Standards will be positive for good dog welfare
The State Government has released a draft policy paper on proposed Standards and Guidelines for the Health and Welfare of Dogs in Western Australia. It is intended the proposals will apply to all dogs in WA including on farms, whether they are pets or working animals.
Why do we need standards? Because many dogs don’t even get the barest minimum of care. The vast majority of reports of animal cruelty received by RSPCA WA are about dogs and puppies. From 1 July 2018 to 1 May 2019, cruelty reports were made about 4,187 dogs and puppies.
Many of these reports relate to serious neglect arising from lack of awareness of even basic dog care. Right now, dog ownership in WA does not require any knowledge of dog health, behaviour or welfare. There is no requirement to train your dog. We expect having standards in place will at the very least inform dog owners of the minimum requirements for dog health and welfare.
The proposals contain both standards and guidelines and it’s important to understand the difference. Standards will educate the community about proper basic dog care and allow for this to be enforced in instances where that’s needed. They cover a variety of welfare concerns RSPCA WA encounters on a regular basis including dogs suffering as the result of failure to provide basic health care, inadequate shelter, behavioural deprivation, unsafe transport, painful forms of restraint and the devastating consequences of irresponsible and indiscriminate dog breeding.
Guidelines, unlike the standards, are not proposed to be enforceable but are a guide to the best dog care owners might want to aspire to for their pets or working dogs.
Farm dogs are often transported on the back of utes and the proposed standard setting out how that should occur will be of interest to many on the land. The proposal says dogs must not be transported on the open back of a moving vehicle unless the dog has shelter in extreme weather and is secured in a transport crate fixed to the vehicle or restrained by a tether where the length of the tether doesn’t allow the dog to jump or fall off the tray. While that might seem common sense to most readers, many dogs are accidentally killed or injured while being transported.
Overall, RSPCA WA welcomes the proposals as a positive step towards improving dog welfare in WA.
Standards that are enforceable, emphasising the need for providing adequate care, would allow for earlier intervention when welfare is poor, before it escalates to animal cruelty. Provided the standards are regulated and implemented effectively, we hope they will address this gap and ensure that all dogs receive at least a minimum level of care. It could also prevent some prosecutions for animal cruelty, which is a criminal offence.
In our feedback to the government, we advocated for electric shock collars to be prohibited, for minimum space requirements for all dogs kept in enclosures, including livestock working dogs.