Change the Outcome for Border Collies to be Euthanised

I have today (Thursday 21 March 2019) sent variations of this letter to:

David Spiers, the Minister for DEW asking him to use any statutory powers he has to seek a second objective assessment or review the decision to euthanize these dogs
Mark Pearson, Animal Justice Party asking him to use any influence to seek a review of the decision or to change policies
Paul Stevenson, CEO RSPCA SA asking that they reconsider the decision to euthanize the dogs and desist from doing so while we seek public support to have the outcome changed
Rob DiMonte, President RSPCA SA Board asking that he and the Board exert any influence they may have and asking that my letter be tabled at the Board and discussed in relation to process and strategic business directions and outcomes.
Today Tonight Seeking publicity for the story


Thursday, 21 March 2019

Mr Rob DiMonte
Board President

Dear Rob,

I am writing to you in relation to my concern regarding a post I saw on Facebook yesterday by Saving Pets (Saving Pets Article Link) that covered the intent to euthanise ten Border Collies seized from a puppy farm at Parrakie in October 2018.

The post links to the report produced by the contracted Vet Behaviorist  for the RSPCA in relation to ten Border Collies seized from Parrakie in October 2018 and a video showing an interaction with puppies on the site who were left where they were. I think the fact that Saving Pets has access to this information suggests that RSPCA has an employee who is leaking internal and confidential data and that is a concern in itself for your Organisation.

Notwithstanding, the information is in the public arena and I viewed it and I am gravely concerned and troubled by the alacrity with which these dogs lives are condemned (both adults and puppies).

The embedded video shows a very brief interaction of about 2 minutes with 16 week old (approximately) puppies on the site and following a very brief observation – a pronouncement is made that none of these puppies could be rehomed as they did not demonstrate any interest in coming to strangers. It was decided very quickly that:

• They would never cope on their own
• They would not cope in a pet home
• They would suffer more by being taken away than they currently were

On this basis, they were left where they were to continue to suffer a cruel fate and perpetuate the cycle. If the RSPCA’s intention is to improve the welfare and wellbeing of dogs by seizing them (as was the case with the adults) why then are these puppies not worthy of the same consideration?

The Assessment Report that was conducted in February 2019 reported that some of the 10 dogs housed at Lonsdale Shelter for 4 months had shown signs of improvement and some had shown no sign of improvement and recommended that all 10 Border Collies be euthanised as soon as possible.  The report indicated that placing the dogs in a foster home environment was not an option as they had no conception of living in a home environment, and in the vet’s opinion doing so would cause them increased distress and suffering.

The summary further advises that the shelter environment is not beneficial to any dog when they are required to stay long term.
I would like to deal with the second point first. It is a documented fact that the Border Collie are a highly intelligent and sensitive breed who will suffer a high level of anxiety if they are not sufficiently stimulated both mentally and physically. Living in a shelter environment for any Border Collie would create a high level of anxiety and stress.  Keeping them in the same kind of living arrangement (albeit much cleaner) is not conducive to any change in behaviour – how could it be? If nothing changes, nothing changes!

Four months is not a long time for medication to be efficacious. To be successful it may have needed several different types of medication to be tried over a period of even up to 2 years – before it can be convincingly demonstrated that medication could not help these dogs live a good life.  Medication should also be accompanied by a training/wholistic treatment plan which should have included an intensive rehabilitation program in a home environment.

I accept that the average family home may not have been suitable for these dogs – but I have consistently found that there are people within the community who ARE prepared to take the time, put in the work and have the patience to help these troubled dogs learn to experience being family dogs and ultimately live their best life.  Why was it not an option for the RSPCA to seek suitable foster homes and work with the people and the dogs on a consistent, regular and intensive basis to effect change in their lives? Surely, this is a skill set that could have been contracted in via their Vet Behaviourist, who clearly have a Rehabilitation Trainer.

I surmise that the recommendations made by the Vet Behaviourist  in their report are those that the RSPCA wanted them to arrive at – given they were paying them to conduct the Assessment and produce the report. I imagine that if I contracted them to provide me with advice as to whether I could take a group of dogs and satisfactorily rehabilitate them over a period of 12 months with ongoing support and ultimately place them in suitable homes that would accept their residual limitations – that they would produce a program and schedule to do just that.

I have seen for myself numerous examples of dogs that have come from puppy farms and demonstrate the behaviours recorded in the Assessment Report:

• Unwillingness to approach strangers and demonstration of fear, stress and anxiety including urination
• Fear of approach with a lead
• Demonstration of freezing response
• Fearful body language
• Terror when faced with the external environment – eg an outside open space
• Total refusal to eat in front of people
• Hiding under a bush away from people and avoiding contact
• Hunched body, terrified eyes, tail firmly tucked and taking a very wide berth around people in the vicinity
• Drooling and being sick in the car due to fear

I have also seen these same dogs some months on – living a good life. One that we had in our care just over 12 months ago who displayed all of the behaviours outlined above is now a happy and confident dog who is very bonded with her family.

I observed her at Dogs Day Out at Port Elliott last weekend and saw her:

• Interact happily with other dogs and people
• Tail held high and wagging furiously
• Head up and gaze open
• Relaxed body posture
• Run to her Dad and sit by his side
• Sit next to a little boy in wheelchair and interact with him – licking his hand as he patted her

She has overcome fear of the car, fear of new people and fear of new places. She loves her life with her new family, she feels secure, safe and loved. She goes to Doggy Daycare once a week, enjoys daily walks and loves to run randomly and happily and engage in games with other dogs. This hasn’t happened overnight – it has taken 12 months of love, patience, persistence and effort to bring her to this point and she is still developing. Does she still worry about things – yes she does. Should she have been euthanised because she’d never been a family dog and didn’t know how to – I think the outcome speaks for itself.

The internet is full of similar stories. There are groups in the US that very successfully run rehabilitation programs for ex puppy mill dogs as they call them. They have programs, manuals, books and resources to work with suitable and vetted foster care families to achieve success with these dogs who have not had a good start or a good life.

We have many troubled and maladaptive children in our community who have experienced appalling living conditions, dysfunctional homes and a lack of love or appropriate interactions with others. As a consequence they have a range of challenging behaviours and often have lasting psychological issues. We don’t however put them down because that is the easiest and most expedient outcome. Why should it be any different for animals – particularly animals who more frequently share their lives living side by side with humans?

It may be that even after intensive rehabilitation and experimentation with a drug regime, that these dogs can not live in a domestic home environment, but I do not believe they have been given adequate time or opportunity to be able to categorically state that, at this point. They have been sold short and let down by the very Organisation whose primary purpose it is to care for them. What exactly is the point of removing them from their environment, putting them back into the very same sort of environment (without the neglect and filth) and then arbitrarily killing them for the very same issue they were saved for?

I think the RSPCA has lost its way. I think its lost sight of its primary charter to: “care for all animals great and small”.

I see an overinflated focus on marketing campaigns and a constant beseechment to the public to donate, donate, donate. I note from the RSPCA SA Annual Report of 2017-18 that 26% of the Organisation’s expenditure was spent on marketing. Even more disturbing though is that $3,339, 714 was spent on fundraising/marketing for an apparent return of $3,344,639. That’s a lot of effort and money to outlay for a net result of $4,925.

I note also the RSPCA opening massive retail outlets that rival PetStock and PetBarn and conducting force free training schools. Why are these activities not left to the private sector who actually derive their living from provision of these services.

I would have much more respect for the RSPCA if they were to use the funds donated to them to fulfil their key charter – improving outcomes for animals and their welfare.

I noted also yesterday a trending article outlining horrific discoveries at a privately run sanctuary for disabled animals – see StoryBook Farm story:

It is my view that people take it upon themselves to endeavour to help these animals because no such services exist. They are not qualified, ill equipped, not funded, not trained and become overwhelmed. They also reach a point where they can not say No and lose sight of any realisation that they can’t cope with what they’ve got. They probably don’t know how to extricate themselves.

How different would it be if instead of a massive retail outlet, the RSPCA opened and operated a Sanctuary where animals like this could be cared for appropriately? It could be a place of training, of work placement, of education and public awareness. It would naturally attract a higher level of donation without the high marketing expenses. This could be a place where dogs like these Border Collies could live while they are rehabilitated over time – with the opportunity to run, receive adequate mental and physical stimulation and even perhaps to fulfil their purpose – and work! What a difference that might make!

I would appreciate your thoughts on the questions I have raised. It is my intention to raise these issues more broadly with the responsible Minister and the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. I request that you review the intention to kill these dogs and if you/Board have any powers of intervention or review that you invoke these and seek instead, work to undertake a program to rehabilitate them. I ask that the Board direct the RSPCA to desist from killing them until there has been adequate opportunity for those with powers of review to consider whether alternative options might be possible. I ask that you table my letter to the Board and that discussion is held about whether the RSPCA are in fact operating in the right strategic directions and focusing on the right outcomes.

I think it is in the public interest that all Organisations providing services (particularly that impact health and wellbeing) be open to review and scrutiny and perhaps an adjustment of policy and thinking where it is deemed that decisions are actually not the best or only decision that could have been taken.

I do not have a personal axe to grind or a vendetta against the RSPCA but am spurred on by the following quotes that I would like to leave you with:

“I believe the greatest privilege in this world is to use your freedom of speech for those who have no voice.”

Chris Moore
Hope Springs Eternal Dog Rescue, Rehoming & Retirement Inc.

Letter re Border Collies PDF P1

Letter re Border Collies PDF P2

Letter re Border Collies PDF P3

Letter re Border Collies PDF P4