Monday, May 20, 2013

Getting to Zero: eliminating "euthanasia" of unwanted companion animals

Nell Thompson with the gorgeous Vulcan, a three-year-old dog adopted from a shelter she was managing.  Nell says "we were on a Vulcan-specific beach holiday, as you can see by the wetsuit, in the middle of winter." But winter wasn't an issue for Vulcan!!! 

The Getting 2 Zero movement is growing in Australia. We spoke to national co-ordinator Nell Thompson to find out what its all about. 

1)      Who are you and what do you do?
My name is  Nell Thompson and I am the Coordinator of the national Getting 2 Zero program which is delivered by Animal Welfare League of Queensland. I have worked in the animal welfare, care and veterinary sectors for over 20 years and was the Victorian G2Z representative since the development of the program.

I love assisting people and organisations with their aim of getting to zero euthanasia of healthy pets, all around Australia. My background in shelter operations and management and animal health is a great resource for Councils, shelters and all groups and individuals involved in the program.

2)      Where did the concept of Getting to Zero come from? What are the barriers to getting to zero?

Hundreds of thousands of healthy and treatable cats and dogs are being abandoned and killed in pounds, shelters and vet clinics each year in Australia.

Studies in whole cities in Australia and internationally show that at least 90% of stray and surrendered dogs and cats are either healthy or treatable. Based on the ethical treatment of animals, and community expectations, these animals should be rehomed. By definition, euthanasia should only occur if an animal is irremediably suffering. In addition, some dogs and cats may need to be killed if they are aggressive (i.e. likely to cause significant harm to people or other companion animals and the prognosis for rehabilitation is poor).  In a whole city these untreatable animals represent less than 10% of all stray and surrendered animals.

However, currently on average 20-40% of stray and surrendered dogs and 60-90% of stray and surrendered cats are being killed in the majority of pounds and shelters in Australia and these proportions have not reduced significantly in the last 10 years, with a few exceptions.

AWLQ has been working intensively on two key goals:
 1) To achieve zero killing of healthy and treatable cats and dogs in one large Australian city,  and

 2) To develop a strategic model that can be applied in other cities and shires around Australia to Get to Zero nationwide.

This has resulted in the Getting 2 Zero Model which details the principles, structures and strategies for achieving zero killing of healthy and treatable cats and dogs in whole communities.

The only barrier to G2Z is resistance to change. We recognise that things don’t happen overnight and are realistic with what can be achieved by resource poor organisations. However, taking the first step to try something new is often the hardest. This isn’t reinventing the wheel, these strategies are being implemented in one way or another by many organisations who want to do better by the community and their pets. Implementing one strategy at a time is ok and better than doing nothing at all.

3)      How can vets and vet students become involved? What about passionate pet owners? 

There are many ways vets and students can be involved in G2Z and a great start is to attend the 5th National G2Z Summit to be held in Gold Coast 11-13 September 2013  and visit the G2Z website to learn more about the issues and how you can be involved. Students should request work placement at a shelter clinic to experience this side of the coin and it is a great opportunity to get hands on.

Vets are needed to be part of the G2Z strategies and can have a direct impact on the number of lives a community can save.

Pet owners can advocate for the G2Z strategies to be taken up by their local council and animal shelter. Sharing information  is an easy and effective way to make a difference. You can also get involved in many other ways (including attending the Summit in September) and can read more about this here.

4) What has G2Z achieved so far?

The lowest euthanasia rate for a large city in Australia has been achieved through applying the G2Z model.

There has been a significant reduction in the numbers of incoming stray and surrendered kittens from Gold Coast City residents since implementation of the G2Z model, while other communities have maintained similar numbers.

In 09/10 zero euthanasia of all healthy sociable dogs and cats in a whole city was achieved.

In addition the G2Z program and the support that it provides as assisted councils and NGO’s to put into place the policies, strategies and practices that contribute to Getting 2 Zero. This is achieved by working with and alongside all of those involved in a respectful and supportive way.

4)      What humans and non-humans have influenced your involvement in G2Z?

Having been involved in this sector for a number of years I have learnt so much from the many people I have met along the way. Of course I have been influenced by not only my own shelter pets but by every rescue pet that I have met over the years. It doesn’t matter what country you go to, you find the same faces needing a forever home. There is a lot of work still to do  and there is always more to learn and challenge yourself with but I think this is a fantastic era to work in animal welfare.

6) How would Australia look different if we actually got to ZERO?

This is the happy place that I go too when things are getting a bit overwhelming! Our shelters and pounds would have very small numbers of animals in them and these pets would only be homeless for a very short time as people would adopt them so quickly! Our community would be prepared to adopt those not so perfect pets that are older or with medical issues. The newspapers and “for sale” sites would be empty of pets for sale or free…. I could go on…