• Adjournment Speech – Veterinarians Mental Health

    A series of studies conducted in recent years have identified elevated rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among Australian veterinarians, with a suicide rate four times higher than the general population. These figures are consistent with studies conducted in Great Britain and America. There is clearly a common thread concerning the mental health challenges of the profession. Murdoch University is currently conducting research on the mental health of Australian veterinarians, which will hopefully assist the profession in improving the mental well-being of its members.

    Multiple studies cite risk factors such as long hours and highly stressful decision-making, the difficulty of recruiting locums to take much needed breaks, and in rural areas these difficulties are compounded by professional isolation. These are common stressors across many professions, but there are additional emotional stressors, such as the regular killing of animals, combined with easy access to lethal drugs, that are unique to the veterinary profession. The 2016 Australian National Coronial Information System report noted a history of self-poisoning suicides linked to drugs available in veterinary clinics.

    While there are no equivalent Australian figures, British studies showed that 81 per cent of veterinarians entered the profession due to their desire to work with the human-animal bond. Women veterinarians in particular were identified as having high levels of empathy towards animals. This empathy towards animals may, in a large part, be the cause of the mental distress experienced by veterinarians. Across a range of international studies, young and female veterinarians are at greatest risk of job dissatisfaction, leading to mental health difficulties and suicidal ideation. “Compassion fatigue” or “vicarious trauma” was identified as a risk factor leading to suicide.

    The realities of veterinary practice can be emotionally gruelling. Many vets speak of the distress of being responsible for ending animals’ lives, either directly in the case of euthanising sick or injured animals, or worse, being required to kill perfectly healthy unwanted animals, or indirectly in the case of the slaughter of farmed animals. Vets also found themselves in professionally challenging situations where they encountered animal abuse and neglect. Some studies have questioned whether the routine euthanising or killing of animals impacted on attitudes towards death more generally.

    In surveys, vets showed higher support for human voluntary euthanasia than the general population. This attitude to death may even facilitate self-justification and lower their inhibitions towards suicide as a rational solution to their personal problems.

    As a society we could do a much better job of providing funding and resources to ensure that no vet is required to kill perfectly healthy animals that have been abandoned or surrendered to council pounds or RSPCA shelters. The growth of no-kill shelters not only is a more humane approach to companion animals but also removes the risk of psychological harm to vets who are forced to administer the “green dream” to healthy animals. Even the upside of being a veterinarian—having clients with strong emotional ties to their companion animals—could create distress. The emotional intensity of that bond adds stress when the time arrives for euthanising sick or aged animals that are considered part of the family.

    I commend the work of our veterinarians in alleviating animal suffering. My personal heroes are those vets who find the time to work pro bono or provide discounted fees to companion animal rescue groups, wildlife carers and farmed animal sanctuaries. Perhaps the Australian Veterinary Association may consider supporting veterinarians as they deliver these services as a way of providing a channel for their compassion and empathy towards animals.

  • Mark visits WW1 killing fields to pay respects to animals fallen in war

    Lest We Forget

    Throughout history, in war and in peace, animals and mankind have worked alongside each other.

    As “beasts of burden”, messengers, protectors, mascots, and friends, the war animals have demonstrated true valour and an enduring partnership with humans.

    The bond is unbreakable, their sacrifice great – we honour the animals of war.

    Mark has been spending the parliamentary break visiting the WW1 killing fields of Northern France.

    One destination was particularly poignant; the Animal War Memorial at Pozieres. Amidst the war graves of fallen soldiers there lies a small memorial garden set aside to honour those horses, donkeys, dogs, and pigeons that were conscripted into war service and killed in action. These forgotten heroes finally have a place where their sacrifice can be remembered.

    The Animal War Memorial at Pozieres was only opened in July 2017 and has already become a focal point for visitors around the world. The establishment of this memorial is owed in large part to Nigel Allsop, a former veteran who worked in all aspects of military canine operations and training, and who established the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation. Allsop raised the funds for the Pozieres memorial, and has intentions to further enhance the the site with more statuary, in honour of animal war service.

    “I will honour and pay tribute to all those fallen in WWI – both human and non-human. Animals did not choose nor were conscripted to war but forced by our hand. Despite this, their loyalty and trust still came through.

    I am so appreciative of the French government and, in particular, the village residents and Mayor of Poziers for establishing a special Memorial for them there. A place where so many horses and dogs died from gun shot or a long lingering death from injuries whilst trapped in mud.

    What I discovered on this visit to Pozieres Australian Animal War Memorial is something I will never forget. Here, in only three weeks, more Australian soldiers and animals fell than anywhere else during WW1. These were just kids in uniforms and animals forced into a living hell. Despite this, even upon hearing the discharge of a bomb shell which they sensed could target them, horses and dogs were seen to lean over and ‘cover’ their soldier comrade to shield them from the impact. Horses with their heads, dogs with their bodies.

    Extraordinary.”

    Lest We Forget them too.

    Mark Pearson will be wearing a purple poppy during his visit, signifying the sacrifice of those animals who endured the horrors of the battlefields. Some 9 million horses and unknown numbers of other animals were killed during wartime. Tragically, surviving horses were denied return to Australia and soldiers were traumatised at having to leave their companions behind to an uncertain fate. Many shot their horses rather than risk their ill-treatment or slaughter for food.

    The “Animal” Poppy

    Most people are unaware that as well as the traditional red poppy worn to mark the Armistice Day of 11 November 1918, that there is also the purple poppy, worn in remembrance of the animals who died during conflict.

    The Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation (AWAMO) issued this purple poppy, intended to be worn alongside the traditional red one, to signify and pay respect to the sacrifice the animals made alongside their human comrades.

     

    Mark Pearson with Mayor Bernard Delattre at the Australian Animal War Memorial, Pozieres, France

  • The REAL story on NSW Council pounds

     

    For many years I worked at Animal Liberation NSW and it was not unusual for me to receive complaints from distressed individuals about the fate of companion animals held in council pounds. When I was elected to Parliament, amongst the first calls my office received were in regard to the terrible conditions of some council pounds—allegations of outright cruelty and neglect of impounded animals, high kill rates and unacceptably low rehoming rates. For a nation that prides itself on its relationship with “man’s best friend” and the frequently cited observation that companion animals are “part of the family”, we discard tens of thousands of dogs and cats each year. These animals often end up in council pounds and face an uncertain future. That future is dependent upon the resources invested by individual councils to provide decent facilities, caring staff and a commitment to working with rescue groups to rehome as many animals as possible.

    Improvement in reducing kill rates and increasing rehoming rates across New South Wales must be acknowledged as being due to the enormous efforts of volunteer and self-funded rescue and rehoming groups that outperform council pounds and authorised agencies such as RSPCA NSW and the Animal Welfare League. New South Wales statistics collected for the period 2013-14 show that council pounds rehomed 5,549 cats and dogs, and killed 14,641 animals, the vast majority being healthy animals. The RSPCA rehomed 10,718 but killed 12,641, with one-third being killed for failing the behavioural temperament test. Community rescue groups rehomed approximately 8,000 and euthanased fewer than 200, all for genuine illness or severe behavioural problems.

    In my travels to regional areas, I will often meet with carer groups that work hard to improve the lives of impounded animals and do their best to work with councils to rehome cats and dogs. Frustration is evident in pound reform advocates who observe a lack of accountability and transparency in regard to councils discharging their obligations under the Companion Animals Act. Advocates complain about being referred between the Office of Local Government and NSW Department of Primary Industries when complaining about animal welfare in pounds.

    Although councils are required to comply with both the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Code of Practice for Cats and Dogs in Animal Boarding Establishments, many councils are either unaware or fail to comply. Examples include Griffith pound’s failure to provide daily exercise for dogs, pounds such as Singleton where animals are exposed to the extremes of weather, and Wagga pound where cats were placed alive in freezers. Evidence from the McHugh Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry found that Kempsey Shire Council Dog Pound’s record-keeping was so deficient it could not account for the number of greyhounds surrendered. The use of more than 250 millilitres of euthanasia drugs was not recorded

    I note that pounds are still legally allowed to shoot dogs and kill cats by direct needlestick to the heart or peritoneal cavity. These are marked down in reports as “euthanasia”, with some councils dumping bodies at the local tip. The public would be outraged if they knew. The public are generally unaware of the state of pounds, which can be hidden away near council tips and water treatment sites. A number of council pounds are failing to adhere to the requirements to be open for a minimum of four hours per day, making it difficult for people to reunite with their lost cats or dogs. Many pounds also refuse public access, making adoptions and rehoming difficult. I believe that a comprehensive audit undertaken by the Office of Local Government of all New South Wales council pounds, with findings and recommendations, is the only way the public can obtain a truly accurate account of the state of New South Wales pounds and the care that they provide to impounded companion animals.

  • Companion Animal Action Paper 2017

    After eighteen months of consultations with animal rescue groups, advocacy groups and individuals,  I have now finalised my Companion Animal Action Paper. It is the  blueprint for the work I will be undertaking in parliament.

    Of course, there are more issues that will need to be considered over time (for example,  companion animals other than cats and dogs,  transport of companion animals, use of public space, tenants with animals, penalties for cruelty) but there is plenty to be getting on with in my first term in parliament.

    I would like to thank everyone for their contributions, your expertise and input has been invaluable.

    Download the full Action Paper HERE

  • Notice of Motion-National Volunteers Week

    National Volunteers Week

    This Motion was OBJECTED to by the Government.

    1. That this House, in recognition of National Volunteers Week, honours the selfless and compassionate work undertaken by the hundreds of volunteers in NSW, who give generously of their time in caring for injured wildlife, rescued companion animals and provide sanctuary to farmed animals.
    2. That this House congratulates animal carer volunteers for their commitment in providing care and comfort to animals that would otherwise have died, either through neglect, abuse or being killed in council pounds and RSPCA shelters.
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