Carmen Taylor with three-year-old Hudson, a Labrador/mastiff cross, at the RSPCA refuge. Photo: Graham Tidy
The ACT branch of the RSPCA has sought to distance itself from its NSW counterpart by showing it is euthanasing a far smaller percentage of dogs. The latest figures show that the RSPCA in the ACT had to put down 6.5 per cent of all dogs received by it last financial year.
That compares to a euthanasia rate within the NSW branch of the RSPCA of about 40 per cent.
The figures also show a dramatic fall in the percentage of domestic kittens euthanised in the ACT - from 29 per cent to 8.4 per cent - thanks to a significantly expanded foster carers program.
RSPCA ACT spokeswoman Maarit Maher said: ''The re-homing rate of almost 91 per cent for domestic kittens is phenomenal, considering in some areas it is the standard euthanasia rate.''
As well as its high kill rates, the NSW branch has also been under fire for the so-called ''temperament'' test it used to judge whether dogs should be euthanised due to behavioral problems.
Ms Maher said each branch of the society was independent and autonomous. The ACT branch tested all dogs on behaviour traits before they were adopted but took into account that the animal could be frightened or stressed during the testing.
''We're fully aware of that, which is why we don't test them when they first come into the shelter. We give them time to settle in and wait for their confidence to increase,'' she said. ''Sometimes some dogs are quite timid but that doesn't mean they won't be able to find a home; it just means we have to find the appropriate home. If the dog is frightened of children, we won't send them to a home with children. If the dog is frightened of other dogs, we won't send them to a home with other dogs.''
Ms Maher said dogs were usually tested on day eight of being in the shelter, after a seven-day holding period.
They were subjected to American trainer Sue Sternberg's assess-a-pet test, which tried to ascertain the likelihood of a dog biting in an adoptive home: how it responded to other dogs, cats and visitors, and to situations such as when it was cuddled or had a treat taken away.
Dogs did not fail the test for being boisterous or ill-mannered but were instead given training and then tested again.
''We will continue the cycle of training and testing until we believe the dog can be made available for adoption. If there is no improvement or the behaviour could result in harm to either a person or another animal, then the dog will not be made available for adoption,'' she said.
The focus was always on re-homing the animals.
''We don't kill any healthy animals,'' Ms Maher said. ''If an animal here is euthanised, it's for behaviour or medical reasons. They are the only reason an animal will be put to sleep.''
The latest figures for the ACT are contained in the yet-to-be-released annual report for 2011-12.
They show that the ACT received 1807 dogs, with 117 or 6.5 per cent euthanised. Of those put down, 61 were due to medical reasons and 56 for behavioral reasons.
The percentage of dogs euthanised was slightly up on the previous year's figures of 6 per cent.
The RSPCA also transferred 245 dogs to the Domestic Animal Services pound during the year. Ms Maher said if those figures were taken into account, the RSPCA rehoming/reclaimed rate fell from about 93 per cent to about 92 per cent.
''We have a good working relationship with Domestic Animal Services and will transfer strays to them when they have room so that we can make room for dogs on our surrender wait list,'' she said.
''We are one of the few RSPCA shelters that takes strays as well as surrenders - strays are usually tasked to the local council pound. DAS can only care for adult dogs, they do not have the capacity to care for puppies, so we receive dogs from DAS as well. Both RSPCA and DAS have homing rates over 90 per cent.''
The ACT shelter also received 2406 cats during the year, with 822 or 34 per cent euthanised, including 390 feral cats. That was an improvement on the previous year, when 45 per cent of all cats were put down. The RSPCA is required by law to put down feral cats.
The number of domestic kittens euthanised had fallen dramatically from 445 the previous year to 97 last year.
Ms Maher said there were now 115 foster carers registered to look after kittens in their own home, compared to four carers the previous year.
Taking the kittens out of the shelter reduced the risk of them catching or spreading disease. The animals were also socialised before they were adopted out. The kittens were desexed by the RSPCA before they were adopted.