Dogs 'dragged, unable to stand' in NSW country pound

·4-min read

Sick dogs too weak or frightened to stand were allegedly dragged along the ground by their necks and puppies were improperly treated in a NSW council pound.

The allegations - which are fiercely contested by the council and are now the focus of an RSPCA NSW inquiry - stem from the removal of nine dogs and puppies from a Bourke Shire Council pound in February.

All but one of the canines were later found to have the contagious and potentially deadly parvovirus, spread by contact with feces, among other health issues.

Practices at the north-western NSW pound made headlines in August 2021, when 15 dogs and puppies were shot dead after the facility said it was unable to rehome them due to COVID-19 restrictions.

About 400 dogs unable to be rehomed are euthanised by NSW council pounds each year.

In the latest complaint to the state government and RSPCA NSW, Bourke Shire Council has been accused of animal cruelty and a failure to exercise its required duty of care.

A volunteer with border collie rescue charity DARE Inc said he had visited several council pounds in Queensland and NSW but was shocked by conditions in the five-pen Bourke shelter.

Each pen lacked blankets or bedding and four of the five adult dogs were very thin and weak.

A two-year-old border collie named Fleur, in the pound for three weeks, was unable to stand and lay in her own waste after she and another dog were hosed down in their joint pen, the volunteers allege.

A ranger allegedly dragged Fleur and the three other adult dogs from the pens to the volunteers' van on a slip lead, which tightens around the animal's neck as it is pulled.

Bellatrix, a five-month-old cattle dog cross, refused to walk and lay on her back when leashed. That prompted the ranger to drag her by the leash to the van as she squealed, according to the volunteers' account.

The ranger then tried to lift Bellatrix into the van "purely by the slip lead around her throat like a noose", their complaint to the council says.

But Bourke Shire Council rejected the animal rescuers' claims including that Fleur or Bellatrix were dragged out of their pen, or that parvovirus was present in the pound.

It also denied any of the nine dogs showed signs of sickness, adding they would have been taken to a vet if ill.

The council's acting general manager, Ross Earl, told AAP all the dogs were observed by staff to be eating, drinking and otherwise healthy.

"(Bellatrix) moved by itself after coaxing from the staff member. When the staff member was near the van, he picked the dog up using his hands and arms to assist the animal into the rehoming van," he said.

Mr Earl said a complaint to RSPCA NSW about the same allegations had prompted an investigation but no further action had been taken by the animal welfare agency.

The RSPCA's investigation is ongoing.

Lisa Ryan, from advocacy group Animal Liberation, said rescuers were fearful of blowing the whistle in case they were blacklisted from taking in more animals.

She said animal advocates were concerned about what might be happening behind closed doors at the pound given the alleged maltreatment happened in front of volunteers.

The complaint questions the care provided by the pound after vet records indicated Fleur was at least three kilograms underweight upon arrival at a Queensland vet hospital and four cattle cross puppies had "severe tick burden".

Greens animal welfare spokeswoman Abigail Boyd said the state's pound and shelter system was "broken" and needed systemic reform.

"It is devastating and outrageous that, even after all the media exposure of the shooting of puppies in their facility in 2021, this publicly-funded pound is now being accused of continuing to treat the animals in their care with such callous cruelty," she said.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries said all pounds and shelters must comply with animal welfare laws.

Individuals can be fined up to $44,000 and face 12 months' imprisonment for each act of cruelty, while corporations face fines of up to $220,000.

"The NSW government takes animal welfare seriously," a spokeswoman said.

Each of the nine dogs collected by DARE Inc was put into foster care, with most adopted out.