Open letter from General Manager Alan Eldridge

Published: 29 May 2018 4:21pm

Open letter from General Manager Alan Eldridge - 7 April 2016


Over the course of the past week, a number of community members and animal welfare advocates have contacted Council regarding recent media reports about the Glenfield Road Animal Shelter (GRAS).

The response has been overwhelming. We have endeavoured to get back to as many of you as possible as we too take these concerns about animal welfare seriously.

If we have been unable to contact you personally, the following letter will answer many of your questions about the issues highlighted in the media and the ongoing improvements at the shelter.

October 2014: Photograph of deceased cat in deceased animal storage freezer

Many of you may have seen graphic images of a deceased cat in the freezer.

I can assure you that this cat was not left to die in the freezer.

That month, eight deceased cats were recorded at GRAS. Seven cats were euthanased by Council’s contract veterinary officer, who determines the animal is deceased.

The eighth cat had been fatally hit by a vehicle in a suburban Wagga street and a Council Ranger was dispatched to collect the deceased animal. The deceased cat was scanned and no microchip was identified.

The deceased cat was placed in the Animal Shelter freezer, as per standard practice with deceased animals.

A volunteer later took a photo of this deceased cat and incorrectly believed it had been placed in the freezer alive due to the large amount of blood on the animal caused by vehicle impact.

7 March 2015: Live cat found in animal shelter freezer

As you are aware, a volunteer reported that a live cat had been found in the animal shelter freezer in March last year.

Council requested an independent investigation into the matter by the RSPCA in July 2015 and is hopeful it will be able to provide Council with a copy of the report soon.

While the report has not been provided to Council as yet, the RSPCA has published its findings, which read: “Upon review of all available evidence, it was determined that no proceedings could be commenced as RSPCA NSW was not confident of proving criminal charges beyond reasonable doubt”.

Following the release of these findings, I would like to note the facts the RSCPA obtained through written statements:

  • On 7 March 2015, a Council Ranger was handed a cat by a resident in the GRAS office who noted the cat had been wandering around near his residence for several days and had been injured at some point.
  • The Ranger then walked to the cattery holding the cat in their arms. As the Ranger entered the common area between the cattery and the kennels, a volunteer was walking a large dog on a lead.
  • The cat in the Ranger’s arms reacted to the dog and clawed the Ranger in an attempt to escape.
  • The Ranger immediately entered the cattery with the intent to secure the cat in a cage.
  • The Ranger entered the cattery and moved into the cat cage area to find two unrestrained small to medium-sized dogs, which ran while barking loudly toward the Ranger and the cat.
  • Who placed the two dogs in the cattery formed a part of the investigation by the RSPCA.
  • Before the Ranger was able to secure the cat in a cage, the cat bit the Ranger on the right thumb. The bite was forceful enough for a tooth to be lodged in the Ranger’s thumb.
  • The Ranger stepped back into the entrance area to get the cat safely away from the dogs. The cat continued to bite the Ranger, who held the cat by the scruff of its neck with their left hand in an attempt to restrain it. In doing so, the cat became motionless.
  • The Ranger then re-entered the cat cage area and secured the motionless cat in a cage, then left to get urgent medical attention at the GRAS office.
  • A second Ranger was informed of the incident. The second Ranger left the office area.
  • Council enquiries after the incident found the second Ranger believed the cat was deceased as it was unresponsive. As it was left in the cage and potentially visible to the public, the Ranger removed the cat from the cage and placed it in the deceased animal storage freezer.
  • Council enquiries after the incident found the believed-to-be-deceased cat was in the freezer for no longer than three minutes.

At no time did Council staff intentionally place a live animal in the freezer. However, a number of questions about this incident remain - including why dogs were placed in the cattery, which appears to be a key factor of why this incident occurred.

I would also like to clarify that the Ranger who placed the cat in the freezer has not been employed at Council since last year.

Incorrect data on the website

During the past three financial years, there are some discrepancies between the number of animals that entered and how they left the shelter.

The discrepancies have occurred due to some data being duplicated. Rangers previously used a handwritten ledger and transitioned to the electronic system in 2012/13.

In the new system it is not possible to monitor duplicated entries and following the discovery of this issue, the figures are now manually reviewed and have been adjusted.

Unfortunately the figures were not updated on Council’s website in a timely manner, which has added to the confusion around the data and I apologise for this error.

I can assure you no animal at the shelter is unaccounted for and the updated and accurate figures are will be published as soon as possible.

Ongoing changes at the shelter

Since stepping into the General Manager role in October 2015, I have not seen any evidence to suggest animals have been mistreated at GRAS.

A number of changes have already been made at GRAS, including:

  • Introduction of a low euthanasia policy which means animals are kept for longer than the legislated period
  • Installation of beds in the dog kennels to ensure there is never an issue with wet cement when the kennel area is cleaned
  • The commissioning of a service review last year and the ongoing implementation of its recommendations

Earlier this week, I announced a number of additional immediate actions to ensure we are not only meeting our legislative requirements, but providing the best care possible at the shelter:

  • I am engaging a third party to review the facility and procedures
  • The Manager Environment and Recreation Services will take over management of the shelter from senior staff in the interim while all issues are thoroughly investigated and to allow for third party validation of the facility
  • A review of customer interactions will also take place.
  • Council’s Governance section will review current practices and ensure Council is meeting its legislative obligations
  • An automatic watering system for kennels will be investigated
  • Issues regarding the in-floor heating in the new kennels will be rectified

In closing, we are committed to animal welfare and we are taking all of the concerns raised seriously.

Many of you have asked Council for action this week, and process and policy changes at GRAS have and will continue to be made.

Kind regards,

Alan Eldridge

General Manager, City of Wagga Wagga