By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
Whittlesea resident Kerry Bonnici will receive a $1000 prize from Dairy Farmers’ Here’s To Good campaign for her work rescuing and rehoming thousands of dogs.
Her not-for-profit Australian K9 Rescue Victoria has rescued more than 2000 dogs, as well as several cats, horses and about 60 ex-battery hens, since the operation started in 2018, bolstered by the tremendous demand for puppies and dogs early in lockdown last year.
“It was insane,” Ms Bonnici said.
“[Before COVID], say for example we had big bully breeds that weren’t great with other dogs, we would have so many challenges finding them homes.”
She said every dog listed for adoption last year, whether they were young or old, would receive an overwhelming response from her more than 60,000 Facebook followers.
K9 Rescue collects abandoned dogs from pounds, organises them any medical treatment they need, desexes them and finds them a permanent home through a rigorous application process.
Rather than the dogs being kept on her property in shelters or cages like some other pounds or rescue organisations, the dogs are kept in foster homes across Melbourne’s northern fringe.
“We take them out of the pound and they go and live with the families, and we desex them, we vaccinate them, we get the groomed, we get them health checked, we take cancers out, we fix broken legs, whatever we do,” Ms Bonnici said.
“The [foster carers] look after them and when they’re all better we adopt them out to a new home.”
Ms Bonnici has a network of more than 60 families who donate their time to look after dogs – usually about 70 at a time – when they can.
“I was amazed to be recognised personally for the work, [but] it shows what an amazing team of foster carers I have, because the reality is I couldn’t do what I do without the people around me. I can only hold so many dogs here,” she said.
Ms Bonnici was nominated for the prize by a South Morang foster carer in her network, Chantelle Lambourn.
“I immediately thought of Kerry because she just gives up her entire life to do this and it’s rewarding,” Ms Lambourn said.
“It just breaks your heart to think people just dump these poor little things.”
Ms Bonnici said her ultimate goal was for her organisation to no longer be needed, but a number of factors, including unregulated breeders, had created a major animal welfare issue.
“Backyard breeders will just sell a puppy to anyone, they don’t care about where it’s going, they don’t care about whether it’s the right fit,” she said.
“It’s not just about breeding, it’s also about the responsible ownership of the dog.
“Anybody can get a dog. We have a really stringent process with our dogs … and people think it’s really harsh, but we’ve got to think about the dog and, will you be suitable for the dog?”
While she said ethical breeders were needed to keep breeds alive, she said there needed to be laws requiring every dog owner, not registered breeders, to provide mandatory desexing to prevent unwanted puppies.
“If you have a dog having two litters a year of 10 puppies over eight years, that’s 160 puppies. Say 50 per cent of them are going to be girls, so they’re going to have puppies. And that’s what the problem is. Unless we get the desexing done, we’re going to continue to need rescues,” Ms Bonnici said.
However, the more pressing issue for Ms Bonnici is a phenomenon she has never seen before.
“We call them COVID puppies’,” she said.
“So they’re puppies that were bought at the start of COVID, people spent so much time with them, they never left them alone, and now they’re back at work, the puppies are now one year old and are not used to be being left alone so they become destructive.
“They cry, they bark, and now [the owners] don’t want them anymore so they end up at the pound.”
Ms Bonnici said she was currently trying to manage an influx of dogs and puppies that need rehoming, but at the same time encouraged owners to do their research about a particular breed – and breeder – before investing in a puppy.
To temporarily foster or permanently adopt a dog in need, or to donate, visit australiank9rescuevic.org.au.