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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21384

Mrs GALLUS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) (9:00 PM) —The RSPCA has the respect of all Australians. Unfortunately in South Australia that respect is misplaced. Recently I spoke with former staff members, volunteers and vets familiar with South Australian RSPCA practices. These conversations and my own experience have led to me to this debate. In general there are three areas of concern: the poor standard of care shown by the South Australian RSPCA for its animals, its failure to properly act as an advocate for the welfare of animals, and the Stalinesque methods of silencing criticism and closing the organisation to well-qualified members who seek its regeneration.

There are concerns about the standard of care in the RSPCA's Morphett Street animal shelter, where abused animals are kept while their owners await trial. The animals are kept in enclosed cages or pens covered by a tin roof that heats up in summer. I am told that the airconditioning is only on when staff are present, which is not in the late afternoon and rarely on weekends. I have also been told that the heat is worse in the cat-house, where the sun not only beats down on the roof but also streams in through a large window. Animals are not allowed out of their cages at all on weekends, and during the week they spend 23½ hours a day in their pens.

One volunteer who worried about these animals visited them every day and found them during the Christmas break without water. While some dogs are sent to the RSPCA facility at Lonsdale, I am informed that dogs that have been abused by owners can be kept for up to 3 months at Morphett Street in these poor conditions. The decision to move them to Lonsdale, where conditions are more humane, is made by a staff member who apparently does not have veterinary training.

Of concern to many is the number of animals that are put down, including healthy stray dogs and cats. I am told many of these animals could have been adopted and saved. And what about the lost dogs and cats we rely on the RSPCA to look after? I understand there is a problem in the sharing of information between Lonsdale and Morphett Street so that Lonsdale may be unaware of an animal that has been taken to Morphett Street. An owner asking about a lost dog can be told by Lonsdale that no such animal has been handed in when the animal may indeed be at Morphett Street. In extreme cases a much loved pet could be put down while an anxious owner still searches for it.

These are not the only causes for concern. Until recently the RSPCA did not have an anaesthetic machine for animals during operations. In best practice surgeries, animals are placed on anaesthetic machines if there is a problem with the injectable anaesthetic. As the RSCPA has no such machine, animals experiencing difficulties during surgery are put down. Although a machine was finally provided this year, it was second-hand and in such poor condition that it did not work. No less concerning is the use of a gas chamber for euthanasing animals, although such machines are no longer used by the general veterinary community. Most vets use lethal injections because they kill instantly, but I have been told the RSPCA continues to use the chamber because it is cheaper and does not require properly trained staff.

I have also received complaints that staff using the chamber are not properly trained, and in fact a former staff member said she refused to further participate in euthanasing animals in the chamber as the animals were taking too long to die and suffered acutely. While other state RSPCAs employ full-time vets, South Australia persists in contracting vets on a case-by-case basis and only for short periods of time. It is unacceptable that a key body for animal welfare in South Australia does not have a full-time vet to oversee veterinary practices and animal care. Vets complain that their employment fails to provide them with a proper picture of the organisation or the animals they treat. I understand that because of the RSPCA's failure to provide information vets are concerned that animals do not always receive the appropriate treatment.

There are a number of other questions about the South Australian RSPCA. A report by a former inspector says that inspectors are not properly trained and that there is a lack of appropriate procedures to assess reports of cruelty. He also says there are unacceptable delays in assessing inspector reports. I understand that assessing reports can take more than twelve months, during which time the animals concerned are left with abusive owners or placed for considerable periods at Morphett Street. Many people I have spoken to believe the RSPCA has failed to live up to its charter. Recently, counsellors resigned from the board to protest management practices. One counsellor said he resigned because the RSPCA had lost its focus on animals. (Time expired)