OPEN LETTER ON STRAY DOGS and the Lies written on Social Media!

OPEN LETTER ON STRAY DOGS and the Lies written on Social Media!

Following a series of defamatory comments on social media about our clinic, I would like to clarify some points in relation to Stray dogs and the Law as it applies to Vets etc.

The Companion Animal Act does not allow you, a member of the public, to hand over a stray pet to anyone other than the owner or a Council Ranger. Not Many People Know that but that is the Legal Situation.

That Law means you can’t hand over a stray animal to a Vet or Veterinary Clinic. The Vets have not made up that rule- the Lawmakers made that rule. Whilst it might be ok for a member of the public not to know this, it is not ok for a Veterinary Surgeon not to know this.

It is also not ok for any current or ex-Councillors not to know this, and even worse, for any such person to then spread falsehoods about small family businesses like Vets Clinics, clinics that are simply trying to keep the public and themselves acting within the law.

Our Current Shellharbour Council Feb 2018 advice on strays is:

If you have found a cat or dog
Check for an identification tag. If the animal is wearing a name tag, phone the owner;
Check the paper for lost cat and dog announcements;
Ask around the neighbourhood to see if anyone has lost their cat or dog;
Take the animal to the nearest shelter or pound, or
Contact Council to have the animal collected and scanned to see whether it has a microchip.
It is an offence under the Companion Animals Act 1998, not to deliver a seized (found) animal to the pound as soon as possible. You can be fined for failing to do so.” 

That is the situation with our Council and it is a sensible and accurate one.
There is no mention of “approved premises”.

Our local Council does not list any approved premises- we cannot find any list of approved premises for our area other than the Pound. No vets we know of are approved-and we are not ourselves approved as we have never applied for nor received any notification of said approval.  If you are aware of such a list it would be good to share it,  but for our area, and from what a high ranking NSW government official told me in a call to the clinic, we are not authorised to accept strays as we are not an approved premises.

Other Councils may differ in their advice as well, but this is the situation for Our area and Our clinic and Our strays.

When someone* on social media posts saying we  ‘gave no help’ (*often someone who charges through our front door with a stray dog wanting our immediate attention and most often not even a client of ours) be assured that it is simply not true that we have not offered assistance. Often what the social media poster really means is we didn’t do EXACTLY what they wanted us to do and do so ASAP. This despite the fact vet clinics often have clients with ill pets sitting for their appointments, ill animals who understandably don’t need to be kept waiting another 20-30mins as a healthy stray dog suddenly gets pushed to the top of the list.

My wonderful clients commented on this bullying mis-informing behaviour:

Any reasonable person would understand that a lost puppy/animal is still the responsibility of the owner and in the event an individual is considering helping a lost animal, they need to stop and think about what this means to all they are about to include.
They started the domino effect by “doing a good deed” and they should see it through to the end. Not abuse people that do so much for so many when their good act gets a little harder.” “Just as a lost child doesn’t belong in a doctor’s surgery, a lost dog does not belong at a vet’s surgery’. “Unfortunately, some individuals don’t care about the truth, law or even basic manners. They want, what they want, when they want it”.

What we do to help is:

  1. Ask the finder of the stray dog to remain outside the clinic, where possible, as the temperament and vaccine and disease status of that pet is unknown and as such creates a risk to both that dog and the vet patients and clients. Obviously, in inclement weather, we don’t ask folks to wait outside, but we do need a couple of minutes to organise so it is safe for the stray to come in.
  2. We also provide leads and collars -often brand new- which we donate to the lost pet and ask you to assist us by holding onto the animal. This stops you breaking the law and allows small businesses with low numbers of staff to still attend to their own work and also search our database for the microchip.
  3. We scan the chip. The 2 most recent vile posts on social media claimed we had not scanned the dogs-we did scan both those pets: so remember that next time you join in with shock and disgust comments on social media-you are only getting one side of the story.  Also, it isn’t a case of She said/He said; our clinic has video cameras all over it and recorded the entire session, so the poster lying about what really happened was particularly foolish in this instance.

In the past, our nurses have been threatened on the phone by persons insisting we helped someone steal their dog because we scanned it and told them to call the Ranger, constant threats and intimidation and stalking so that the staff went to their cars in one group not alone-and all stemming from a stray dog issue. You might think finding a stray dog is a great exciting thing to do-sadly for many vet staff the exact opposite is often true. Stray pets are often the signal for a potential surge in stress and workplace abuse in the vet staff’s workday. We had to suspend handling any stray dogs, in any way, until the phone and death threats stopped. With the installation of security cameras and better identification processes, we resumed scanning pets and have been doing so again for quite some time.

I was in disbelief to read one post from an unknown person tear into our staff for not scanning the most recent dog -then read her own Facebook page where she was promoting a fund to stop online bullying…. Maybe starting with what thinking about what you say and what you join in on would make a better inroad against online bullying the world over.  The staff who opened up our closed clinic, who stayed back to help, even though one had finished her Sat shift and was on her way home, so as to spend the next 20mins trying to help the person who found a stray dog-all on security cameras-were deeply hurt by the false representation of their efforts and the nasty posts that followed-genuine hard working compassionate caring women felt themselves to be victims of online bullying directly because of the comments on that Forum.  SHAME on ALL of you who joined in like an unthinking Mob and attacked my wonderful staff.

Remember you make the world you want to live in. Keep up that behaviour and one day it will be your child or your sister or mother or grandchild who receives the unfair treatment you just flung at my incredible extra-ordinary joyous unselfish hard working wonder nurses.

4)If the dog has a chip in our system, we contact the owner straight away.

4b)If the dog is not in the system, we cannot admit it as to do so effectively makes the person who found the dog commit a crime. We also in our own small building simply do not have the physical space to house stray pets.

5)If the chip is not in our system-we give you a small card written with the all the contact details of the Ranger and RSPCA Pound.                      We would like to be able to write the microchip number on it but the law is not clear on whether this is a breach of privacy.

    6)We ask you to ring the Ranger and organise with them for the next steps.

7) What we will also now start to do is take a photo of the pet and upload it as soon as possible onto both Lost and Found sites for the Illawarra as that can speed up rehoming. To do this we need permission to join these Lists. I put in a request to one forum last week but have not received an authorisation as yet. It would be nice if this permission could be activated by the list administrators. (On  Feb 13th, we applied and we were given prompt access to one of the larger Forums.  We also applied and have joined  several other Lost Found  forums we discovered were also open to new members).

Finally, to correct yet another falsehood on social media-An administrator of a Forum for lost dogs -a forum that does Great work-stated that we threaten to take people to court who mention our clinic. Complete falsehood. We would ask that admin person to go back to the person who misinformed them about our clinic, (not for the first time), and suggest she refrain from telling the admin staff any more defamatory falsehoods about our clinic.

It would seem whatever vets do we are the target for unacceptable abuse. One rural vet clinic with a larger floorspace clinic wrote to me sharing their experiences with strays: “On a personal level,  we had a very frustrating time over the Christmas holidays with strays as legally you can’t accept them (but we do). The incidence of abuse from owners as they come to collect the animal is increasing, and we are lucky if we get thanked, even if we have gone out of hours to accept and then return the stray. I too only house them in a separate kennel section as I don’t want them near any hospital patients. The biggest difficulty for everyone is the incredibly lax regulations attached to the Companion Animals Act. They are so vague that even Local Government do not know how to interpret them, whilst vets seem to know that on paper they shouldn’t do certain things but on a practical level they do otherwise they face a barrage of abuse from the public and clients. The general public has no idea that vet clinics do not get paid a cent for the time that they accept, scan, investigate, make phone calls, house, feed, walk, clean etc every stray. We can not ask for anything from Council or the owner………….. when they collect the animal. If you send the animal straight to the ranger you get abused too – Can’t win.”

Vets can have multiple stray pets present in a day-each needing a dedicated 20mins of a staff member’s time – turn that into your own small place of work needing to find time to suddenly set aside 20mins, multiple times a day, to deal with something you don’t have the legal right or space or staff to deal with and esp when said person is highly impatient with your workmates. Translate that scenario into Your workplace and see how it would feel and how You would like that to happen to You on a regular basis… Then add in the stress of social media calling you uncaring-Not such a nice feeling is it? -SO DON’T DO IT TO VET STAFF.

Remember next time -when you go to vent or join a hate mob -so as to call someone uncaring, money grabbing, selfish, and all  because that hard working busy person hasn’t stopped and dropped everything they are working on, just so an unknown person-often  simmering with unjustified impatience,  has come unasked in a workplace to demand a service not provided by the workplace -Just Remember there is a human being at the end of your nastiness. A human being who doesn’t need the grief generated by your knee-jerk response to one side of a story. Think how you would feel if your story had one side only…Think and maybe, just maybe  we all might get a better world to live in both physically and virtually.

Moving on: How can we make this situation better for all in the Shellharbour Region?

There is actually a very simple solution in 2018.

Our City doesn’t need a Dog Pound as such. The mass update of microchipping means the vast number of pets can be tracked back to an owner in hours. The RSPCA shelter does a great job for the small number of cases where an owner can’t be found within hours.

What our City needs is a small number of holding pens similar to the RSPCA one-way drop off pen system. The pens don’t need to flash-just dog escape proof and easily cleaned. The pens should be somewhere near the City Centre -perhaps the much-maligned HUB has a spare bit of land a small brick 3-pen building could be erected?

Dogs can be dropped off directly to these pens.

Council Rangers inspect the pens on a regular basis but there can also be security motion sensor cameras that send a text to an on-duty Ranger that a pet has entered a pen. If situated near to Council chambers, then a large amount of petrol would be saved as the Rangers are not driving around the city to collect pets-they are now mostly in one area and ready for transport to the RSPCA. That is an eco and financial saving for Council and could put SH City to the forefront of forward thinking on animal management.

There could be a live stream camera in the building so an owner of a lost dog can log in, check if their pet is there and also contact the ranger to organise their pet’s release.

If the pens are used after hours for Council-owners could call the Ranger but there would be an A/H call out fee-the funds from which go back into maintaining the pens or employing staff. Additionally, work- for -the -dole animal lovers could be on a list that would allow them to use an electronic key lock to the pens, (like many hotels/apartments now have) where they scan the pet to return to an owner who provides proof of id and the correct pet identification paperwork.

We need to move away from a system that does not work and find simple solutions that do-and Holding Pens Not Pounds in the City is one place to start.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Aine Seavers-Small Family Business Owner, Local Employer, Mother, Wife, Boss and Veterinary Surgeon.