source: The Guardian (Extract)
Posted: November 14, 2023

Tamworth regional council has called for cat containment and desexing to be made mandatory across New South Wales at a hearing into a state parliament inquiry into animal pounds.

The director of liveable communities at Tamworth Regional Council, Gina Vereker, told the inquiry on Tuesday that the council would “encourage legislation to require a mandate for cats to be desexed and contained”.

“Whether that’s an inside dwelling or with an external enclosure, it’s one of the big issues,” Vereker said. “Cats are harder to rehome, we have more of them, and because they roam freely, it makes it very difficult for us to control, particularly when they aren’t desexed.”

It echoes a recommendation made by conservationists in response to the draft national plan to reduce feral cat numbers.

The inquiry was referred to the NSW upper house after allegations of animal cruelty at the Bourke Shire pound, along with increases in the numbers of animals surrendered to councils and in the number of stray cats across the state.

“The whole issue that we have is about responsible pet ownership,” Vereker told the inquiry. “We should also be working towards education, compliance and regulatory fines – whatever actually stops animals coming into the pound in the first place.”

The inquiry also heard that animals had been left at an unmanned pound in Wellington, which is managed by Dubbo regional council. It is 50km from the main pound in Dubbo.

Dubbo regional council’s environmental compliance manager, Helen Eyre, told the inquiry that animal shelters were refusing new animals.

“This year is the first time we’ve actually had to shut down our drop off kennels overnight, because we simply are at capacity,” Eyre said. “We have to put a surrender waitlist in place which most people abide by. Others just open the front gate and let them roam and then we’ve got to bring them in anyway.”

Eyre said not-for-profit animal rescue organisations don’t generally travel out to Dubbo, which is 400km from Sydney, to help with rehoming.

She also said animals were occasionally left overnight in the unmanned Wellington animal shelter, which is “quite small and quite run-down”. “We only use it if rangers have had to collect several dogs in one day and they can hold them there,” Eyre said.

The only staffed animal shelter within the 7,500sq km local government area is at Dubbo, but Eyre said they were currently building a larger facility to meet growing demand.

In the Blue Mountains, shelter services previously provided by RSPCA NSW have been phased out, with the council left to take control of the pound.

“We don’t have any specialist staff, vets, or behavioural specialists,” the manager for environmental compliance at the Blue Mountains city council, Craig Martin, told the inquiry. “We rely on RSPCA NSW to provide those services.”

RSPCA NSW’s senior government relations manager, Troy Wilkie, told the inquiry the organisation could not fill resourcing gaps for local pounds and also meet the demands of its inspectorate and other animal welfare activities.

“I can’t look our supporters in the eye and tell them it’s more important for their donation to subsidise a council … rather than have that spent on prevention programs or spent rehabilitating an animal that’s been treated cruelly and exposed to severe neglect,” he said.

When asked by committee chair, Emma Hurst, if the council was in a position to take control of the facility, Martin said Blue Mountains Council does not have the $7.2m required to manage the pound in their budget.

The next public hearing will be on 15 December.