How does someone in that environment not bring every animal home? How do you choose?
Well, my husband Pete has a three heartbeat rule. That means there are only three heartbeats (that aren’t ours) allowed to live in our house at any one time. I was always tempted to bring home an elephant [laughs]. My three year old daughter doesn’t come under that rule now either.
Nice to know she’s considered above dogs and cats!
Absolutely! But in terms of choosing–it really could have been any of them. My dog Elke was a cruelty case. She came in as a fragile, underweight puppy with her hip bones jutting out. I think she came in during my third week of work there. I was a total sucker! And there was another dog that would have been put down had he not been adopted by a staff member.
I imagine there are a lot of those.
Yeah, there are. And you know, there are some staff members that do feel like they have to save them all, and compassion fatigue is a huge thing. Some people feel they have to turn up for work because nobody will care for the animals as well as they do, and their own welfare is compromised. Some stay for a really long time – either to their own detriment, or they get battle-hardened and switch off emotionally. Some people like me find it’s time to move on to the next challenge.
What was your next challenge?
I went on to work in a newly set up education department within RSPCA Victoria, and then I moved on to Guide Dogs Victoria. So in a way my personal interest, my education and my work experience have all led to this point where I am working to improve the welfare of our working dogs.
So if dogs perform as they should, they’re taken care of?
Yeah, so we really want higher success rates in those programs. Rather than a 30 to 50 per cent success rate, I’d like to see eight puppies out of a litter of 10 go on to be suitable for the work they’ve been bred for. This would have the effect of less behavioural wastage, which is where dogs aren’t suited to the work they are being bred for. At the moment, we have a lot of dogs being euthanised or rehomed. The point at which that decision is made about the dog’s suitability is important economically too. For a guide dog, that decision may not be made until the dog is 12 to 18 months, so there has been a lot of money invested in that dog and while that dog might make a great pet, from a working program investment perspective, that’s all wasted.
But it’s a different case for farm dogs and greyhounds, isn’t it?
Yes. In other sectors, dogs are regularly killed if they’re not suitable for the job.
What are the big obstacles between you and achieving all of that?
Like so many things, funding! We’re hoping to form partnerships with organisations and companies that support our initiatives. I’ve been working all this year on a voluntary basis, and that’s unfortunately not a sustainable model.
Not for you, I’m sure!
No! [Laughs] and all of the directors have been the same. We feel proud of what we’ve achieved this year but it doesn’t lend itself to being a sustainable way of doing things. Also, the work that we do has value, and I think that should be recognised.