The New Laws For Dogs & Cats

UPDATE 2018

In July, the new laws for dogs and cats come into force. You can read the details by following the link.

Although it will not be universally popular, the move towards universal desexing and microchipping of dogs and cats should produce a clear net benefit to pets and the community.

Regarding the concerns I raised below back in 2016, most have been addressed satisfactorily:

  • Vets can only give temporary exemptions
  • Guard dogs and remote communities are not specifically exempted
  • Breeding standards are already law and now breeders must also be registered, making the removal of rogue operators easier

However, I’m yet to be convinced of the benefit of cat owners being asked to register their cats (please try in the comments!) Most owned cats have no harmful effect on communities or councils. There are existing laws on the removal of unidentified stray cats that function perfectly well.

Compulsory microchipping and desexing are an excellent idea for all cats, but the existing databases you already pay for are still necessary, and in my opinion, all that is needed. Why did we create a duplicate register? There’s probably no intent other than to create a neat single database so let’s see how it goes.

Now read on.

In the past week there have been two major advances in the vital fight to reduce the number of dogs and cats euthanased every year. We’ve seen the passage of the Dog And Cat Management (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill through the South Australian parliament. We’ve also see the first Australian state move to ban greyhound racing.

Both of these will have major effects on dog & cat welfare, and people with animals. Here’s how both changes may affect you.

Dog And Cat Management (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Update: October 2016. The public consultation phase is now open and you can have your say on the proposed changes.

The details are as we expected:

  • Mandatory microchipping by 3 months of age
  • Compulsory desexing by 6 months of age unless a working dog or exempted by a vet
  • Breeder and seller regulations as anticipated

You can read about the final draft of the dog & cat laws and have your say here.

I have made the same comments I made below:

Permanent exemption should apply under the following circumstance only:

1. Where an animal has a sufficiently high risk of anaesthetic complications. This would only be likely to occur with animals with severe congenital disease unlikely to survive into adulthood.

If we as a society want mandatory desexing, then all other exemptions should be considered a temporary deferral or postponement. If desexing may adversely affect growth or development, it should be performed once full adult size is reached (1 year in small breeds, 1.5 years in large breeds).

This will avoid the problem of people ‘shopping around’ for an exemption and vets feeling pressured to agree to such requests.

As far as we can tell, around 10,000 unwanted dogs and cats are euthanased every year in Adelaide & South Australia. Reducing this shocking number has been the driving force behind the new laws on managing and breeding our dogs and cats.

Will they achieve this goal? We all hope so.

Will they stop puppy farming? Not yet.

Will all dog owners be affected? Absolutely.

Here’s what I think you should know…

Mandatory Microchipping

Insertion of an identification microchip will become compulsory for all dogs and cats above a specified age, likely to be 3 months. You will be legally required to keep these details up to date as you move house.

Result: not much: most owners already do this. It will be great for all those occasions when we get a stray animal brought in on Saturday afternoon who either doesn’t have a microchip or the details are out of date.

Mandatory Desexing

Desexing will become compulsory (only for new dogs) as well, most likely by 6 months of age, with exceptions for:

  • Breeders
  • Livestock Working Dogs

Exceptions may also be added (subject to community consultation) for:

  • Guard Dogs
  • Working Greyhounds
  • Remote Communities
  • When Supported By A Veterinarian

Result: definitely positive and again it only puts into law what nearly everyone already does. Read the evidence behind desexing male and female dogs here.

Hopefully ownership will be defined so that “if you feed it you own it” and we can start getting those stray cat feeders to commit to desexing them as well. Certainly the accidental dog litter should get quite rare.

However, I can see a problem. The first two exemptions are obvious & sensible, but the others aren’t nearly so. Read about Greyhounds later on.

I can’t see why a guard dog should not be desexed; all dogs can be trained to guard and in fact it’s very easy to over do it and end up with a dangerous dog. I’d happily support exemptions for responsible institutions like the police and armed services but that’s it.

Exempting remote communities is just accepting the reality of being unable to change the status quo. How about developing a plan to reduce the breeding of camp dogs? Yes, it’s hard and requires sensitive cultural understanding, but the current situation is not good enough. It relies primarily on dedicated volunteers donating their time and money which means it will always be a patchwork operation.

When Desexing Exceptions Will Apply

Giving vets the final say sounds like a good idea. I certainly want to be able to defer desexing when I know it will harm the dog. Two good examples are male puppies with a positive hip dysplasia ortolani test and female dogs with juvenile recessed vulvas. Both of these should be able to develop first, then be desexed. There is also evidence that desexing should be later in Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Labradors.

However, note that I said defer, not exempt.

Imagine my situation if vets are allowed to exempt animals without strict guidelines. A client opposed to desexing asks for an exemption and I say there’s no justification. Next thing they find a vet (easy to Google) who opposes desexing and get the exemption anyway.

Vets will be under great pressure to either agree to all exemptions or risk losing clients. Is this what we want? Much better if vets have the ability to defer desexing until maturity and only exempt permanently under very strict conditions.

Want your say? Leave a comment here. We’ll also let you know when the community consultations are happening.

Registration of Dog and Cat Breeders

Registration with the Dog & Cat Management Board will be required for anyone who breeds dogs and cats for sale. Breeder details are likely to be available publicly. At the point of sale and in advertising the following details will need to be provided:

  • The breeder registration number
  • Identity of the breeder
  • Identity of the seller
  • Microchip details
  • Vaccinations and other treatments.

Result: once again, overwhelmingly positive. However, on its own this won’t stop puppy farming; after all, they only have to register. The next step is to enforce minimum standards for breeders. This is a separate piece of legislation: Standards and Guidelines for the Breeding and Trade of Dogs and Cats. We hope to see this passed in 2016.

Here’s another thought. The requirement to register will act as a barrier to casual breeders, and of course that’s generally good. However, there are a lot of families who choose to have one or more litters before they desex their dogs or cats. They usually do their research, aren’t in it for the money and produce lovely outbred pups & kittens. I hope these people aren’t put off; they act as a valuable source of good cats and dogs for their friends and family.

Of course, breeding for give-aways is not covered by the legislation but experience tells me it’s better to have a price on a puppy or kitten. Human nature is an odd thing; for some people it seems to take paying for something to value it properly.

Definition of Assistance Dogs

An accreditation process will be created for dogs used mainly for people with disabilities. Only disability service organisations who train dogs to recognised standards are likely to be eligible.

Result: a good idea. It reduces the possible confusion over which dogs qualify. I’m not sure how many people would want things to go down the US service animal path.

Increased Council Powers

The general idea is that councils will have increased powers to investigate dog attacks, manage cats and have the ability to set their own fines and fees.

Result: good pet owners should have nothing to fear, and in fact benefit from better animal control measures.

The Greyhound Racing Ban

Update: as of October, 2016, the NSW government has backed down on its decision to ban the Greyhound racing. I can only hope they have a Plan B which will fix the horrendous state of the industry. Can a leopard change its spots?

This week the NSW premier Mike Baird announced that there will be a complete ban on greyhound racing by mid 2017. It’s not just the use of live animals to train greyhounds; it’s the tremendous numbers of greyhounds killed every year (over 5000 in NSW alone).

As a vet, I’ve worked with racing Greyhounds in the UK and Australia (even trackside). I’ve watched the unfolding revelations with a sense of relief that what I always suspected has been exposed. How could we ever think that all that gambling money wouldn’t corrupt the ‘sport’?

Everyone I’ve spoken to is as disgusted by the greyhound racing ‘industry’ as I am, and there is no serious opposition to the ban. In fact, everyone I speak to asks how long before SA follows suit.

I have no doubt that SA will eventually ban greyhound racing. Here are some of the issues we’ll need to address:

Rehoming

Once the ban applies, or even when it’s announced, there are likely to be many greyhounds that no one wants. If we’re not careful many of these could be euthanased without our knowledge, and the ones that aren’t could overload our rescue groups.

I hope we’ll be able to get as many of these as possible into foster homes. I’m positive that we’ll be able to create a one-off campaign and mobilise a lot of people to help. We’ll need the Greyhound racing associations onside though, which may be tough.

Industry Change

There are people employed in greyhound training and racing who will need to transition into other jobs and leave the industry. Hopefully these people will see that the writing is already on the wall and stop breeding now. That will make the rehoming task a lot easier and reduce deaths.

There are many honest dog trainers who love their dogs and are as horrified as the rest of us. There are also vets who have devoted much of their careers to the health of greyhounds. I sympathise with both these groups but no amount of animal cruelty can be accepted in the urge to preserve jobs.

Uncertainty

The only good reason for going slowly is to see what happens in NSW. There’s a good chance we haven’t considered all the ways the racing ban will affect greyhounds.

The Greyhound Breed

What will happen to greyhounds in generations to come? If the breeding for racing stops, will enough people breed them for show and pets? I’ve never seen them at a dog show but I hope that’s not how it is or will be. I hope we will begin to see the Greyhound as a valid breed to purchase from a registered breeder.

Greyhounds are a great, great breed and may disappear from this country solely because of the misdeeds of a cruel minority. We shouldn’t keep a tainted industry alive just to maintain a breed, but who will breed Greyhounds now?

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. We do not accept payments or incentives in return for stories. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
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Andrew

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