STATS PROMPT PAWS FOR THOUGHT
DON’T LET A PET’S LOVE GO TO WASTE. WITH THIS MONTH MARKING NATIONAL DESEXING MONTH, AMBER MACPHERSON SPEAKS TO THE WOMAN CRUSADING TO MAKE EVERY LIFE MATTER.
The unconditional love of a pet is enough to rouse dementia patients from apathy, manage symptoms of PTSD in veterans and return quality of life to the mentally and physically impaired.
Most would agree a human existence isn’t complete until you’ve known absolute adoration from a pet, whether that’s a cat, dog or even a guinea pig.
And yet, every year, more than 175,000 cats and dogs that are ready to give their hearts to a family are unnecessarily euthanised in Australia.
Joy Verrinder is determined to see those numbers drop and is calling on the community to do more this July for National Desexing Month.
For the better part of two decades Joy has helped to reduce the number of unwanted pets being put down through the National Desexing Network, her initiative launched with the help of the Animal Welfare League Queensland.
Her work with the league has resulted in the number of Gold Coast animals euthanised from thousands to only those that are beyond rehabilitation, and it all started with an ad in the newspaper in 2002.
“We put a big advertisement in the paper about how many animals were being killed (every year) on the Gold Coast at that stage, which was 4000, asking was that acceptable?” Joy says.
“When I first started in 2002, we’d have up to 50 mother cats and kittens on the floor every day by 10am being handed in.
“It was just overwhelming, they called it a tsunami of cats and kittens and that’s what it was. It was unmanageable.
“We got a huge response from the public wanting to help.”
Joy says she’d always had empathy for animals that began in her adolescence.
“I have early memories reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation in the 1980s. It gave graphic details about what was happening to animals in our food production industries, in our laboratories and so on,” Joy says.
“So I got involved in animal liberation and Animals Australia, just gradually becoming conscious of how we treat animals across the board.”
While her correct title is Dr Joy Verrinder, it’s not because she’s a vet — she studied a PHD in animal ethics after beginning her work for the league.
“I started as an English teacher and deputy principal,” she says.
“I started bringing students over to here and we were doing an adopt a pen project, we were looking after dogs, hydro-bathing them, walking them, helping them get a home.
“One catalyst was a healthy vibrant cattle dog named Dalai who the students and I had been walking on our visits every week, who was no longer alive when we returned after
two weeks of school holidays, as he had become depressed and difficult to handle.
“With such crowded pens and so many animals needing space, (Dalai) had not made it through.
“I became very aware of the oversupply of animals. I decided I would offer my services to ending the killing of treatable cats and dogs in pounds and shelters.
“I put a proposal to Animal Welfare League, luckily the AWLQ was very interested in working on that concept and wanted to do something rather than repeat the same thing over and over.
“I dropped down to a very low salary, working three days a week. Everybody thought I was crazy. It was something I was passionate about.”
In the beginning of her research and campaigning, she found animal workers were reluctant to discuss the numbers of pets they were having to euthanase.
Joy says her research revealed cats were making up the lion’s share of surrenders. In warm climates, cats are able to breed continuously throughout the year. Owners also won’t show concern for a cat that’s been missing for a few days like they would a dog, and cats rarely sport collars.
“We’re not as good as confining our cats as dogs, and we’re not as good as desexing them either,” Joy says. “My biggest memory was in the early days when were getting so many cats and kittens in, I would go in and film some of the cats that had to be euthanased that were perfectly healthy to send a message to the primary industries.
“That would stay with me and haunt me. “The reclaim rates for (surrendered) cats on the Gold Coast is higher, it’s about 11 or 12 per cent, the reclaim is about 70 per cent for dogs.
“In many places in Australia it’s down around five per cent (for cats).”
At many council-run pounds, unregistered cats and dogs are held for three days before being transferred to shelters for adoption.
Fees to release your pet within those first three days can cost up to $100 or more depending on the local government’s legislation. If you miss the window, you’ll have to re-adopt your own pet. The RSPCA in Victoria sets adoption fees at $400 for dogs and $110 for cats.
Then there’s the cost of desexing a pet that’s come into your care — and if it’s a pregnant cat or comes with a litter of kittens, that price tag can easily multiply.
“How can you afford to pay $300 a head for five cats? That’s almost impossible,” Joy says.
With the support of Australian vets, city councils, Cat and Dog Breeders of Queensland and animal welfare organisations, Joy formed the NDN. She also set up a public vet clinic at the league, where no pet goes untreated if the owner can’t afford to help them.
“The National Desexing Network now has three prongs. We ask vets to register with us to offer low-cost desexing for pension and concession card holders.
“During National Desexing month we promote desexing in July, that’s the best time for pets to be desexed before the breeding season starts.
“The third strategy is cooperative desexing programs with councils. One of those aspects is all kittens now must be desexed prior to sale or transfer. That’s happened on the Gold Coast.
“It’s (the NDN’S) gone from two councils to 12 councils in three years, and we’ve got about 16 on the waiting list to speak to me.
“Councils are starting to realise it’s good to invest in preventing unwanted litters.
“Most councils now are getting their euthanasia rates between 10 and 20 per cent for dogs, but recent surveys show it’s still 50 per cent of cats being killed.
“In 2016 and 2017 we achieved zero euthanasia rates of healthy cats and dogs (on the Gold Coast). Our euthanasia rates went down from 50 per cent of cats to 7 per cent, and over 30 per cent of dogs down to 5 per cent.”
Despite plenty of reasons to be cynical, Joy has a lot of compassion for families who surrender their pets.
“People are always stressed about having to surrender their animals, often in tears,”
“People’s circumstances are different and it’s a matter of understanding that.
“Even the poorest person will take on a stray cat or dog from their friend. They can afford to feed it, but they can’t afford to desex it, then they end up with four cats. They usually have the best of intentions.
“I’m hopefully we’ll achieve zero euthanasia of healthy cats and dogs in Australia (in my lifetime).
“The strategies are there now. It’s completely possible, it’s just a matter of helping people get their animals desexed and help them care for them appropriately.
“The most important thing is providing that support. Education isn’t enough — you’ve got to give them those support programs as well.”