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Questions raised after dogs euthanised

The Bourke dog pound. Photo TWH

A member of parliament has raised concerns about 15 dogs being put down at the Bourke pound last week, saying the euthanising of the animals may have contravened animal welfare legislation.

Emma Hurst MLC is an elected representative in the NSW Upper House for the Animal Justice Party, and said she is asking Bourke Shire Council to justify the destruction of the dogs, including a female and her litter of puppies.

“Some of the measures the council should have taken were to ask for emergency foster care, or an attempt to work with the community for the dogs to perhaps go into homes for a short length of time,” Ms Hurst said.

“I have a lot of sympathy for the stress of that situation, but when you kill the animals and close the doors that creates other problems.

“I am sure there would have been groups who would have helped, and I do know that where councils have contacted us during different changes in lockdown, re-homing was possible during those restrictions.

“It is up to council if they wanted to close that option off, but they could have continued to reach out to the community or to rescue groups if they had wanted to get these animals out,” Ms Hurst said.

A spokesperson for Bourke Shire Council said that council understood the sensitivities surrounding disposal of dogs but said that a difficult decision had to be made in difficult circumstances.

“Council has been very active in the re-homing animals in the past and will continue to do so in the future - euthanising rates have dropped from around 95% a few years ago to near zero today.

“Almost all dogs were being re-homed up until this action, which was taken based on animal welfare and COVID risks in Bourke.

“We had five dogs in the pound since early August and one of them had 14 pups last Sunday, four of which had already died. We don’t have the capacity for that number of dogs,” the spokesperson said.

“On two occasions last week, we contacted council’s regular dog re-homer located in Cobar, who was unavailable to come and get the dogs.

“On Thursday, council staff raised concerns about the welfare of the large number of dogs in the pound, especially the dog with pups. Council has a minimal number of holding pens and these were at capacity with two of the dogs constantly being very aggressive.

“Our staff have certificates in animal welfare and given that council had unsuccessfully attempted alternative action and that the dogs had been in the pound more than the time required by the Companion Animal Act, council did not have many alternatives.

This, coupled with council discouraging people from entering Bourke given the level of vulnerability of people in the community, and the “stay-at- home” orders, the decision was made to euthanise the dogs.

“These are difficult times for all communities but especially for far western towns like Bourke, which has been under stay-at-home orders since August 11.

“The town is in a tenuous COVID situation. Positive cases are increasing, and council is concerned with people entering Bourke. Most of our staff have been stood down to avoid COVID spreading in the community,” council’s spokesperson said.

The disposal of the dogs has attracted international attention, with comedian Ricky Gervais sharing the story with almost five million followers on his Facebook page.

The Western Herald understands that the RSPCA is investigating the incident.

Lisa Ryan, from Animal Liberation said she was ‘sickened’ and demanded action.

“We are deeply distressed and completely appalled, and we reject council’s unacceptable justifications that this shooting was undertaken as part of a COVIDSafe plan,” Ms Ryan said.

But the CEO of the Animal Welfare League, Mark Slater, said that it was not advisable to comment on the issue while an active investigation was taking place.

“The Animal Welfare League is supportive of Bourke Council and council’s staff in their care of impounded animals, and we need to work through the details of the investigation before we can make any further comments,” Mr Slater said.

Read more local news in the printed edition of The Western Herald.

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