Pound for pound, they're worth it

All they need is love . . .  terrier cross Bella, Maltese terrier cross Tammy and fox terrier cross Molly at an RSPCA shelter, in a file picture.
All they need is love . . . terrier cross Bella, Maltese terrier cross Tammy and fox terrier cross Molly at an RSPCA shelter, in a file picture.

The numbers are sobering. Every day, more than 150 dogs and cats are killed in NSW pounds and animal shelters. A 39-year-old campaigner from Curl Curl, Melanie Norman, remembers the day she first heard the numbers.

"I thought, 'Holy cow,' " she says. "Somebody needs to see what I see now. If someone who considers themselves relatively informed on animal issues doesn't realise the scale of this problem, how could the average person?"

Norman has established Pound Rounds, a Facebook group that publicises kill lists – complete with heart-string-pulling pictures and videos of dogs on "death row" at the Blacktown and Hawkesbury pounds.

The expected date and time the lethal injection will be administered is included in the post – a sobering "call to action". The group is funded by dollar-a-day donations sent by supporters via PayPal.

But it works.

"In 2008, Blacktown was the largest killer of pets in NSW," Norman says. "Now the figures are closer to 10 to 12 per cent of dogs taken in."

Norman says the lower figure is considered "a genuine 'no-kill' rate", as there are dogs that are simply too sick or socially maladjusted to rehouse.

"As long as the dog is considered 'rehouseable' by the pound, it gets a home," she says. "Only a handful of dogs go on to die."

While there is a high number of Staffordshire terriers on the Facebook site, Norman says this is not to do with the breed's energy levels or aggressive reputation.

She says there are many Staffies on the site simply because it is a popular breed. "Other breeds are sometimes more likely to be rescued, so they don't have to go up on the site."

Formed last April, Pound Rounds is one of a variety of dog-rescue organisations keeping pets off "death row".

Based in the northern suburbs, Monika's Doggie Rescue was formed in 2001 and has saved about 10,000 dogs from being euthanased.

The Animal Welfare League, which hires three inspectors to find animals living in poor conditions, is running the Getting 2 Zero campaign, which aims to cut kill rates to zero.

Among its recommendations are low-cost community vet facilities to reduce the financial pressure on owners who may otherwise give pets away.

The independent member for Sydney, Clover Moore, has unsuccessfully tried to convince both sides of politics to prohibit the sale of dogs and cats in pet shops, claiming "impulse buying" of large mammals is a leading contributor to pound populations. She has also advocated improved monitoring of breeders to eliminate the "puppy mill" industry.

The RSPCA this year produced a strategy report for the eight state and territory governments, advocating tighter control of breeders, as well as greater powers for courts to curtail intensive puppy breeding.

Norman says the campaign to keep abandoned animals alive is rewarding. "Once you understand the better nature of 99 per cent of dogs, it is beyond comprehension that they must die."

This story Pound for pound, they're worth it first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.