In March 2013 Bruce and I went for a 2 week holiday to New Zealand. While we were away animal activists, posing as a potential buyers of Nyora in Condobolin, were taken to view the property on the 3rd of March. Under the guise of making a second inspection they made an unaccompanied visit and took photographs of the kennels, my old house and the dogs, and stole old work diaries.
They provided this information to the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League who inspected the property immediately. The inspectors found no cases of neglect but were concerned about the lack of records and some minor hygeine matters. They were told we were nearly finished building new kennels and so they took no further action. The activists provided the same information to Channel Seven who ran a brief story on their evening news – this will now haunt me forever on the internet.
This all happened because of my involvement in the Australian Association of Pet Dog Breeders. I started the AAPDB because I wanted to improve animal welfare in dog breeding. The AAPDB provides the only animal welfare focused quality assurance audit for dog breeding anywhere in the world. It is a small association but is growing rapidly and so attracts Animal Activists who oppose dog breeding – believing that stopping breeders will prevent dogs being euthanased in shelters. I am proud the role I played in the development of AAPDB which also played an important role in developing the PIAA rehoming policy.
The TV footage shows dogs in concrete pens and focuses on broken kennels rather than the extensive paddocks with shade, shelter and water troughs large enough for the dogs to swim in. The kennels were tired and old. The poodles are normally clipped starting on the first of March – this was postponed until I returned from New Zealand, so their coats are heavy and woolly. Three of the dogs on concrete were our house pets, boarding while we were away. The rest were a puppy being held because their new owner couldn’t collect it plus Dot the Beagle and a couple of male poodles who were a chronic escape artists waiting for “retraining”. There was an electric fence mentioned but it didn’t mention that it wasn’t on. We use a stock wire at the top of the fence to train the very few dog who decide to climb the fence. The alternative to this type of fencing would be 1.8m cyclone wire (as is required in Victoria) which is extremely expensive and would result in dogs in NSW being confined in minimum standard pens (as they are now in Victoria)
It was evident from the footage that the dog were friendly and sociable. The pens were clean although the photographer did manage to find some faeces. Bare red dirt isn’t very attractive – but it is hard to grow grass in Condobolin in March and dogs have no aesthetic sense. Fortunately sunbaked ground is a healthy environment for dogs because it doesn’t support parasites
Most damaging were the excerpts from our diaries spanning 12 years. They were scribbles and bald statements of fact intended only for communication between staff members – some were flippant comments and bad jokes. When you have animals in a place like Condobolin some will be bitten by snakes. If you have more than one dog there is always a risk of fights. Owning animals can be enormously rewarding but sometimes it is heartbreaking. Our diaries recorded the facts but not how we felt and how we dealt with them.
The most confronting entry – related to euthanasing a new born puppy. In 23 years of breeding I have never experienced a puppy like that one. The puppy screamed incessantly from birth. In what was effectively a maternity ward this screaming was upsetting the other bitches and causing me and my staff great distress. I could find no physical problems but after 24 hours I believed it was the appropriate and humane thing to do for the puppy, which was clearly in pain. I made a quick note of this emphasising the distress being caused to the other dogs – once again recording quick facts rather than detailed thought processes.
By the time our family moved to Bathurst in 2006 I had developed a comprehensive protocol for the smooth running of the kennel. I formed a partnership with my friend and employee Joanne, who moved into our home and managed the kennel. I travelled to Condobolin to keep the veterinary service going for another 5 years.
After 3 years I became aware that the operation of the kennel was in difficulty. Joanne’s health was not good and the management was too difficult for her. Jo’s not good at paperwork and our infrastructure was damaged and not maintained. We decided to rebuild a different more easily managed facility on our property, applied for and received approval for a small subdivision. We built an all weather road and a prepared a pad for the kennel and after 12 months we were ready to start building.
As the concrete pour was about to begin Joanne’s health broke down severely and we agreed that continuing with the kennels at Condobolin wasn’t a tenable proposition. It then took another year and a half to get kennels built in O’Connell. I was able to move the dogs in May 2013. In the mean time I travelled to Condobolin regularly to help Jo, we employed extra staff when there were numbers of litters in the kennels and we ensured that the dogs remain well fed, healthy and, regularly clipped. We were in a difficult situation – spending money to maintain ageing kennel infrastructure while building new ones wasn’t economically feasable.
The illegal raid on our property happened two months before our new kennels were finally ready.
My veterinary experience tells me that breeding dogs is best not undertaken by amateurs, and now my personal experience tells me it can’t be done well with part time supervision of staff – no matter how well the protocols are laid out.
The rewards from dog breeding are endless: the excitement of seeing puppies you have planned for years finally being born, the joy of watching a bitch with her new puppies, watching excited children meet their puppy for the first time, the many posts from owners about the joy their dog has brought them when their old dog dies.
I have built new kennels and am retired from veterinary practice and my dogs are now my full time commitment