How a dog sparked a nurse’s mission to save thousands of lives

On a freezing day in 2008, Adelaide nurse Mia Aukland decided she was ready to adopt a dog.

She jumped in her car and drove nearly 40 minutes to the nearest animal shelter.

“I was ready to welcome another dog’s love into my home after my dog ​​Sarah died,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

After arriving, Ms Aukland asked staff if she could meet a malnourished ‘heel-like puppy’ she had seen sitting in a ‘concrete cage’.

Adelaide nurse Mia Aukland adopted her dog Lucy from a shelter in 2008. Source: Supplied

“She reminded me a bit of Sarah. It was a cold winter and she was wearing a torn wool sweater. I asked to meet her and the staff allowed me to touch her,” she recalls.

“I asked to adopt her, but they told me to come back the next day if I really wanted her.

“I was confused and felt I would prove I would be a good pet parent by just coming back the next day.”

Although she was thrilled to finally adopt Lucy, the 20-year-old critical care nurse didn’t sit well with the whole experience.

“I searched a lot and found [shelters] were killing animals,” she said.

Adoption inspires nurse’s new mission

Frustrated by what she saw, Ms Aukland traveled to the United States for the next three years to attend an annual animal welfare conference.

“These people had programs in place, optimized the welfare of the animals in their care, and had savings rates of over 90%,” she said.

But it was when she saw a presentation by Ryan Clinton — a lawyer and activist who led a campaign to make Austin, Texas, the largest US city to rescue 90% of all animals from shelters — that Mrs. Aukland knew she had to make a change. back home.

Lucy and Mrs Aukland.

Lucy’s adoption inspired Ms Aukland to get deeper into the management of animal shelters in South Africa. Source: Supplied

Following his advice, Ms Aukland contacted and began working with SA Greens upper house member Tammy Franks to draft a bill to improve the operation of animal shelters in the state.

“Many drafts later it became the Statutes Amendment Bill 2020 (Animal Welfare Reforms) or Lucy’s Law,” she said.

20 animals killed every day in SA

In an attempt to find out exactly how many animals are killed each year, the nurse filed documents asking for statistics from South Australia’s two main shelters – RSPCA SA and Animal Welfare League SA.

“Over a period of six years, the two main shelters admitted 108,881 dogs and cats and killed 43,943,” she wrote in her submission to Parliament, meaning 20 animals are killed a day, including holidays and weekends.

“Forty percent of those animals didn’t make it out alive.

“The annual reports of the RSPCA SA and the AWL SA between 2013 and 2019 show an average death rate of 7,323 per year.”

A cat left abandoned on an Adelaide property.  Source: AAP/RSPCA SA

Data shows that approximately 20 shelter animals are killed in South Africa daily, including public holidays and weekends. Source: AAP/RSPCA SA

However, South Australians buy more than 16,000 dogs and cats each year from channels other than animal shelters, according to additional data in the submission.

At a 2020 joint committee on the bill, RSPCA SA chief executive Paul Stevenson told MPs it cost $2million a year to remove stray animals from various areas of the council .

According to minutes of the meeting seen by Yahoo News Australia, when asked if the councils had come up with any alternative solutions to help manage stray cats and dogs, Mr Stevenson said he had “massively met with the response: “Just euthanize them.” We don’t want to pay for relocation.

How would Lucy’s Law help?

Ms Aukland said Lucy’s Law – due to be introduced for voting later this year – will save the lives of thousands of dogs and cats by improving the adoption process and rate.

“Adopting a dog from a shelter saves two lives. The life of the animal you adopt and the cage space you create helps another animal receive care and find a home,” she said.

“If shelters are at capacity, why is adoption so difficult?

“I’m not talking about releasing animals inappropriately, but if someone walks into a shelter to adopt, they should leave with an animal.”

Ms Aukland holds the bill while standing alongside Tammy Franks and Dr Susan Close, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Environment,

Ms Aukland stands alongside Tammy Franks and Dr Susan Close, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Environment, on the day the select committee’s final report was read in Parliament. Source: Supplied

Ms Aukland said common restrictive adoption practices include: mandatory background checks, mandatory home inspections, veterinary reference checks, income information and refusal to approve people with children or full-time workers. time.

“Shelters can be safe, humane and effective without all the barriers to adoption,” she added.

“Shelters use the term ‘impulse buy’ to create the misleading term that the potential adopter doesn’t really want the animal and will undoubtedly return it later.

“First, there is no impulse buying because you have to drive at least 30 minutes to get to a shelter and second, they always take appointments.

“You don’t go out for a liter of milk and come back with a puppy.”

The bill also highlights:

  • Create a code of practice for animal shelters and rescue organizations

  • Require all animal statistics and data to be included in annual reports

  • Increased prosecutorial powers for animal cruelty cases

  • Introduction of reporting requirements and provisions for the Greyhound industry

Sadly, Lucy died in 2018 of liver failure, but Ms Aukland hopes her profound impact will last throughout the lives of her four-legged friends.

RSPCA SA responds to the bill

A spokesperson for the RSPCA SA told Yahoo News Australia that it supports the principles behind the bill – more regulation and quality control for organizations supporting animal rescues and greater transparency for those undertaking the euthanasia of dogs and cats.

“RSPCA SA has been publishing our annual statistics publicly for over 20 years and now reaches 9 out of 10 animals found at home,” she said.

“Euthanasia is only performed when it is in the best interest of the animal because of its medical problems and prognosis, or when the behavior of the animal cannot be changed sufficiently to the point that the animal can be brought to safety in the community.

“We are a responsible placement organization and public safety is a priority. »

As a stand-alone document, the RSPCA SA spokesman said the bill had “considerable merit”.

“However, as the new government is committed to a comprehensive review of animal welfare law, we suggest it is best to wait now and incorporate these changes into a wider improvement of animal welfare legislation in South Australia.”

Yahoo News Australia has contacted AWL SA for comment.

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