Tough on old pals when love turns into pet hate

Every year tens of thousands of pets are abandoned by their owners and left to die in animal shelters. In NSW alone more than 62,000 cats and dogs were put down in 2007-8 at shelters run by local government or private organisations and at RSPCA facilities.

Local councils in NSW, who have a policy of trying to find a home for the animals left in their care, killed 35,369 cats and dogs, according to data received by the NSW Department of Local Government.

The picture is similar overseas. Even groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose headline-grabbing stunts have made it a formidable global lobbyist, fail to find homes for the majority of animals in their care.

The group has put down more than 20,000 pets in the past decade, according to figures it has supplied to state officials in Virginia. But in the US, at least, some groups are pushing for "no kill" policies to be adopted by animal shelters.

In the 1970s an animal activist, Richard Avanzino, implemented a program of desexing animals before adoption. It was controversial at the time but is now a generally accepted practice. He initiated other strategic plans such as a foster home program for abandoned animals and rallied public support to such a degree that by 1995 San Francisco became a no-kill city.

Another activist, Nathan Winograd, a New York state dog-catcher, spread the philosophy to Charlottesville, Virginia, and Reno, Nevada. In each instance the activists managed to engage widespread public moral and financial support.

The accounts of these campaigns, in a new book, Tribes, by Seth Godin, published by Hachette Australia, has aroused interest in Australia's animal-loving fraternity.

But already heads are shaking as to whether a no-kill policy could work in Australia. While neutering animals before adoption is now widespread, and in the past 20 years the numbers of unwanted dogs have dropped, the country is still overwhelmed by unwanted cats.

The chief executive of the RSPCA in NSW, Steve Coleman, said the organisation's policy was not to reject any animal, including those which it would be cruel to keep alive.

"Often organisations encourage people to take animals they cannot deal with to the RSPCA," he said. "Our staff have to deal with them on a day-to-day basis. It is one of our biggest challenges to keep our staff objective and balanced when people surrender animals that have become a nuisance to them. But even then, we don't want to see these animals dumped on the side of a road or abandoned somewhere."

But he said the continuing influx of animals meant there was simply no room to accommodate them, and tough decisions would have to be made.

"This no-kill policy just cannot be. I know there have been a number of books written and a number of organisations in the states advocating it.

"We would love to be in the position of no-kill of healthy animals [but] animals keep coming in, and there are not enough homes to go around."

- with Telegraph, London