Myth 2: Animal Cruelty is Getting Worse

Updated November 29, 2020

For those of us who care about animal welfare, the news, Facebook, and our inbox can be hard to cope with. There seems to be a never-ending series of distressing stories about acts of cruelty towards animals.

I have been a veterinarian for nearly 20 years and before that spent my spare time in my parents’ veterinary surgery from the early 1970s. As such, I have seen animal care over a long period and have witnessed many changes.  This opinion piece is my personal response to the widespread view that a lot is going wrong with animal cruelty. I believe the opposite is true. Here are my personal observations why:

  • Leaving a dog permanently in a backyard is now considered inhumane. 20 years ago it was considered unremarkable.
  • Dog parks have become an expected part of a local council’s services. And they are widely used.
  • Not desexing a dog is now quite unusual.
  • Not vaccinating is almost unheard of and therefore so are disease caused by parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis. Distemper and Feline Enteritis in the 1950s were a nightmare we have forgotten too quickly.
  • Heartworm disease in Adelaide has not been a major problem since the late 1990s.
  • Even worm and flea infestations are now rare in our area. This is all due to prevention.
  • Mangy flea infested dogs used to be common but these days they get treated.
  • When was the last time you saw a dog roaming the streets? 20 years ago this was common, and as a result we would do a fracture repair most days. Now dogs are registered, desexed and kept in secure yards.
  • If a dog is roaming, or crying, or seems badly cared for, people are now quick to get involved
  • There are many more vets working than ever before but the total pet population has actually fallen slightly. This is because in the past many pets only went to the vet as a last resort. Now they come to be seen earlier for preventative treatment.
  • It’s now quite hard to get a young dog from an animal shelter in Adelaide. The number of unwanted litters is much less. (By the way, the shelters in Pt Pirie, Whyalla &  Pt Augusta  are still having trouble. See ).
  • When my parents graduated, it was common to have to euthanase puppies and kittens for spinal deformity due to calcium-deficient diets. Due to the widespread use of balanced diets I have never had to do this.
  • If someone hits a dog now it is unacceptable and someone will intervene. No-one believes in physical punishment any more.

There are still problems…

  • The stray cat population is too high, and most of these cats will die young. Even some owned cats are still roaming and fighting excessively.
  • In my opinion, agriculture still needs to lift its game especially regarding intensive pig and poultry production, feedlot cattle, lamb marking and live animal exports.
  • The pet food industry in Australia needs tighter regulation to prevent health scares.
  • Obesity is a worsening problem and the feeding of human foods to pets is still widespread.
  • Vaccination rates are falling as we forget the lessons of the past and parvovirus outbreaks are now regular in the northern suburbs.
  • Dog breeding needs a major overhaul. Puppy farming will only stop when owners find out where the puppy came from, and legislation is needed to govern all breeding establishments for acceptable minimum standards. Read about it here.
  • Rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs and small pets still suffer from the perception that they are happy in cages.

All in all, though, let’s be positive. The challenges ahead are much smaller than the battles fought and won. We are all on the same team and despite our differences of opinion our progress is mostly forward.

So why do we see so much cruelty in the media? Simply because now we talk about it. Now the shelters publicise their work, and the media know the public want to see it because we now think animal cruelty is news. That’s why you will hear of a kitten maltreated in Queensland, or a Facebook campaign will start.

I know not everyone will agree, but I welcome your comments. Please share this with your friends.

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.