STOCK worker fears over proposed NSW “puppy farm” rule changes have been put on a leash – for now - with government moving to ease anxiety around whether working dogs will be rounded up and regulated out of existence.
Department of Primary Industries has committed to a new round of consultation after breeders widley labelled the proposed Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Standards and Guidelines a dog’s breakfast.
The state’s coalition of 18 working dog groups argued the changes - as they stood - had no relation to the realities of stock work and life on a farm and, in some cases, went against generations of breeding and dog handling wisdom.
Chief concerns were the required ratio of trained staff to animal numbers, animal housing requirements, transport, record-keeping and transfer of ownership. These were shared by NSW Farmers.
Ed Wall, Boggabri, is president of the NSW Yard Dog Association - one of the organisations under the umbrella of the Australian Federation for Livestock Working Dogs.
Mr Wall has been breeding working dogs since he was 21 and currently has a mix of 20 Kelpies and Border Collies on farm.
“But according to what the guidelines said, that would require another full-time staff member,” he said.
“I’ve only got three breeding bitches and one male - so four breeding animals. It’s little variables like that that made it a problem. It needs a hell of a lot of clarification.”
The Yard Dog Association said a third of the nation’s 70,000 sheep and cattle workers lived and worked in NSW.
Most - according to the group – were on low incomes, didn’t own land, worked long hours, sometimes hundreds of kilometres from town in areas with inadequate mobile and internet coverage, and generally had to provide their own dogs.
The association said the purpose for which the organisation’s members bred dogs was significantly different to that of commercial or hobby pet dog breeders.
“Most stockworkers breed dogs primarily to work with only excess being sold, usually to other stockworkers,” a spokeswoman said.
“This means livestock working dogs are generally a robust and healthy group, the result of generations of breeding knowledge and efforts focused on producing attributes suitable for safe and efficient stockwork, including herding ability, athleticism, intelligence, sound temperament and versatility.
“A snapshot of breeding, provided by the Working Kelpie Council, shows 87 per cent of its members bred only one litter, or less, a year.”
Mr Wall said his single litter size varied year to year, the highest being 11 pups and the lowest being zero.
Proposed standards ‘a bare minimum’
RSPCA NSW said existing Code of Practice was largely a guideline with mandatory minimum standards.
A spokeswoman said the proposed standards were achievable, and according to animal welfare science, a bare minimum.
“As an animal welfare regulatory body, we hope (the) new code will improve the welfare standards of all dogs involved in breeding, by removing ambiguity and making clear the enforceable requirements,” an RSPCA NSW spokeswoman said.
“The community expects those profiting from animals to make appropriate investments to ensure the welfare of their animals.”
Mr Wall said it was true farmers expected their animals to work in tough conditions.
“But then it’s nothing we don’t expect of ourselves,” he said.
“A lot of these things are unrealistic for farmers.
“If you were a breeding facility that was breeding for pet dogs, with a large number of bitches, then yes, the proposed guidelines are fair enough.
“But what do they consider a business? Most farmers aren’t in the business of breeding dogs, but we breed dogs for our business.
“Anyone who breeds dogs in the course of a business for a fee or reward could be put in this category.”
The Federation for Livestock Working Dogs said it believed the only way the guidelines could be reasonable, practical and cost-effective for the average livestock working dog breeder was for a separate code to be developed.
DPI said it will now run a second round of stakeholder consultation.