Hawkesbury Council has defended its actions over $175,000 worth of donations received to upgrade the city’s animal shelter, in light of a petition calling for an explanation as to when and how the funds will be spent.
Started by shelter volunteer Louise Keighran, the petition has attracted more than 1,500 signatures since it went live on change.org just over a week ago.
In January this year, $100,000 was bequeathed to the shelter from the estate of deceased Windsor resident Anna Zylstra. The funds, along with a number of other donations, have been placed in a trust fund by the council to upgrade the shelter.
However, Ms Keighran is concerned about the length of time it is taking for the money to be used, and the fact animals in the shelter have not had an improvement to conditions.
“Nine months [after the $100,000 donation] zero money has been spent on upgrading the facility, the dogs unfortunate enough to find themselves impounded through winter have suffered through sub-zero temperatures in a concrete and brick shelter, often with nothing more than a plank of plywood to lie on,” Ms Keighran’s petition stated. “In our opinion, this is a slap in the face to Anna, whose dying wishes have not been honoured.
“This is a call to action to Hawkesbury Council to provide an adequate response to the many concerned community members as to how and when the $100k will be spent on upgrading the facility and why there has been such an extensive delay in commencing works.”
Council’s general manager, Peter Conroy, stated concept plans for the shelter’s upgrade had been prepared, which provided for an increase in the total number of cats and dogs that could be accommodated as well as improvements in the quality of the accommodation.
“Whilst council has been receiving donations since 2017, there has been no delay in the works,” he stated. “Before spending such a large quantity of donated money, it is appropriate to ensure that all relevant matters are considered.
“While the existing kennels are constructed primarily of concrete and brick, dogs are provided with bedding raised above the floor, which includes blankets in winter and cooling mats in summer.”
Council’s Hawkesbury Companion Animal Shelter Working Group – made up of shelter volunteers, rescue group representatives, council staff, and councillors Danielle Wheeler and Peter Reynolds – have reviewed the plans and met with vets “to discuss management practices at the shelter”, he said.
Ms Keighran has expressed concerns over the availability of minutes from the working group, however Cr Wheeler said the minutes don’t come before council due to the fact it was a working group rather than a committee, and were available through the group’s members.
The group had seen the plans in May and come back with revisions, and local vets Rob Zammit and Greg Thompson have had input into them, she said.
While there was no requirement to put the plans on public exhibition, Hawkesbury Council had to approach neighbouring Hills, Penrith and Hornsby over the plans, as the shelter takes in animals from all four Local Government Areas (LGAs), she said.
“There is no grand conspiracy here,” Cr Wheeler told the Gazette. “The whole point was to shine a light on the practices of the companion animal shelter.
“The big clincher [in relation to the timeframe] is we have to go to the neighbouring councils that use the shelter and ask them to contribute. We can’t afford to do everything that we and everyone else wants us to do, and we are now going to Penrith, Hills and Hornsby to ask them what they are willing to contribute.
“We are currently subsidising these councils for their animals because we don’t want to kill them. We could impound them for the period they [the other councils] pay us for, but we don’t; we keep them until they’re rehomed. It’s really expensive.”
More than 50 per cent of dogs – or more than 1,450 animals – arriving at the shelter were from the Penrith area alone in the 2016/17 financial year, with 878 coming from the Hawkesbury.
The shelter rehomes 97 per cent of dogs, and currently has “15 empty kennels thanks to increased rehoming, most likely due in part to increased promotion using Facebook, marketing and media”, council stated.
But Ms Keighran maintains the working group had “achieved minimal outcomes … since their inception”.
“The only advances I am aware of are implementing the ‘dog of the week’ promotion which, given the pound do not have a Facebook page, is poorly advertised; increased the Sunday opening hours by half an hour … to 7am to 9.30, which is still dismally inadequate; and introduced the requirement for staff to walk dogs daily, which should have already been happening to meet the pound’s duty of care,” she said. “The pound currently has more empty kennels than its usual brimming at capacity due to increased social media activity. This is solely and entirely due to rescue groups and volunteers advertising the animals on Facebook. They are completely reliant on others doing their job for them.”
Cr Wheeler said the working group was “fully aware of how much rescue organisations do”.
“We couldn’t rehome 97 per cent of dogs without rescue organisations,” she said. “We know we have got holes and we know we have to fix them, that’s why we have got the working group.
“We know [the Sunday opening hours] are not adequate … [and] we are currently looking at at least moving that window.”
Cr Peter Rynolds said council was “trying to be open” with the process.
“We’re not trying to hide anything at all,” he said. “This lady [Anna Zylstra] left this money to improve things and we are obviously trying to do the best possible job.
“We could just build another besser brick block but is we are going to do it, let’s do it right. Let’s make other councils kick the can.
“But all things take time. We need it to last into the future.”