Animal rescue, the rehoming of dogs and cats, is a growing industry in Victoria. Community foster care networks, rescue groups and foster carers are essential in helping reduce the number of animals located in pounds and shelters.
The process of rehabilitating and rehoming dogs and cats can be greatly assisted by these groups and helps reduce the number of animals euthanised due to not being able to find new homes.
Many community foster care networks and rescue groups also take dogs and cats that are directly surrendered by their owners, when they are no longer willing or able to care for that animal.
These networks will then work to find a suitable home for the animal, which means that each animal is given the best opportunity for a low stress transition to a new home.
Review of community foster care networks and animal rescue groups
Community foster care networks (CFCNs) and animal rescue groups provide an important and valued service rehoming dogs and cats in Victoria.
The Victorian Government recognises the work undertaken by these groups and is committed to partnering with them to ensure effective delivery of their services – now and into the future.
In line with this commitment, an independent review was undertaken to examine the existing rescue and foster care arrangements in Victoria.
The review considered:
- the current situation
- best practice approaches for registration and identification of dogs and cats in care
- models for recognising the important role of CFCNs and rescue groups
- opportunities to maximise the welfare and survival rates of cats and dogs
- best practice models for the minimisation of shelter and pound euthanasia rates.
A key component of the review was extensive community and government consultation, to inform recommendations for reform. All known rescue organisations and CFCNs were invited to participate.
The resulting Action Plan for Successful Rehoming of Cats and Dogs in Victoria (the Report) sets out actions to strengthen existing arrangements for rehoming, including reducing the number of cats and dogs in pounds and shelters and encouraging stronger collaboration across the rescue sector.
The Government has established the Taskforce on Rehoming Pets (the Taskforce) to conduct further consultation and provide recommendations on a potential regulatory framework for the rescue and foster care sector, as well as how to improve and better support rehoming pathways for dogs and cats in Victoria, including those used in medical research. It is anticipated that the Taskforce will provide its final report with recommendations to government by the end of 2021.
To support animal rehoming services while the Taskforce continues its work, government has committed a further $5 million over four years in grant funding to support foster care and rescue groups meet the costs of rehoming companion animals. It is anticipated the first round of this funding will open in mid-2021.
The Victorian Government is committed to supporting CFCNs, rescue organisations and foster carers to continue their good work – as well as other partners such as local councils, pounds and shelters, veterinary practitioners, adopters and the community. Government will consider Taskforce recommendations once delivered, and look to develop the necessary resources, education and reform to improve pet rehoming pathways in Victoria.
Community foster care networks
A community foster care network (CFCN) coordinates and may provide temporary care for dogs and cats from shelters, pounds or surrenders in people's homes (private residential premises). A CFCN seeks permanent housing for the dogs or cats in care.
Most CFCNs work with a network of foster carers to enable the CFCN to rehabilitate and rehome more animals. A CFCN could be any size from small through to very large and may be operating with a single person or as a complex organisation involving many people.
A CFCN is not considered a Domestic Animal Business – Animal Shelter, as the number of animals kept on one property is limited to housing animals within the council and planning requirements. Most councils in Victoria limit the number of cats and dogs that can be kept on any one property.
A foster carer is a person who undertakes temporary care of an individual or special group of animals for the purpose of giving the animals care until they can be rehomed. Most foster care takes place in a person's home, which enables specific care and treatment.
Foster carers have an important role in providing rehabilitation and care for animals in an environment outside a pound or shelter, ensuring that the animals have the best chance at being rehomed.
There is no limit to the period of time an animal may be fostered. However, foster carers must comply with council and planning laws regarding the number and confinement of animals on their given property.
It is important to remember that in all cases, the foster carer must ensure that the dog or cat is registered with the local council for the duration of its stay. Victorian councils can issue a monetary fine to the carer of any unregistered dog or cat and also have the power to seize any unregistered animal.
Foster Carer Registration Scheme
Individual foster carers may apply to their local council to become a registered foster carer as part of a voluntary scheme. Council cannot force a foster carer to enrol in the scheme as it is not mandatory.
Registration with the scheme is valid for one year and council may set a registration fee. Foster carers who choose to enrol in the scheme receive:
- a reduced registration rate of $8 for each dog and $8 for each cat they foster during the first 12 months the animal is in their care (fees are current as at 1 July 2020)
- the ability to use pet shops as a means of providing additional community exposure to dogs six months of age or older, and cats eight weeks of age or older.
Every person that works with animals has an obligation to know what laws they must abide by, for both the welfare of the animal and person caring for that animal. The legislation in Victoria consists of Acts, Regulations, Codes of Practice and Council Local Laws.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA) seeks to protect animals from neglect and cruelty and sets out offences for failing to properly care and provide for a dog or cat, including the provision of:
- proper and sufficient food
- vet treatment.
It also covers offences such as:
- deliberate cruelty
- ill treatment
- causing unnecessary pain or suffering
- abandonment of cats and dogs
- transport of dogs on moving vehicles.
The Domestic Animal Act 1994 (the Act) seeks to protect the community from animals becoming a nuisance or danger and sets out requirements for keeping cats and dogs. The following summary applies to CFCNs and foster carers:
- Every dog and cat over 3 months old must be registered with the council in which they are located.
- Every dog and cat must be microchipped to be registered with council.
- Every dog and cat must wear their council registration tag when outside the property in which they are kept.
- Dogs must be adequately confined to the house or yard and must not be allowed to stray.
- Dogs and cats must not be allowed to cause nuisance (for example, excess barking).
- Owners of dogs and cats must be at least 18 years old.
In addition to these legislative obligations, there are local government laws that regulate the way in which dogs and cats are kept. The following summary applies to CFCNs and foster carers:
- limits on numbers of dogs or cats that may be kept on a property without an excess animal permit
- mandatory de-sexing orders for dogs and cats in some local government areas
- cat curfews (keeping cats indoors at night – house, enclosure, shed or garage) to protect native wildlife
- leashing requirements for dogs in public places
- collection of dog faeces in public places.
It is the responsibility of the person keeping a dog or a cat to know what their council allows.
Section 84Y agreements
In Victoria, dogs and cats can be captured and held by local councils for a range of reasons under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (the Act). For instance, a dog may have escaped confinement and be roaming in the community, presenting a potential danger to itself or others. Any person who captures a roaming animal under section 84 of the Act must provide the animal to a council authorised officer or to a person or organisation with an 84Y agreement. This is to ensure the animal has the best chance of being reunited with its owner, as well as managing any immediate animal welfare needs.
Section 84Y of the Act enables local councils to make written agreements with a ‘person or body’, namely shelters, veterinary practices, Community Foster Care Networks (CFCN) and foster carers, to support the capture, holding, rehoming or disposal of dogs and cats. That is, 84Y agreements allow certain people and organisations other than local councils to receive and manage lost pets and/or stray animals.
Councils can tailor agreements to suit their operational and local community needs. Different types of section 84Y agreements exist to cover a range of situations, and agreements can include some or all of the activities outlined under section 84Y of the Act.
An 84Y agreement may also authorise a person or organisation to give a dog or cat to:
- a CFCN for rehoming (under clause 84Y(ca)), on the condition that the dog or cat is desexed and microchipped before ownership is transferred to the CFCN
- an animal shelter (under clause 84Y(cb)).
84Y agreements are exclusively held between a person or organisation and the local council. Any other written contracts between the agreement holder and another person or organisation, such as a CFCN or foster carer, is separate and in addition to an 84Y agreement.
Section 84Y agreements between a local council and a CFCN usually focus on the 84Y(c) clause for selling and/or rehoming a dog or cat that has been captured. Where a dog or cat comes directly to a CFCN from a local council under an 84Y agreement, it should be desexed and microchipped prior to ownership transferring to the CFCN, as per the Code of Practice for the Management of Dogs and Cats in Shelters and Pounds. Council may use an 84Y agreement to address certain animal care and management requirements. Any agreement with a CFCN must have provisions in place to ensure the animal is desexed and microchipped prior to rehoming.
If a person or organisation has an 84Y agreement with council and is not a registered domestic animal business (DAB), they will need to self-enrol on the Pet Exchange Register (PER) to obtain a source number before microchipping and/or advertising a dog or cat for sale/rehoming. Registration for a source number may be completed on the Pet Exchange Register.
As always, foster carers are limited to caring for the number of animals permitted by their local council.
In response to feedback received during last year's Reuniting Pets consultation process, Animal Welfare Victoria has developed the 84Y Agreements Guidance document to assist individuals or organisations seeking to establish such an agreement.
For further information on the Reuniting Pets review, please visit the Engage Victoria website.
Taskforce on Rehoming Pets
The government established the Taskforce on Rehoming Pets (the Taskforce) in 2021 to conduct consultation and provide recommendations on a potential regulatory framework for the rescue and foster care sector. This work aims to improve and better support rehoming pathways for dogs and cats in Victoria, including those used in medical research.
Using stakeholder and community feedback from its consultation activities, the Taskforce prepared a final report and recommendations for the Minister for Agriculture.