Bourke Shire Council, in New South Wales, are said to have killed the animals to prevent volunteers from the shelter, based in Cobar, from travelling across the state to pick up the animals last week and potentially spreading the virus.
The Office of Local Government (OLG), a government watchdog agency, told the Sydney Morning Herald the council claimed it was “protecting its employees and community” from the risk of Covid-19 transmission. A spokesman for the OLG said officials were investigating whether any animal cruelty rules had been broken.
A source told the newspaper that the shelter volunteers had put Covid-safe measures in place to handle the dogs, one of which was reportedly a new mother.
Health officials said there have been no recent locally acquired Covid-19 cases in Cobar, although fragments of the virus have been found in the area’s sewage system.
The decision has sparked fury among animal rights campaigners. “We are deeply distressed and completely appalled by this callous dog shooting and we totally reject the council’s unacceptable justifications that this killing was apparently undertaken as part of a COVID- safe plan,” said Lisa Ryan, Animal Liberation’s regional campaign manager, who called for an investigation.
New South Wales is currently in lockdown following a surge in cases driven by the Delta variant. On Monday, the state recorded 818 new infections – a 71 per cent increase on the 478 reported a week ago.
However, animal shelters have been allowed to continue to operate in New South Wales during lockdown, so long as they have adequate restrictions in place to stem the spread of the virus.
Last week, a lockdown in Sydney was extended until at least the end of September.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison hinted on Sunday the country’s ‘Zero Covid’ strategy for containing the virus may soon have to end due to the higher transmissibility of the Delta variant.
He said: “(The lockdowns) are sadly necessary for now, and we will keep providing health and income support to get people through, but they won’t be necessary for too much longer.”
Mr Morrison said the government’s priorities would shift “to actually looking at how many people are becoming seriously ill and requiring hospitalisation”.
The Independent contacted Bourke Shire Council for comment. Rural Outback Respite/Rescue centre, which was due to receive the dogs, declined to comment.