By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
With Christmas around the corner, there are lots of families around Australia planning on bringing home a new puppy. Or a kitten.
But there’s a horrible reality behind the idea of a pet for Christmas.
Each year in Australia, 250,000 cats and dogs abandoned pets are euthanised because there’s no possibility of rehoming them. Unwanted, sick, injured – the inconvenience or expense leads many to break their commitment to raising the little critters, despite the love and vulnerability in their eyes.
A quarter of a million. It’s a big number and a startling statistic. But as sad as it is, it doesn’t paint the real picture either … which is that there are thousands more animals given ‘free to a good home’ via Gumtree and other online local community buy/swap and sell forums, some of which are neglected or even tortured by their new owners.
‘No questions asked’
Unlike shelters, pounds or rescue centres, online platforms allow for a ‘no questions asked’ way to rehome unwanted animals. But what lies beneath this seemingly simple exchange can be much more sinister, and the fate of the animals in question can be horrific.
26-year old Jason Brown, from Nevada, was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for committing horrific crimes on dogs he sourced from American website Craigslist. Brown “killed and dismembered five dogs”, and four dogs heads were also found in his fridge, “along with several bloody knives and scissors”. Brown video recorded his “cruel and sadistic” acts, which the sentencing judge called “”horrific” and “god awful”. The veteran judge said he’d “never seen anything like this”.
And last year, two Queensland men were charged for allegedly acquiring kittens for live bait in the training of greyhounds. The animal cruelty, originally exposed by the ABC’s Four Corners Program, showed piglets, possums and rabbits being fixed to mechanical lures and catapulted around tracks, being chased and eventually killed by dogs.
This kind of crime is facilitated by sites like Gumtree, which make it easier for offenders to secure animals without anyone looking too closely into their circumstances.
Cash exchanges, all done without references, paperwork or anything more than a mobile phone number, mean that animals often disappear without a trace, and there are no safeguards in place to protect them.
Puppy farms and kitten factories
Puppy and kitten farms are another source of cruelty, keeping animals confined in small cages for weeks or months on end and even disposing of those that pass their ‘used by’ date. The RSPCA has spent a great deal of time, money and resources identifying, investigating and prosecuting a number of breeders in recent years – but the organisation’s resources are limited.
In one case in New South Wales, the RSPCA raided a facility where 190 dogs were being kept in filthy conditions, surrounded by faeces and dead puppies.
Gumtree’s parent company, eBay, doesn’t allow the sale of animals. And recently, change.org set up a petition to stop Gumtree from advertising the sale of cats and dogs.
Earlier this year, the NSW Government angered animal welfare groups when it declined to implement recommended licensing requirements for puppy and kitten farms in the wake of its review into the industry, despite receiving more than 300 submissions, some which detailed appalling instances of neglect and abuse, including starving dogs left to cannabalise each other and their pups.
Of course, Mike Baird’s backflip on his decision to shut down the Greyhound Racing Industry has many disappointed too, with many concluding that the government won’t take animal welfare seriously enough to implement strict regulations and tough penalties for perpetrators.
While we wait for the lawmakers to catch up, the most effective way to implement change may be to vote with out hearts (and our wallets) – to be acutely aware of where we are getting our pets and also the myriad of long term responsibilities that accompany them. Vaccinations, check-ups, desexing, training, daily care – a significant commitment.
We should all remember that when the holiday season comes to an end, or the dog starts to chew furniture or leaves little parcels on the carpet, as inevitably happens, having a pet can be hard work – despite the companionship and love it will bring.
For those who are intent on a pet after weighing-up the pros and cons, visiting a shelter and bringing home a rescue animal could be one of the most rewarding things ever to do.
And if you happen to find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing to re-home your pet, then it may be best to approach family and friends, or look at a temporary solution that gives you the option to reunite down the track. If that fails, contact local shelters and rescue groups.