history of community fostercare networks and rescue groups

Who remembers when the only way to adopt a dog in Victoria was to go to one of the major pounds/shelters? Did you do that? Did you walk through looking at those sad faces? Did you perhaps take home a dog or cat you weren’t sure you even wanted just to feel you had done something?

So what changed. We came on the scene, and you supported us. The major shelters succumbed to pressure to show how many pets were killed and how many were saved. You, the compassionate people of Victoria, realised there was another way.

Up until about fifteen years ago pounds and shelters were the only organisations responsible for unwanted companion animals in Victoria At that time the majority of companion animals that were taken to some shelters, and not claimed, were killed.

Then social media, particularly Dogzonline, made it possible for those people who were interested in companion animal welfare to reach out to each other. Individuals and groups worked together to save animals from these high-kill shelters and rehome them safely.

All the individuals involved in companion animal welfare at that time, those who were not associated with existing shelters or pounds, were actively seeking change. They wanted the public to know what was happening to unwanted dogs and cats in Victoria. Before that, no one really asked any questions. This was the way things were, but it was not the way that the new rescue advocates wanted it to be.

Pam Weaver of Saveadog ran the first foster care network in Victoria before moving to an arrangement with Stonnington Pound to run as a pound/shelter. Tracy Johnson of Rigbys Rescue was the first person to operate as a fostercare network in the way that set the standard and provided the paperwork that many of the groups initially followed.

The individuals that were campaigning for change at the Lost Dogs Home in particular, and saving dogs where they could, became the nucleus of the establishment of many well-known community fostercare networks: Beagle Rescue Inc, Rescued with Love Inc, and Victorian Dog Rescue & Resource Group Inc, to name a few.

When Victorian Dog Rescue established the Drought Dogs Program in 2006 and began transporting dogs from Mildura to Melbourne for rehousing, this was the beginning of the current relationship between community fostercare networks(CFCNS) and rural pounds. It changed the face of companion animal welfare in Victoria. Now there are hundreds of CFCNs and other rescue groups operating throughout Victoria, both in Melbourne and rural areas. Many foster carers and volunteers for the early groups went on to form their own groups in turn. So many rescue groups have sprung up quickly because there is such a great need, and fortunately the public embrace the concept of these unwanted animals being cared for in private homes.

During this early period, we were not recognised. Indeed we were told by the then Bureau of Animal Welfare that we were operating illegally. Yes, it was illegal to save dogs and cats from pounds and rehome them. When a pregnant dog, unweaned puppies or sick dogs were in a pound, under the then legislation, they were killed because the only way we could take these dogs was if they could be vetworked straight away, which for these poor animals was not possible.

Many were not killed at the vets but taken to the local tip to be shot.

In 2009 a barrister was consulted and on his advice the Dog Rescue Association of Victoria Inc was set up to be a peak body and lobby group for the rights of those operating as community fostercare networks.

In 2010 the then Bureau of Animal Welfare attempted to make CFCNs, operating from private residences and within council bylaws, register as domestic animal businesses. Fortunately, there was by then great public support for the work of CFCNs and, with the impetus of a change of government, the legitimacy of CFCNs was established. DRAV suggested the name of Community Fostercare Networks and CFCNs were written into the Domestic Animals Act and allowed the right to a Section 84y Agreement, previously only held by shelters.

It is almost impossible to express what this right, previously denied, meant. No longer did rescue groups have to let the pregnant dogs and cats, the tiny puppies and kittens, the sick and old, die. Now they could be rescued and vetwork carried out later.

CFCNs and other rescue groups are now very much recognised and are inundated with requests to take dogs from all sources. There are still problems that remain as this form of rescue did not exist when the Domestic Animals Act was written, and they remain discriminated against by the current interpretation of the legislation.

In 2014, there was correspondence exchanged whereby the then department wanted the head of each CFCN to supply their personal residential address to be listed on each microchip; and available not only to the staff of a private company, Central Animal Records, but to authorised council officers and of course vet clinics. The reason given was to enable the dogs and cats to be traced. They just did not get it: the dogs and cats were not at that address but at foster carers throughout Victoria.

CFCNs are frequently harassed, threatened and abused. There is a lot of emotion involved. Sometimes we are rehoming former pets where councils have seized them from very unhappy people. Fortunately this move to force us to supply personal addresses was not pursued further at the time.

Then In 2017 we found out that the Puppy Farm Amendment driven by the then Minister, Jaala Pulford, had a complete section on foster caring, added without any consultation with any CFCN or other rescue group, that was to be introduced. We only found out by chance and we lobbied to have a voice at the Parliamentary Enquiry into this Puppy Farm Amendment. We succeeded and when this Amendment was relooked at we were given a tiny voice, thanks mainly to the Greens member who said her vote would be affected by how we were treated.

Sadly, we had to accept the stupidity of the inclusion of the foster care registration, which in fact prevents CFCNs registering their companion animals, but were promised a review of our sector, and the hope that our position would be clarified and legitimised. This review happened in October 2018 and we are still 2.5 years later, waiting on an outcome.

Then there was the Source Code. We had been promised our own source code so those adopting could recognise the dogs and cats that were with legitimate rescue groups. Instead we had an EE Code – we called it the Everyone Else Code. We complained bitterly about this in June 2019. The then Minister Jaclyn Syme responded to the protests of our supporters by saying we were feeding misinformation. Perhaps someone let her know that this was not the case as subsequently we were given our RE source code, for rescue group, which indicates to the public that we are a legitimate rescue.

Whenever we complain, we are given the spiel about how we are valued, yet we continue to have to fight for the right to operate. The Domestic Animals Act and its regulations needs to be changed to fully incorporate us and how we work.

We are overwhelmed and inundated by the demands on our groups. We do not need to be fighting for the rights of our sector all the time.

Now, in 2021, there is a new Minister, Mary-Ann Thomas, and what has happened with her arrival.

We are again being told that we must provide a residential address, that is the address of a responsible person of our group, to a private organisation, where it can be accessed by its staff, authorised council officers, implanters and vet clinics. The reason we are given again is that it assists traceability. This is totally nonsensical.

When will the rescue sector be treated as it deserves and truly recognised for the work it does. How long can we continue to carry on with these continued pressures on us, apart from the day to day stresses of a never ending list of dogs and cats to be saved.

Sadly, perhaps not much longer.