It’s in the rules

Differences in pet legislation between the various state and territories is something of a veterinary minefield. A new AVA project, however, is attempting to streamline it once and for all. By Blake Dennis

Get talking to most vets on the topic of pet legislation, and there’s one word that seems to be used in the conversation more than any other. That word is ‘confusing’.

In Australia, state and territory governments are responsible for animal welfare and wellbeing within their jurisdiction, with each government setting and enforcing laws to protect animal welfare. That means there are at least eight government bodies issuing laws regarding pet ownership—even more if you factor in local council laws as well.

“It’s critical to stay up to date, especially in areas like the dangerous dog laws, but it can become a constant case of information overload with how many updated details the various states and territories are issuing,” says Dr Diederik Gelderman, former president of the Australian Veterinary Business Association.

Adds Dr Matthew Muir of All Natural Vet Care practice, “Navigating the current legislation and raising concerns relating to laws with clients can be very challenging, particularly with highly emotive issues like dangerous dogs.”

These reactions are nothing new to Dr Debbie Neutze, policy manager of the Australian Veterinary Association. She admits she hears them all the time.

“If the vets are confused because the laws are difficult to understand—and it changes as you move from one part of the country to the other—just imagine then how confused the pet owner is in trying to understand all of that?”

Which is why the AVA has launched a new project to improve and streamline pet legislation across the board, under the working title of ‘Better Legislation For Pet Ownership’.

The project is a thorough audit of all pet-related legislation, supplemented with a review of similar best-practice evidence-based overseas legislation.

All the information will be utilised to further develop the AVA policies and resources, to assist with consistent advocacy positions around effective harmonised pet legislation across the country.

“This will be an evolving project as there are just so many different laws, regulations and rules for us to work through, and often they vary dramatically from one state to the next,” Dr Neutze explains.

“With that as the status of what we are all working with, it makes it just so hard to get consistent messages across. Just when you think you have put forward the right evidence to support one issue, something comes up against it in another state—and then we have to start all over again with a new submission.” Adding significantly to that problem, Dr Neutze observes, is a lack of direct communication between the various state and territory bodies.

“What we have found is they rarely talk to or look to each other to see what each other is doing, and that just becomes more confusing to deal with. The legislated outcomes are often based on the loudest voices rather than solutions that are evidence-based.

“If the vets are confused because the laws are difficult to understand … just imagine then how confused the pet owner is in trying to undersand all of that.”—Dr Debbie Neutze, policy manager, AVA

“A large part of the reason we are putting this project together is because, if we can come up with a new model of what we think is good legislation regarding pet ownership and all the many aspects to it, then we can proactively be advocating this to the various bodies.

“It will become a matter of stating in our work ‘here’s what good legislation looks like and here’s the evidence’. It gives everyone a basic model to work from and then we can get to working to achieve harmonisation across the states and territories.”

One particular area Dr Neutze highlights as an example are strata laws regarding animals in high-density housing. The laws—which have undergone significant revision in NSW in recent years to allow greater pet ownership by people living in apartments and townhouses—have recently come under new debate in Queensland, but remained unchanged in other areas of the country.

“We are now addressing the same issues all over again, so we have a situation where what might be going on in Queensland and NSW is a world away from what is happening in Western Australia,” she says. “There is no need in Australian society to have so many different regulations and laws.”

But she does add, however, it should not be assumed that a ‘one rule fits all’ policy will ever be adopted to any areas of legislation.

“The AVA believes when it comes to those rules, most things should be harmonised—and I do stress that it is in most cases. There are always exceptions and we take them on a case by case basis.”

The AVA has previously released a number of wide ranging policies and position statements to support their advocacy work, in such areas as the responsible ownership of dogs and cats, companion animals in aged care units, puppy farming, aggressive dogs, and the sale of companion animals in pet shops.

In August 2012, the AVA released the well-received ‘Dangerous dogs – A Sensible Solution’ paper after an extensive report into the contentious topic. That report became a successful benchmark as a policy and model legislative framework for a number of bodies.

The AVA’s ‘Better Legislation for Pet Ownership’ project will get underway this year. Dr Neutze explains that as there is so much existing detailed legislation to work through, the AVA team is initially considering a range of specific areas to focus on.

“We are looking at some milestone topics that we can get to work on initially and if we can achieve some breakthroughs with them, then that will get the ball rolling,” she says. “It seems a far better way to do this than trying to take everything on. Taking on this amount of information is just such a massive task.”

The outcomes of the project should, adds Dr Matthew Muir, make dealing with the various issues presented regularly in the clinic much easier to deal with.

“We employ a practice manager who helps counsel us on up-to-date legislation,” he says. “Working through the current legislation can be challenging and I think runs the risk of diminishing the client-vet bond.

“I will often seek out informed case management in certain cases, both clinical and legislative, and get back to the client in writing for improved compliance and understanding.”

More details on AVA policies can be found at: www.ava.com.au/about-us/policy-and-positions-1 

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