News and Media

CEO’s response to The Age article on veterinary behaviour

December 8, 2015

Response to The Age articles
Lost Dogs Home: Whistleblower alleges widespread drugging of dogs online Friday 27 November
It’s concrete pens and barking dogs in The Saturday Age Saturday 28 November

A silver lining to recent efforts intended to damage the progressive work of the brightest veterinary staff at The Lost Dogs’ Home is triggering the conversation about mental ill-health in dogs. Similarly, as human mental ill-health was largely misunderstood and misjudged just a decade ago; 1 in 7 animals have genetic, learned and environmentally caused anxiety, depression and aggression.

And it’s these more challenging dogs who are left behind once 71% go back home.

On assessment, there are dogs who are fast-tracked right through to adoption, some convalescing in our Sick and Injured Centre, there are some that are in need of some extra time and space and transferred to a partnering rescue organisation and there are some that are fostered before reaching an adoption pen. Currently there are 18 dogs in training in our behavioural program run by Veterinary Behaviourist Dr Trepheena Hunter with her team of trainers.

We have never used anti-anxiety medication to sedate; rather it is used to reduce anxiety so dogs can focus, increasing their learning capacity so they can be more effectively trained out of moderately aggressive or anxious behaviours in preparation for adoption. Like with humans, there can be a period of adjustment when administering medications. Out of the 18 dogs in the program today, nine have medication combined with their training and enrichment plan.

Without medication the realistic outcome for these dogs would be euthanasia. The Home has an obligation under the Code or Practice for Pounds and Shelters to not rehome animals that might pose a threat to a child, person or pet and we hold that responsibility alongside the health and welfare of an animal as equally important. These are the tough decisions our staff are tasked with and I maintain every confidence in the considered and ethical decisions our consulting, surgical and behavioural veterinarians make every day.

One of the most salacious accusations levelled at the veterinary behavioural program was over-medication of dogs, citing that “one dog was on 29 tablets a day”. Medications are administered to dogs based on weight so a heavier dog will require more tablets to reach the right dosage of a single medication if there isn’t a compounded form and wherever it exists, a compounded form is given.

The allegation in the article expressed that “dogs were medicated for normal behaviour such as barking at birds and mild anxiety, and were being euthanised due to lack of space in pens.” The Home administers medications for dogs with anxiety disorders as diagnosed by our veterinary behaviourist and it would be unethical to medicate for normal dog behaviours; any criticism that dogs are languishing in pens un-walked is not only untrue, it is an affront to all the staff who care deeply for the dog they are working with. Our dogs are indeed walked regularly, though not in groups if this isn’t in the best animal welfare interests of an anxious dog.

Considering the article referred to euthanasia, I’ll provide our most recent euthanasia statistics as a matter of transparency. Our euthanasia rates of the previous six months compared to the same time period in 2014 show a notable reduction of 4.5% down to 9.7% and an increase in adoptions by 3.5%.

Put another way, we reunited, rehomed, fostered and sent to rescue 90.3% of dogs in the last six months while that stood at 85.8% for the same time in 2014.

With a reinvigorated approach we have achieved better outcomes while having just reported a significant financial loss of 1.3 million dollars. This was due to a slump in donations, while the rest can be attributed to uneconomical contractual decisions of the previous administration. We’re steadily working our way back to surplus with a realistic and considered financial strategy and anticipate that more good work in the meantime will rekindle the benevolence of the community. 23,000 of Melbourne’s voiceless dogs and cats will continue to walk through our doors irrespective of our very human debates – don’t forget them.

Despite the financial loss we have further developed our shelter medicine department, the behavioural program and the rescue partnerships program through which we have given those challenging dogs their second chance. In real numbers we have sent 241 dogs to rescue, put 114 dogs through our behavioural program and medically treated 5176 stray dogs.

Where a dog may suffer a seizure during a thunderstorm from stress in the middle of the night, there will be no apologies when we use the best that medicine, science and behavioural training can afford to treat and comfort scared, anxious and abandoned dogs.

Kerry Thompson
Chief Executive Officer
The Lost Dogs’ Home

See also:

The Australian Veterinary Association Media Release – Mental illness in shelter dogs needs treatment, 3 December 2015