Claws bared over cattery


A RATEPAYERS association and an animal rights political party are lined up against the alleged poor treatment of cats at Mornington Peninsula Shire’s pound.

The clash involves the banning of two volunteers from the pound in Watt Rd, Mornington, in February, amid claims the building had been “ignored by the shire and is dilapidated, dangerous and does not comply with the code of practice for the operation of shelters”.

Doris Campbell of the Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association wrote to shire CEO Carl Cowie in April saying $250,000 in the council’s 2014-15 budget for a cattery “has not gone beyond the planning stage, when it should be nearing completion and ready for operation”.

The Animal Justice Party says it will field candidates at the next council election.

Meanwhile, the shire has defended its treatment of stray animals and says it will spend $250,000 on a new cattery at the pound.   

Ms Campbell’s letter also criticised the layout of the shelter, which places new arrivals with “old hands”, increasing the chances of spreading highly contagious cat flu. Ms Campbell said concerns over the disease had led to the euthanising of all cats at the pound in December and again in April “just in case some of them may have had the virus”.

The residents’ association wants two outbuildings converted into quarantine areas each with five cages and the appointment of a full-time manager to act as a link between staff – including volunteers – and the shire’s administration.

It wants volunteers reinstated “especially in the mornings when the workload is heaviest; cleaning cages, filling water bowls, grooming cats and checking for illness”.

During public question time at last week’s council meeting at Rosebud Memorial Hall, Ms Campbell said volunteers had complained about being excluded from the cattery until 2pm each day.

Sustainable environment director Steve Chapple said operations at the shelter were “under review”.

In a memo to staff on 1 May, Mr Cowie had said: “On Wednesday I attended an afternoon tea for the volunteers and animal rescue groups who work closely with our animal shelter.

“We are working with the community now on the design and positioning of a new cattery for that facility and some general overall improvement works to the shelter to enhance the profile and working environment for our valued staff and also the public who visit the facility.”

The Animal Justice Party has foreshadowed running candidates at next year’s council elections “in an effort to provide a voice for the voiceless”.

“We call on the current councillors and CEO to take animal issues seriously and provide the best possible care for dogs and cats in our community,” the party’s Sarah Davison said.

“Peninsula residents expect the shire’s animal shelter to be best practice and we should be aiming for a No Kill municipality. [Yet], in December 2014, there was an outbreak of cat flu at the shelter and 19 cats were subsequently killed.

“Cat flu is a treatable illness and many Victorian rescue groups regularly treat and re-home cats who have suffered cat flu,” Ms Davison said. “This kind of killing is no longer acceptable.

“There have since been outbreaks of both cat flu and kennel cough, with dire impacts for animals. Inadequate quarantine areas and procedures must be addressed immediately.

“Over 12 months to January 2015, the shire had an ave-rage kill rate for cats of 18 per cent and a high of 27 per cent in February 2014 – when ‘no kill’ rates are generally accepted as 10 per cent or below.”

Ms Davison said “whistleblower volunteers” had witnessed ongoing breaches of the Code of Practice for shelters and pounds.

“These brave people have contacted the mayor and councillors, and met with the shire’s CEO Carl Cowie, but only small improvements have been undertaken,” she said.

“Furthermore, onerous partnership agreements are being imposed on rescue groups, which make significant demands while offering very little support. Without the assistance of rescue groups, the shire’s kill rate would be a lot worse, yet these groups are provided with no financial help whatsoever.”

Volunteers who complained about conditions at the pound were “banned for a while”, Ms Campbell said.

“They were told there was no one to supervise them yet no one was supervising them anyway,” she said. “The manager was let go two years ago to save money and things just fell away.”

Shire environment protection and community safety manager Claire Smith said she was “disappointed with the allegations, given the lengths the shire goes to re-unite lost pets with their owners and re-home unclaimed animals”.

“We are committed to our responsible pet ownership program, and services and initiatives as outlined in our Domestic Animal Management Plan.   

“The community animal shelter’s dedicated team of officers care for more than 2000 lost pets 365 days a year. The team strives for best practice, and they strive to successfully reunite animals with their owners or re-home the animals that come into our care.

“We are proud of being one of the few municipalities that still runs and operates a community animal shelter and have recently allocated $250,000 to build a new cattery.

“Statistics for animals returned to their owners and those that are re-homed are very good. Before a decision to euthanise a cat or dog is made, all other possibilities are considered and it is always as a last resort.

“It should be noted that cats often arrive at the shelter in very poor condition, especially when they have never fully enjoyed the benefits of a responsible animal owner.

“The shire is grateful for the wide network of rescue groups from all over Victoria who work with us to re-home animals. The community animal shelter prides itself on working with more than 30 rescue groups and directly adopting animals out to the public and ensuring that as many of our unwanted pets as possible have the chance at finding their forever home.”

The mayor, Cr Bev Colomb, said: “Shire CEO Carl Cowie and I, together with other officers, recently consulted with our valued volunteers and rescue groups at a volunteer afternoon about the cattery concept plans.

“Taking on board the volunteers’ and rescue group’s feedback, we are currently finalising the design before building begins.

“We look forward to working together on this exciting project at the animal shelter. We are very fortunate to have partnerships with many wonderful rescue groups and volunteers whose input is highly valued as we work to continually improve our services.”

First published in the Mornington News – 2 June 2015


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