POLL: Debate over RSPCA 'temp test'

DEBATE over a "temperament test" that determines whether dogs kept at NSW RSPCA shelters are rehomed or euthanised has erupted in the Hunter.

Animal rescue groups are calling the tests unfair and harsh and want NSW RSPCA to decrease euthanasia rates, now at about 40 per cent statewide.

The uproar follows Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell's endorsement last week of the behavioural assessment.

Hunter council pounds at Wyong and Muswellbrook have dramatically decreased euthanised animals to 12 per cent and 4 per cent respectively over the past five years.

Society of Companion Animal Rescuers vice-president David Atwell said the improvements came from the pounds' collaboration with animal rescue groups.

He said he was disappointed with Mr Cornwell's decision to back the tests, given he is chairman of the state government's companion animal taskforce, which was established last year to "reduce the current rate of euthanasia for cats and dogs".

"I don't think he's [Cornwell] actually read the temperament test," Mr Atwell said.

"We've been trying to get on the companion animal taskforce since August last year. We [animal rescue groups] probably rehome just as many animals as the RSPCA."

NSW RSPCA released its temperament test guideline last week after continued resistance to rescue groups' requests. Dogs are marked negatively for jumping, barking or becoming startled at sudden noises.

"It only has to cower in the corner of a cage or growl when responding to an unknown person and they can fail," Mr Atwell said.

Yet Mr Cornwell, who is a veterinarian is adamant the test is essential to ensure dogs with behavioural issues are not let loose on the community.

"I fully support temperament testing, it is absolutely essential. The RSPCA's temperament test is rigorous and fair," he said.

"There needs to be testing for the primary reason that if one dog passes a temperament test and bites a little child, it's a disaster.

"We are there to reduce euthanasia rates but we're not going to do that by putting the community at risk."

Sue Barker, founder of Dog Rescue Newcastle, is equally insistent that she has never rehomed a dog that has bitten someone or attacked another dog.

She believes Hunter councils should cancel contracts with NSW RSPCA if they cannot decrease euthanasia rates.

"Their charter is not to run council pounds, it is to prevent cruelty of animals," she said.

"They're trying to get funds from council pounds. Councils should expect the RSPCA to perform but it is not. They pack off their animals to the RSPCA and do not care about the outcome."

NSW RSPCA chief executive Steve Coleman said criticism over the temperament test was unfounded and said the organisation was committed to the welfare of animals and potential owners.

He said each test's results depended on individual cases.

"We might put an animal through a test two or three times over a few months. Though sometimes we don't

"It's [euthanasia] an ethical dilemma we struggle with every day. But the last thing we want to do is place an animal back out in the community and it injures another animal, child or elderly person," Mr Coleman said.

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