Council Kills Dogs Over COVID-19 Concerns

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Animal Shelter

Bourke Shire Council in northwestern New South Wales recently ordered the killing of 16 rescue dogs over concerns the volunteers travelling to collect them might bring COVID-19 into its remote community.

The dogs, which included “a mother and her puppies”, were due to be rescued by an animal shelter in Cobar, which around 160 kilometres to the south.

While Bourke council has not commented about its decision, the New South Wales Office of Local Government (OAG) says the council committed the act “to protect its employees and community… [against] the risk of COVID-19 transmission if personnel from an animal rehoming organisation”.

The OAG has since launched an investigation, which many believe is futile given the organisation’s supportive statements.

Mother and her puppies

While some news reports say the dogs were “shot dead”, Animal Justice Party MLC Emma Hurst has reported on her Facebook page that:

“This is heartbreaking and sorry to share with you- but we need to ensure this doesn’t happen elsewhere. Last week my team and I worked desperately to stop Bourke Shire Council killing every homeless and lost dog in their care, only to find out they had been killed already.

We have been told there were 16 dogs killed in total, including a mother dog and her puppies. While there are reports the dogs were shot, our contacts have told us they were euthanised (barbiturate overdose).”

Ms Hurst added:

“Council may have breached the Companion Animals Act. The Act states: “Before destroying a seized or surrendered animal as authorised by subsection (1), it is the duty of the council concerned to consider whether there is an alternative action to that of destroying the animal and (if practicable) to adopt any such alternative.” We will be further investigating the situation and if a breach has occurred.

I’m sharing this to make it clear there is NO health order for pounds to kill all the animals – please share this so it doesn’t happen again.”

Worldwide condemnation

The incident has made worldwide headlines, receiving public condemnation from a number of other countries as well as animal lovers and animal rights activists.

Celebrities have also expressed their dismay, with comedian Rickey Gervais tweeting a link to the story with the remark: “Stupid c***s” and football legend Gary Lineker calling the decision “idiously absurd”.

Hidden victims of COVID-19

While lockdowns and working from home orders have allowed many of our beloved furry friends to spend more time with their owners, dogs have also been victims of fear-mongering and public misinformation.

In the early stages of the pandemic, misinformation was spread to the effect that the virus could be transmitted from dogs to humans leading to some owners abandoning or even killing their pets.

That claim has since been discredited, with Centres for Disease Control and Prevention stating, “[t] here is no evidence that the virus can spread to people from the skin, fur, or hair of pets”.

Destruction of unclaimed, seized or surrendered animals

Section 64 of the Companion Animals Act 1998 contains provisions relation to the destruction of unclaimed, seized or surrendered animals in New South Wales.

Subsection 64(1) provides that:

“If a seized animal… or a surrendered animal (other than an animal surrendered by its owner) has not been claimed, the council may sell or destroy the animal:

  • if notice… has been given– after the period of 14 days following the giving of the notice, or
  • if such a notice is not required to be given–after the animal has been held at the council pound for a period of 7 days.

However, it is important to note that subsection 64(5) makes clear that:

“Before destroying a seized or surrendered animal as authorised by subsection (1), it is the duty of the council concerned to consider whether there is an alternative action to that of destroying the animal and (if practicable) to adopt any such alternative.”.

Given that no prohibitions were contained in New South Wales Public Health Orders against persons travelling from Cobar to Bourke to collect rescue dogs, and that Bourke Shire Council was aware that volunteers from the Cobar shelter intended to collect them, there is a strong argument that Bourke Shire Council acted unlawfully by destroying the dogs.

Whether the OAG reaches the same conclusion and, if so, whether action is taken against the Council is yet to be seen.

The people who killed these dogs need to be identified and brought to account.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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