Requirements for shelters and pounds

All shelters and pounds must be registered with the council in which they operate, and comply with the Code of Practice for the Management of Dogs and Cats in Shelters and Pounds — Revision 1.

The basic purpose of the Code is to support the welfare of  animals requiring temporary housing (pending release to their owners) or, if unclaimed, a decision on rehousing. The Code exists to help ensure that a person reclaiming their lost pet from a pound finds the animal healthy and sound.

The Code does this by specifying the minimum:

  • requirements for staff of establishments
  • husbandry conditions including nutrition and vaccination requirements
  • hygiene, security, exercise and housing requirements

The Code covers the welfare of animals that have an unknown vaccination history, an unknown temperament and are held for a mandatory 8 days. If the animal is not claimed by its owner during the 8 days and is selected for rehousing, it must be microchipped, vaccinated and desexed before leaving the pound or shelter. Dogs or cats that are handed in by owners do not have to be held for a mandatory eight days but would have to be vaccinated and quarantined if a current vaccination certificate cannot be produced.

These are some of the important provisions contained in the Code.


Animals must be transported for the minimum time practicable. Cats and small dogs can be placed in secure carrying baskets, cages or boxes, large dogs may be restrained but all animals must be physically separated. Badly injured animals may be euthanased or transported to the nearest point of veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Health management plans

Health management plans must be developed by shelters and pounds, in consultation with a veterinarian. These must cover issues such as:

  • response to disease outbreaks
  • environmental enrichment
  • assessment programs for fostering animals
  • temperament and health assessments for re-homing animals
  • behavioural and welfare assessments of animals impounded for longer than six weeks


Every animal admitted to a shelter or pound must be scanned for any permanent identification device. They must be examined by a veterinarian or experienced person who is responsible for classifying animals into the following categories for attention:

  • healthy animals
  • moderately or slightly injured animals — to be given prompt first-aid to relieve pain and preserve life, and to be held for observation
  • severely injured animals or unweaned animals — severely injured and unweaned animals may be fostered out for care and rehabilitation, where approved by a veterinarian, or euthanased promptly
  • unidentified cats that are wild or uncontrollable — to be promptly euthanased
  • animals with infectious disease — to be held in isolation pens

Foster carers

A foster carer is a person who takes on care of an animal outside a pound or shelter until the animal is fit for sale and returned to the pound or shelter for rehoming. It includes:

  • behavioural rehabilitation foster care —  to rectify a behavioural problem
  • juvenile foster care — care for a puppy or kitten
  • short term relief foster care — allows a healthy animal respite from a pound or shelter environment.
  • veterinary rehabilitation foster care — while the animal recovers from a medical condition including illness, injury or disease.

Foster carers within the pound and shelter system must have and comply with a written foster care agreement. Animals can be fostered for a variety of reasons and for any time period — as long as it is done in line with the written foster care agreement.

A foster care agreement is a written agreement between a pound or shelter and a foster carer, in relation to the animal's needs and foster carer's responsibilities. If the animal is placed in juvenile or veterinary rehabilitation foster care, the agreement must include the veterinary care requirements and be signed and endorsed by the veterinary practitioner.

Foster carers conducting foster care for a pound or shelter must:

  • have the permits, where required by local government, to keep the number of animals at their premises
  • not have more animals requiring foster care in their care at any one time than they can singularly manage
  • notify the establishment and present the animal to a veterinary practitioner if symptoms of illness develop
  • provide environmental enrichment and socialisation in line with the written foster care agreement
  • follow any veterinary instructions on medication or treatment regimes as directed by the establishment veterinary practitioner for the animal in their care
  • follow any training or exercise regime as instructed in the written foster care agreement
  • not allow animals kept on their premises to leave the premises unless as specified in the written foster agreement
  • ensure that animals leaving the premises are in a crate or restrained by a chain, cord or leash that is held by the approved foster carer or a person designated in the written agreement as being able to control that animal, no more than two dogs can be walked outside at one time
  • return the animals under foster care to the establishment within the specified time set in the written foster care agreement

In addition, foster carers conducting juvenile, veterinary rehabilitation or behavioural rehabilitation foster care for a pound or shelter must:

  • be trained or experienced to care for and meet the needs of the animals placed in their care for rehabilitation
  • keep the animals and their records in line with the instructions of the written foster care agreement
  • present the animal and all related records to a veterinary practitioner or operations manager or nominated person as requested or required by the written foster care agreement

Community animal rescue groups greatly assist in reducing the number of animals located in pounds.


Because its vaccination and disease status will be unknown, an animal must be quarantined on arrival in a pound or shelter. Mixing of animals of unknown health status spreads disease and poses a risk to the health of many animals that are reclaimed by their owners.

All vaccinated animals must be held in quarantine for certain periods of time before being made available for rehousing (unless previously reclaimed by their owners).

Housing pens

Dogs arriving in a pound do so with no known history of behaviour or aggression. Many animals will be frightened and disorientated and their behaviour  different to when they are in a domestic situation. To prevent dogs from serious injury or death due to attacks from pen mates, all adult dogs must be housed one to a pen.

Cats, after desexing, vaccination and quarantine, can be multiple housed in holding pens. A maximum of 8 cats can be held in a pen and each cat must have a floor area of 2 metres squared and an individual sleeping area.

Weaned pups and kittens from the same litter may be housed in a group until they reach 16 weeks of age. Up to 4 puppies or kittens may be housed with unrelated other animals of the same species following vaccination until 16 weeks of age.

There is no time limit on how long an animal can be kept in the establishment (as long as a veterinarian states the animal is coping with the environment).

Enrichment, exercise and socialisation

The Code offers guidance on improving the environment and welfare of shelter animals, particularly those housed in the long term. This includes the ability, under certain circumstances, to exercise dogs off premises, or to be socialised in groups.


Dogs and cats must be microchipped before the animal being sold or given away. The proprietor must provide the council  the new owner's details where the animal is to be kept.


All dogs sold from a pound or shelter must be vaccinated against

  • distemper
  • hepatitis
  • parvovirus
  • canine cough (Parainfluenza (Type II) and Bordetella bronchiseptica).

All cats sold must be vaccinated against:

  • feline infectious enteritis
  • calicivirus
  • herpes virus

Rehousing (sale of animals)

All animals sold from a pound or shelter must be microchipped, wormed, desexed and vaccinated.

New owners must be supplied with a vaccination certificate and be given literature about:

  • feeding
  • housing
  • responsible pet ownership.

If an animal is not acceptable to a new owner within 7 days of selling because of health or other reasons, supported by a statement from a veterinarian the pound or shelter proprietors must take the animal back. They must also refund all monies or offer a replacement animal with the same guarantee. This excludes accidents.

If an animal is returned within 3 days for any other reason, the pound or shelter proprietor must refund 75% of the purchase price or offer a replacement animal with the same guarantee.

If the animal dies or is euthanased as a result of a disease that is traceable to the point of sale, the pound or shelter proprietor must refund the purchase price or offer a replacement animal with the same guarantee.

Public access

Reasonable periods for public access must be provided during working hours and include reasonable times after hours or at weekends. Public access at pounds may be by appointment with a council officer.

It is a legal requirement to register your pet

If you really care about your dog or cat — register it.

  • It a legal requirement for your pet to be registered with your local council and have identification.
  • The marker will assist the return of your pet in the event that it does become lost and finds itself in the pound.

If you seize a stray or lost dog or cat the law requires you to take that animal, as soon as is reasonably possible, to the pound of the municipal district in which the dog or cat is found.

Page last updated: 04 Jun 2020