A decision by a council-run pound in regional NSW to put down fifteen dogs has sparked global outrage.
The incident has gained international attention, with the Washington Post and the New York Times, among other publications, picking up the story.
Bourke Shire Council officials made the decision due to Covid-19 concerns, sparking condemnation from animal welfare groups, politicians and even celebrities.
Even British comedian and animal lover, Ricky Gervais, took to Twitter to express his disgust, describing the people responsible as “stupid c***s”.
Other online reactions included comments such as: “What a hideous, callous and completely unnecessary act”.
"Pure evil," another person wrote.
Someone else commented: “an example of people going way overboard in the name of public health”.
However, others defended the council’s action, arguing “people are more important than dogs”.
We tried desperately to stop Bourke Shire Council killing the homeless and lost dogs in their care, only to find out they had been killed already. We've been told 16 dogs killed in total, including a mother dog and her puppies. Investigating breaches to the Companion Animals Act. https://t.co/NODneBEsfS
— Emma Hurst MP (@MlcHurst) August 23, 2021
According to Bourke Shire Council, the dogs had to be euthanised because the person who planned to rehome them was unable to travel there from their home in Cobar, about 160km away, due to the state’s strict Covid lockdown laws.
The council pound had been caring for the five dogs since August with that number increasing to fifteen when a female in the group delivered ten puppies.
The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News reported 15 dogs were killed, however some online reports state there were 16 dogs.
Staff at the pound report they were concerned about overcrowding and the fact that two of the dogs were showing aggression, with these issues further compounded by regional Covid-19 restrictions.
What?!! Pure evil.
“Bourke Shire Council, in the state’s north-west, killed the dogs to prevent volunteers at a Cobar-based animal shelter from travelling to pick up the animals last week, according to council’s watchdog, the Office of Local Government.”
— Christina Pushaw (@ChristinaPushaw) August 22, 2021
We are heartbroken & horrified by the actions of Bourke Shire Council & their decision to kill 16 dogs in their care. MP @MlcHurst and her team tried desperately to save the dogs, only to find out they had already been killed. We will keep you updated. #animalsdeservebetter pic.twitter.com/Qg0J8gdr4s
— Animal Justice Party NSW (@AJPNSW) August 24, 2021
A difficult choice
Speaking to ABC News, a spokesperson for Bourke Shire Council said: “It was a difficult choice for them but the decision was made to stop other people from other areas entering Bourke, given the level of vulnerability of people in their own community".
"As all regional NSW was under stay-at-home orders, the decision was made to euthanise the dogs,” the spokesperson said.
According to NSW Health, Bourke has recorded a total of seven coronavirus cases and Cobar, only one.
The council defended its rehoming program and reported that, prior to this incident, nearly 100 per cent of the dogs impounded were successfully adopted.
The NSW Office of Local Government (OLG) says it is examining the circumstances surrounding the incident, including compliance with companion animals and prevention of cruelty laws.
In a statement, the OLG said it encouraged councils to continue rehoming services during the pandemic and that it had issued advice to assist them in the safe operation of pounds during a Covid outbreak.
A vulnerable community
The outback town of Bourke in northwest NSW, is almost 800 kilometres from the nearest capital city.
Of its population of just under 2000, around 30 per cent are Indigenous.
There are limited health facilities, as well as relatively high levels of social disadvantage, including unemployment and inadequate housing.
Research indicates Aboriginal people are experiencing disproportionately higher rates of Covid infection and hospital admissions compared to the general population.
Vaccine uptake has also been slow, with only 15 per cent of Indigenous Australians fully vaccinated, compared to the national average of around 26 per cent.
In fact, according to the Department of Health, the numbers in western NSW are even lower, with only eight percent of the population vaccinated.
Health experts warn that a Covid outbreak in any of these vulnerable remote Aboriginal communities, where people are often living in crowded accommodation, could be catastrophic.
Animal welfare groups appalled by council’s actions
Animal welfare groups in Australia have reacted strongly to the death of the fifteen dogs in Bourke and renewed their call for people to “always adopt, not shop”.
In a statement to Yahoo News Australia, international animal rights organisation, PETA, said “this tragedy serves yet another reminder that, for those looking to bring an animal into their homes, adoption is the most ethical choice".
"Hundreds of thousands of dogs of all sizes, ages and temperaments are languishing in shelters, waiting desperately for a loving home.
"PETA wants to see an investigation into this incident and call for an end to unethical breeders, urging anyone looking to add to their family to consider the animals’ needs and to always adopt, not shop.”
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