A formal investigation into housing conditions and the euthanasia rate at a North Melbourne dog shelter has been launched by the Victorian Government.
The move comes after a 10,000-signature petition and plans for a rally by animal rescue groups.
Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford announced the investigation on social media.
“Due to the concerns of many Victorians about animal welfare at the Lost Dogs Home I have directed officers of the department to investigate,” Ms Pulford said on Facebook and Twitter.
Ms Pulford said she had been contacted by a huge number of concerned Victorians about the organisation.
“They’ve contacted us through social media channels, calls to the office, Facebook, Twitter, emails – it’s been a great deal of contact, particularly in recent days,” Mr Pulford said.
“We think there’s a community concern here that needs to be responded to quickly.”
Ms Pulford said the the majority of concerns were around “high euthanasia rates, issues around the identification of owner’s of animals, accommodation and housing of animals, and the assessment of animals for re-homing”.
It was reported this week that a widow’s pet dog Fonzie was put down by the Lost Dogs’ Home after the owner had called to claim it.
President of Rescued with Love Kae Norman, who organised the petition and rally, said she started raising concerns about the Lost Dogs’ Home a decade ago.
“I think there’s been a lot of convenience killing … I think there’s some serious issues in management, I don’t think there’s enough life saving techniques,” Ms Norman said.
“What we need is for The Lost Dogs Home to be running as a lifesaving shelter, instead of a killing shelter and that will only happen with a change of management, protocols and public awareness to open up the shelter.
“I think there’s a culture of killing that isn’t prevalent in a lot of other animal shelters.”
The Lost Dogs Home provides pound services for 13 local councils in Victoria, Ms Pulford said.
Ms Norman said she was not calling for another provider to be found, but for a change of culture at the home.
“Melbourne has two what we call super-pounds, the RSPCA and the Lost Dogs Home,” she said.
“The Lost Dogs Home probably has the biggest facility at the moment to handle the number of animals that come in through these councils.
“But what we need is for Lost Dogs Home to be running as a lifesaving shelter, instead of a killing shelter and that will only happen with a change of management, protocols and public awareness to open up the shelter.”
Chair of the Lost Dogs Home Dr Andrew Tribe said it had begun its own review into its policies and practices to create a “more transparent… cooperative and… more compassionate approach”.
“We want to continue to reduce the numbers of animals put to sleep – through increasing adoption, and continuing education and outreach programs to reduce abandoned and lost animals,” Dr Tribe said in a statement.
“We are increasing our behavioural resources to further develop our animal assessment and rehabilitation.
“We will keep dogs for much longer than the eight days required, we will keep dogs for as long as it takes, to re-home then if we think it is re-homeable.
“We want to throw our doors open to those rescue groups who are best placed to help us, with plans to appoint a dedicated rescue coordinator.”
Dr Tribe told 774 ABC Melbourne that the Lost Dogs Home took in more than 12,000 dogs per year in Melbourne, and had a euthanasia rate of 13 per cent.
He said the organisation had a policy of taking in any animals.
“We’re not restricted, we don’t restrict our intake to only animals that we think we can re-home, we believe that we have a responsibility to take in and look after any cat or dog that is brought into us, that is surrendered to us,” Mr Tribe said.
He defended the organisation’s of the reported handling of the widow’s dog, Fonzie.
“In the case of Fonzie, where we held onto Fonzie for 10 days I think, because Fonzie was unidentified, unregistered, didn’t have a tag or a microchip, so we couldn’t contact the owner,” he said.
“I think the owner contacted us on the ninth day – just before we were closing I think it was a Sunday – and unfortunately couldn’t come in to see if we had the dog, we didn’t know we have their dog because it was unidentified.
“Then by the time they did get in, the dog had been put down.”
Dr Tribe said the incident was a “lesson for all of us to register and identify our dogs better”.
He said the Lost Dogs Home has a policy that any animal that is treatable or able to be re-homed will be.
“We will keep dogs for much longer than the eight days required, we will keep dogs for as long as it takes, to re-home then if we think it is re-homeable,” he said.