HOW many dogs are there out in the community that aren’t registered?
Who knows? Dozens, possibly hundreds.
But with the cost of registering a dog, including working dogs, going up from $49.20 to $50.40 this year in the South Gippsland Shire, as compared to Bass Coast’s $36, is it any wonder that some farmers and the owners of multiple dogs get tempted to avoid paying for each and every dog they own.
Dogs that aren’t de-sexed cost $145.49 ($149.05 in 2016-17) to register.
There’s also the more serious issue of people running illegal dog breeding operations, or ‘puppy farms’, which have become the flavour of the month for shire compliance officers since the State Government cracked-down on the problem, with its new code of practice in July 2015.
And with good reason in many cases.
Dealing with complaints about dogs and various breaches by dogs and their owners is one of a shire’s key responsibilities. And it’s often tough to get to the root of a problem where stock might be being killed or harassed but compliance issues aside, there’s a lot of money involved for cash-strapped municipalities.
The South Gippsland Shire Council alone is expecting to collect $386,877 from animal fees and charges in the 2016-17 financial year.
So, whether there’s a money-making component or it’s principally an important compliance task, local shires have redoubled their efforts to get all local cats and dogs on their books, and along the way, they are also cracking down on dog breeders and others flouting the law.
Unfortunately, according to Welshpool kelpie breeder and trainer, Paul Macphail, the rigorous effort is having a detrimental impact on some law-abiding farmers.
“The shire has got a job to do, for sure, but they’ve also got their Compliance and Enforcement Policy which sets the standard for how they go about it,” Mr Macphail said.
Part of that policy reads:
“The policy aims to ensure that Council’s officers exercise their discretion in relation to unlawful activity in an appropriate manner and that Council’s resources to deal with unlawful activity are appropriately allocated and in a manner consistent with the public interest.”
The policy also highlights “education” as a key theme ahead of compliance and enforcement: “Council will use various means to increase the community’s awareness of Council administered and enforced legislation they are required to conform to and discourage future breaches”.
Mr Macphail, who operates a registered working dog breeding and training stud, as a sideline to his grazing business at Welshpool, supports the shire’s compliance policy and also the State Government’s code.
His Beloka Kelpies business is registered with Dogs Victoria, he’s been a member of the Australian Working Kelpies Council since the 1990s and has operated a kelpie stud since 1992.
His dogs often feature at the preeminent working dogs’ auction in Australia, during the Kelpie Muster at Casterton in June.
And he also pays the required fees to the shire.
But he is concerned that the South Gippsland Shire Council has become overly zealous in its pursuit of dog owners.
So much so that he has made a formal complaint, and also met with the shire CEO Tim Tamlin and mayor Cr Bob Newton, to discuss the issue.
[Mr Tamlin has told the Sentinel-Times that the complaint was unsubstantiated].
Mr Macphail says he is just as concerned about reports he has received from others about the shire’s approach to enforcement.
He said the shire came out to his property a couple of years ago for an inspection and made a few suggestions which were complied with.
He said they came back in April this year, and found that while he had 25 dogs registered and paid for (at $49.20 each), they discovered that one dog hadn’t been registered and promptly issued a $300 infringement notice.
They also came on to the property without his permission (they don’t need permission), looked around and took photos.
“We occasionally have the situation where a farmer might like two dogs and he’ll take one on approval but then come back later and say the dog didn’t suit him.
“We offer a guarantee with our dogs, in line the Australian Working Kelpies Council guidelines, and we’ll either take them back or replace them.
“There’s got to be a bit of flexibility with these things, and a reasonable amount of time given to get registrations up to date
“But you get the feeling they’re not trying to help you, they’re trying to take you to court in the first instance,” he said.
Mr Macphail said he had also spoken to other farmers who’d been investigated by the shire over their dogs.
“I got a good hearing from the Mayor and Mr Tamlin but I think they need to be trying to help the dog owners to comply with the regulations first, before they come down on them,” he said.
Mr Macphail said he also had the situation where the shire tried to make him pay the full amount, $145.40 for his dogs, disputing the fact that they were working dogs and instead part of a breeding and training operation.
“They said that because we only had 200 acres, they couldn’t be working dogs and they threatened to take us to court over it.
“It gets to the stage where you wonder if it’s worth it.”
After the meeting, Mr Macphail received a letter from CEO Tim Tamlin, accepting that they were working dogs and applying the reduced fee of $49.20 per animal.
“A lot of farmers don’t have time to train their dogs. We train the dogs and also show them how to use them properly. Of course they’re working dogs,” Mr Macphail insisted.
Several other people contacted by the ‘Sentinel-Times’ say they’ve had similar experiences with shire officers entering their properties and even impounding their dogs while a dispute over registrations or other alleged breaches is sorted out.
Perhaps they’re just doing what they need to do to maintain control in a difficult situation. If you’d like to discuss the issue, go to the Sentinel-Times’ Facebook page where space has been provided for community feedback.