Report of the investigation into the Lost Dogs’ Home 1


The Victorian Government has released its report of the audits conducted at the Lost Dogs Home (LDH) sites (you can find it here:  The audit was announced on January 29, 2015. ( following public outrage over the Lost Dogs’s Home

Scruffy the 5 year old Jack Russell Terrier X was the Lost Dogs' Home dog of the week in November 2012.

Scruffy the 5 year old Jack Russell Terrier X was the Lost Dogs’ Home dog of the week in November 2012.

killing two little dogs, Fonzie and Scruffy.

Fonzie & Scruffy

Fonzie (a 2 year old Pomeranian X) lived with an elderly woman. He escaped his home after a storm and ended up at the LDH on January 2. A relative of Fonzie’s owner spotted him on a council website on January 11 and immediately rang the LDH asking about him. She was told (which is the LDH’s standard information) that she would have to come and look herself because there were a number of Pomeranian crosses at the shelter. The next morning she traveled the nearly 60 kms to the North Melbourne premises, to be told that the LDH had killed Fonzie that morning, a day after his statutory hold period had expired.

“Shelter chairman Andrew Tribe (Chairman of the LDH Board of Management) said it had been a difficult decision for staff to euthanise Fonzie, but the dog had shown “concerning behavioural problems.’’ Pounds are terrifying places for dogs and little dogs, aware of how vulnerable they are, can be very self-protective under these circumstances. Bear in mind also, that until 9 days prior, Fonzie had been the companion of an elderly woman.

Scruffy, a 5 year old Jack Russell X belonged to a man suffering Alzheimer ’s disease. Fearing he was unable to care for his dog, the man traveled to the LDH in North Melbourne to surrender Scruffy to someone who, he believed, would care for him. The man’s family came looking for Scruffy as soon as they realised what had happened, only to be told that Scruffy was already dead, on the grounds that he had, “skin allergies”. The family had been aware of the skin condition and it was being treated. (

Public outrage

It’s not the first time the LDH has been in the news for killing a dog which had an owner actively seeking to reclaim it (, but the deaths of these two, little dogs sparked public outrage. This outrage resulted in a vigil outside the Lost Dogs’ Home’s North Melbourne premises on January 24 ( which attracted 500 people to protest against the deaths of Fonzie and Scruffy as well as “for all the animals that have been killed in the Lost Dogs’ Home.” (organiser Kae Norman from Rescued with Love). At the same time, more than 13,000 people signed a online petition calling for an enquiry into the Lost Dogs’ Home practices (

The kill rate and other processes at the Lost Dogs’ Home have been the subject of criticism by animal advocates for many years (; ( In 2013 and 2014, the Pound Reform Alliance ( organised protests outside the Lost Dogs’ Home North Melbourne premises to attract attention to the high numbers of animals killed at the facility. In 2012, the Melbourne City Council awarded its animal management contract to the RSPCA, although the Lost Dogs’ Home facility sits within the Melbourne Council boundary.


Some background information might be in order here. Under the current Code of Practice for shelters and pounds ( which governs the operation of pounds and shelters, including the Lost Dogs’ Home, all stray animals must be held for a minimum of 8 days in order to give their owners the opportunity to reclaim them. At the end of the 8 days, the animal becomes the property of the shelter or pound that may make disposition of the animal as they see fit. This might mean re-homing, sending into foster care, into the care of a rescue group, or killing.

This is set out in Section 2.6 of the Code, “Euthanasia or removal of an animal from the establishment.”
At the conclusion of the statutory period specified in the Domestic Animals Act 1994 for seized or surrendered animals, animals must be:

  • made available for rehoming to a new owner,
  • or euthanased because of disease, injury, behaviour, age, unsuitability for sale, or
  • placed in appropriate foster care and returned at an appropriate date for rehoming, or
  • released under a written agreement to a person or body which operates in accordance with the Act to care for and dispose of the animal, at the discretion of the operations manager or veterinary practitioner.

Surrendered dogs have no mandated hold period and can be, as Scruffy was, killed immediately.

Until the Code was reviewed in 2012 something called the 28 day rule was in operation. This meant that once a stray animal had completed its statutory 8 days, a shelter had 28 days to find that dog a new home or foster care placement (although foster care and rescue were not defined in the Code at that time, so there was some doubt about the role of foster care). If the dog couldn’t be rehomed or fostered in that time, a shelter was legally obligated to euthanize the dog. After much lobbying by animal activists, the “28 day rule” was removed from the Code. At the time the Lost Dogs’ Home then-shelter manager Sue Conroy said,

“By removing that deadline, animals that require time to overcome health or behavioural issues are now given that opportunity,” she said. “We have been able to put more dogs and cats through intervention programs that are designed to give them the best possible chance at finding a new home.”

“We work with dogs that have behavioural issues on a daily basis, constantly reinforcing good behaviours so that come adoption time, they are ready for their new homes,” Sue said. “Dogs who previously would have knocked a person off their feet or cringed at the sight of another dog are now calmer, better behaved and confident in their new homes.” (

So the question that was exercising animal advocates was why Scruffy and Fonzie, two attractive, young and very adoptable dogs, didn’t get the opportunity to enter this health/behaviour rehabilitation program, if they needed it. Appealing, small breed dogs are popular with the public and easy to rehome, even with minor health or behavioural issues, so it wouldn’t have been a challenge to find a rescue group willing to find a place for either of the dogs. The Lost Dogs’ Home works with rescue groups although the extent is unclear (in 2013/14 they placed fewer than 114 dogs with rescue). (

However, the Lost Dogs’ Home, deemed Fonzie and Scruffy unadoptable and killed them, unleashing a storm of community outrage. “Minister Pulford said she had been inundated with calls, social media posts, messages and emails from hundreds of concerned Victorians.” (


In response to the level of concern, on the 29th January the Hon Jaala Pulford, MP, Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development announced an investigation into the Lost Dogs’ Home.

“The Andrews Labor Government has requested a formal investigation into the treatment of animals by the Lost Dogs Home in response to significant community concern about the Home’s animal welfare practices.

Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford, has directed authorised officers within the Department to investigate allegations relating to high euthanasia rates, accommodation and housing of animals, identification of animals’ owners and the assessment of animals for re-homing.” (

The report of the investigation was released on the 29th March, 2015. (

Between the announcement of the investigation and the publication of the report, the CEO of the Lost Dogs’ Home Dr Graeme Smith, and the General Manager of Operations, Ms Sue Conroy left the Home. “Whilst unrelated to the Minister’s investigation, the departure of the Home’s Managing Director and General Manager of Operations has created the opportunity for a new CEO to be appointed. The new CEO will work closely with the revised Board and the senior management team to deliver a new direction and era for the organisation.” (

In response to the report the Lost Dogs’ Home released a media statement, ( which noted that the audit results:

  • The audit did not identify any major concerns associated with animal health or welfare at any of the sites.’
  • Euthanasia rates have made a steady decline for dogs and cats over a six year period.
  • The non-compliances observed at all the LDH sites are not uncommon in animal pounds and shelters.

The Lost Dogs’ Home noted that in order to address concerns it was undertaking the following actions.

“Initiatives underway at The Lost Dogs’ Home as a result of our internal review include:

  • An immediate commitment of $250,000 for operational infrastructure improvements, prioritising customer and animal contact areas and animal assessment facilities.
  • Dogs with temperament concerns now undergo assessment with a Veterinary Behaviourist and wherever possible enter a behaviour rehabilitation program with a team of key behavioural staff.
  • The appointment of a Rescue Coordinator who will grow our rescue program and work proactively with rescue groups.
  • The establishment of a Community Consultative Group to provide a structured mechanism for community voices to be heard.
  • Broadening the expertise on the Board of Management.”


Investigation or audit?

That’s the context of the investigation. A subtle point which is, however, worth reflecting up, is the change in language from the original media release to the publication of the final report. The Premier’s press release and statements attributed to Jaala Pulford talk about an “investigation”. The report is titled, “Report of audits conducted at the Lost Dogs’ Home sites”. An investigation is a “a searching inquiry for ascertaining facts; detailed or careful examination”, which suggests a wider and more complex aim than an audit which is “to examine (accounts, records, etc.) for purposes of verification.” Although this might seem nit-picking, I think it goes to the heart of the problem the Government needed to solve, and has been only partially successful.

In an earlier piece I wrote about the issue facing the investigation. I argued that the problem with investigating the Lost Dogs’ Home for its allegedly high kill rates, is that there is no mandated standard for acceptable kill rates in the Code of Practice. In effect that meant that for the Government’s investigation to have real teeth, it would have had to reconsider the Code.

“The problem for the government is that if they are really going to investigate the LDH for high euthanasia rates, they will have to provide some kind of definition of what they consider the rate should be. The only way to so that is to look at what other shelters and pounds are doing (or not doing) and open the whole discussion of saving companion animals. They can’t investigate the LDH on these grounds as a stand-alone activity. The reality is that as things stand, the LDH could kill every single unclaimed animal and do so perfectly legally.

If the government’s review chooses to go down the route of mandating an acceptable kill rate they are going to have to revise the Code of Practice to include these levels. Opening up the Code for a review which considers appropriate levels of euthanasia for companion animals is an opportunity to bring about real change in the management of companion animals in Victoria.” (

Although the Lost Dogs’ Home may have breached the Code according to allegations by former staff, its kill rates and behavioural assessments are not in breach. The Code is highly flawed in terms of public expectation and current animal welfare thinking, but it is the legally mandated minimum requirement for the operation of a pound or shelter.

The only other possibility is that the original intent of the revised Domestic Animals Act of 2006 mandated that Victoria’s councils develop Domestic Animal Management Plans (DAMPs) which, “The other change to the DAA requires Councils to put up a Domestic Animal Management Plan – Councils need to identify if have a problem with overpopulation, high euthanasia rates, numbers into pound etc, and then identify strategies to address this. Compliance in statistics keeping is checked via the Bench Marking Survey of all councils every 2 – 3 years.” Steve Moore, Bureau of Animal Welfare Victoria (http:// However, the Bench Marking Survey is only to check that Councils have complied with the requirement to keep the statistics, not to do anything with them or about them.

So if the Government is unwilling to consider a review of the Code of Practice but needs to assuage public outcry about the LDH, the only strategic recourse was conduct an audit and not an investigation.


Although the audit is disappointing from this perspective, within the limitations of what it was able to achieve, the Report makes for some interesting reading: its overall finding, “The department’s audits did not identify any major concerns associated with animal health or welfare at any of the sites.” (p 1, point 4) is not surprising. Unless, of course, you define being dead, as a health and welfare issue, which the Code doesn’t.

Non-compliance issues

It would be interesting to know what the non-compliances noted in point 5 consist of, “During the audits, a number of non-compliances were observed by authorised officers of the department. These non-compliances have been identified with appropriate actions to be taken and a time frame for these actions to be completed by the LDH in the attached work plans (Attachments 1, 2 and 3 for the LDH and Attachment 4 for the Shire of Campaspe, which own the Echuca facility).” (p1, point 5). These attachments won’t be made public, so it’s probable that they relate to issues of staff training and animal handling, rather than infrastructure.

“Had a few questions about the attachments referred to in the Lost Dogs’ Home report. These work-plans relate to operational and/or commercial matters of the LDH (which is a private company) so it’s not appropriate for the Government to release them.” (

Item 6, “The non-compliances observed at all the LDH sites are not uncommon in animal pounds and shelters. The most obvious non-compliance stems from a failure to maintain the concrete floors in the pens used to hold dogs. Most of the floors in the dog pens across all three sites have cracks and exposed concrete which was not sealed. Sealed floors are a foundation of disease prevention at an animal shelter.”

The Code, in fact, goes into a great deal of detail about housing and flooring (3.2 Animal Housing). “The floors of animal housing areas and holding facilities must be constructed of an impervious material that is free of cracks and sealed to assist with drainage and disinfection.” Many pounds have serious issues with the highly contagious canine parvovirus, which is readily transmitted via faeces, vomit or fomites. CPV is difficult to remove from the environment through ordinary cleaning because the viral particles are both very hardy and shed in enormous numbers. Unsealed or cracked concrete floors are difficult to clean effectively.

So although cracks in flooring might seem a minor breach, in a pound environment where there are thousands of animals moving through the system, many of them unvaccinated, it poses a real threat to animal health. In many pounds, healthy animals come into the pound, only to contract the often-fatal virus from the pound environment.

The LDH may well share this breach with other animal pounds, but the sheer numbers of dogs (12,422 in 13/14) which come through the LDH facilities make disease-control a much more vital issue for them, than for small pounds who may only deal with tens of dogs during a year. In their response to the Audit Report, the LDH has committed to spending $250,000 on infrastructure improvements and ‘animal assessment facilities’”.

Point 7 deals with another infrastructure non-compliance, the size of cat enclosures, “Another obvious non-compliance was the size of cages provided for cats after these animals have served their statutory eight day period at the LDH North Melbourne site. Under Victorian law, cats must be provided with significantly larger cages for housing after the eight day period during the assessment process for rehoming.”(page 3, point 7).

This one was surprising. In 2011 The Lost Dogs’ Home opened the 2.35 million Lost Cats’ Home with “200 state of the art, air-conditioned, cat condominiums”, ( The Code of Practice goes into great detail about the size of housing for cats (3.2.1 Design of animal housing areas, isolation housing and holding facilities). Under the Code, the housing for a cat post the statutory holding period, is larger than during. Given how much money the LDH spent on the cat condos and given that the LDH is a member of the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee which provides expert advice to the Department on animal welfare issues it’s an interesting non-compliance. If you were cynical you might suggest that the LDH assume most cats that enter their facilities, won’t require housing after their 8 day hold.

Euthanasia statistics

Item 8 of the Audit Report and onwards deal with the issue of animal euthanasia. “Community members have raised concerns about euthanasia rates at the LDH. Euthanasia is a fact of animal pound and shelter operation in Victoria. Dogs involved in serious attacks on people or animals must be euthanased (sic) in accordance with the law. Similarly, unidentifiable cats assessed as diseased, wild or uncontrollable should be euthanased (sic) immediately as housing a ‘feral’ cat in a cage for eight days would be inappropriate on welfare grounds.”

This preamble is highly subjective. While it is true that euthanasia is a fact of animal pound and shelter operations in Victoria, the question this audit is answering is not whether euthanasia is ever appropriate, but whether the LDH kill rate is higher than acceptable, measured against similar organisations.

The statement that “diseased, wild or uncontrollable cats should be euthanized immediately” is a provision under Division 6—Disposal of seized dogs or cats of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 ( Note that this provision says, “may be euthanased in accordance with the Domestic Animals Act 1994”, not should be.

Current research and best practice in shelter management, strongly advise that even friendly, domestic cats, under the stress of a pound situation can show unsocial behaviours and that all cats upon entry to a pound situation should be given a minimum of 24 hours to acclimate to the pound environment before assessment. This is the advice from the Cornell University Department of Shelter Medicine:

“Both feral and highly stressed tame cats may be stiff and frozen with dilated pupils. They may tuck their feet under them and try to hide or back into the farthest corner of the cage. They may strike out if approached, particularly feral tomcats.  Cats should be given strict “chill out time” to de-stress and acclimate to the shelter for at least 24 hours. They must have both a place to hide and a place to perch as they will feel instinctively safer. Their enclosures should be elevated off the floor and must be kept covered. They should not be in direct view of other cats. There should be regular light and dark cycles and noise control. A Feliway diffuser should be used since the pheromone has been shown to help reduce anxiety in cats. After strict “chill out” time of 24-36 hours during which the cat is not handled, evaluation should then occur daily over the following 3 – 4 days for the 5-day holding period.” (

Point 9 deals with euthanasia rates for dogs. However, instead of measuring the statistics of those dogs who are unclaimed by their owners (those left with the Lost Dogs’ Home to rehome/release to foster care/rescue/kill), the Audit calculates the kill rate as a total percentage of dog intake. However, the Audit says under section 15, “The statistics from the LDH suggest that for dogs it is the recovery rate that is increasing rather than the adoption rate …” If we remove those dogs reclaimed by their owners and consider the kill rate as percentage of those dogs left, the actual kill rate for the Lost Dogs’ Home is 46% in 2013/14. By contrast, using the Victorian RSPCA’s 2014 figures and calculating them the same way, they killed 29% of unclaimed dogs. (

Point 10 deals with the cat figures. This paragraph gives a kill rate of 67% for the North Melbourne and Campaspe facilities. If we calculate the kill rate for unclaimed cats, using the methodology above, the statistic is actually 72% of unclaimed cats – which is most of the cats admitted because the reclaim rate for cats is very low (7.3%). The RSPCA’s kill rate for unclaimed cats in 2014 was 40%. (

In Point 11 the Audit Report notes that, “Overall, euthanasia rates have made a steady decline for dogs and cats over a six year period”. Clearly that is true for the most part across most Australian pounds, using available statistics. Of course, part of the reason for this a decline in intake and an increase in reclaims, particularly for dogs. Available statistics in Australia tend to show a decline in shelter intakes from around 2012 forwards.

Record keeping

Point 12 is very telling, “In all cases there is no further information provided regarding the health, temperament or sociability status of the dogs or cats euthanased to determine if these euthanasia rates are ‘reasonable’ or comparable to any other organisation.”

What this seems to mean is that the LDH kept NO records of the reasons why any of the animals killed at the facility met that fate. This would suggest that that at best staff were not keeping adequate, or any, information about medical or behavioural status of the animals in their care and how that information was assessed in order to determine that they should be killed. The Code of Practice is quite explicit about record keeping, and Section 4 Records says that, In the event that the animal is euthanased, the date, reason and method for the animal’s destruction should be recorded.

The lack of documentation suggests that behavioural assessments were done in an ad hoc fashion without a standard template for assessment purposes or definition of a consistent set of practices for behavioural assessment. Given the number of animals entering the facility and the numbers of staff members handling the animals, if consistent behavioural of medical assessments were taking place, then documentation and records of these assessments would be available. Under section 2.10 Rehoming of the Code of Practice, “Establishments must develop and practice standard procedures for the assessment of health, temperament and sociability in animals selected for rehoming.” There is no such requirement for animals selected for killing. This strongly suggests that animals selected for killing are chosen not on the grounds that they have medical or behavioural issues which are not readily rehabilitated (if this was the case, there would be records of the assessment), but for convenience of space.

The LDH’s response to the Audit Report says, in part, “Dogs with temperament concerns now undergo assessment with a Veterinary Behaviourist and wherever possible enter a behaviour rehabilitation program with a team of key behavioural staff.”

This statement suggests that such assessment have not been happening in the past, despite the statement by the Lost Dogs’ Home in 2012 that the removal of the 28 day rule meant that, “… animals that require time to overcome health or behavioural issues are now given that opportunity.”

Essentially what point 12 tells us is that in 2013/14 alone, the LDH North Melbourne and Cranbourne shelters killed over 2,000 dogs and nearly 8,000 cats, without keeping any records as to the reasons, not even the minimum recording required by the Code of Practice.

The implication of this statement, particularly for a facility as large and well-funded as the Lost Dogs’ Home is that killing animals is business as usual and that other than those animals selected for rehoming, no assessment is done on any of the animals killed. In an interview done with 3AW in 2013, Dr Graeme Smith, then CEO of the Lost Dogs’ Home said, “The ones that are put to sleep, are put to sleep because there are reasons, temperament wise, behaviour wise, health wise, that they can’t be rehoused. They are aggressive towards other animals, or people. They have serious injuries or serious illnesses, and they can’t be rehomed.” (quoted in Of course, if the LDH keep no records of assessments done on those animals, there is no way to hold them accountable for their decisions.

Happily, this omission did not escape the Government, “the LDH will now be required to improve record keeping on the breakdown of euthanasia statistics.

In addition, the LDH has agreed to report to the Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford, on the reasons for euthanasia twice a year, for the next three years.”

Paragraph 15 says, surprisingly, “The mandatory Code of Practice for the Management of Dogs and Cats in Shelters and Pounds Revision 1 came into operation on 30 June 2011. The aim of the code of practice is to maximise rehoming of suitable animals.” As I think the preceding discussion has made clear, the Code does no such thing.

What the Code does is provide considerable detail about how pounds and shelters are to care for animals while they are alive, and detail on how they are to die. What it doesn’t do, which is where it fails to meet community expectation, is legislate for practices which will assist the maximum number of animals to leave the pound alive. There are no provisions, such as the US CAPA which make it illegal for a pound to kill animals where rescue groups are willing to take them. The PAW Project is working on implementing this legislation in South Australia. You can read about it here:

In Victoria the Code has arbitrary rules about which animals are able to be rehomed, “The code of practice states that when considering unclaimed animals for rehoming, that aggressive, anti-social animals or animals with known vices, such as excessive barking or a habitual escapee, must not be made available for rehoming.” (page 4, point 20). Clearly in a pound context its next to impossible to make an assessment on what would constitute excessive barking – most dogs, in the stress of being impounded will take to barking. It’s difficult to know how a pound could even assess an animal’s interest in escaping since the Code mandates animal housing which is escape proof, “Animal housing areas and holding facilities must be completely enclosed with a solid or wire roof to prevent the escape of animals.”

This provision of the Code is paragraph 20 of the Audit Report – it’s not entirely clear why it’s quoted at this point, other perhaps, than to provide an apologia for the discussion about the necessity of animal killing in the Victorian pound system.

Point 16 is puzzling. “One option, which may assist in reducing euthanasia rates, is to employ the assistance of rescue groups. The LDH does not call for assistance from rescue groups as the organisation believes it has the appropriate staff and facilities to house impounded animals.”

As I’ve noted earlier in this piece, the LDH has, and currently does work with rescue groups, so it’s not clear why the Audit Report says otherwise. It’s not entirely clear how the LDH choose the groups they work with, or what the criteria is for dogs to be released to such groups. Certainly the Darebin Council’s interest in developing a No-Kill approach to animal management has increased the LDH’s willingness to work with rescue. As a part of the awarding of the Darebin Council animal management contract to the LDH in 2014, the council included a requirement that the LDH, build stronger relationships with foster carers and rescue groups.


One of the initiatives of the LDH in response to the Audit Report, includes “the appointment of a Rescue Coordinator who will grow our rescue program and work proactively with rescue groups.”

Alongside this are commitments to:

    • The establishment of a Community Consultative Group to provide a structured mechanism for community voices to be heard.
    • Broadening the expertise on the Board of Management.

It can only be to the benefit of the LDH to broaden their management structures and to listen to the community. In the last few months there have been encouraging changes at the LDH, not the least of which is the increased number of animals available for adoption.

If nothing else, the investigation seems to have shown the LDH the importance of meeting community expectations and creating a more contemporary management structure.

The report itself is disappointing in many ways. The overall sense is that auditors have seen their task as a compliance issue, rather than a broader investigation into the state and philosophy of companion animal management in Victoria. There was a very short time frame for completion of the investigation, three sites and some very complex issues to be investigated, so possibly there was a trade-off between bringing the report in on time and delving more deeply into the practices and culture of the LDH.

I think it’s clear that what really needs rehabilitation  is the gap between the technical provisions of the Code of Practice for the Operation of Shelters and Pounds, and the community’s expectations for animal welfare legislation which is committed to saving the lives of pets. The Audit Report revealed some issues of non-compliance at the Lost Dogs’ Home, but the bigger issue is not how one organisation operates against a fairly minimal standard, but how an entire state values the lives and welfare of companion animals. That’s a much bigger conversation, and one, I hope, the Andrew’s Government will be willing to tackle.

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One thought on “Report of the investigation into the Lost Dogs’ Home

  • Jane Bennett

    Excellent article and sound analysis. Thanks. It is of course the Code that should be improved. Because as the benchmark used for what, as you say, was originally an investigation but became simply an audit, is pretty low.
    Underwhelming results.