A local government in rural Australia fatally shot dogs that were set to go to an animal shelter in another town over concerns that the shelter’s employees could spread the coronavirus by traveling to pick up the animals.

The Bourke Shire Council, a local government in the remote northwestern part of the state of New South Wales, killed the dogs “to protect its employees and community, including vulnerable Aboriginal populations,” from the coronavirus, according to a statement from the New South Wales Office of Local Government, which oversees the council and other local governments.

There were concerns about “the risk of covid-19 transmission if personnel from an animal rehoming organization in Cobar,” about 125 miles south of Bourke Shire, had to travel to pick up the dogs, the office said.

The office said it is “examining the circumstances surrounding the incident,” including whether the killings may have violated “animal and prevention of cruelty laws.”

The Bourke Shire Council did not respond to a request for comment. “Camp dogs” are often re-homed from Australia’s remote, Indigenous communities to more populous ones. But with the resurgence of the coronavirus in Australia, interactions between rural and urban communities come with heightened fears about potentially spreading the virus.

Those fears are especially clear in Indigenous communities, whose populations have higher levels of chronic health issues and where medical resources are more sparse than in urban centers.

Councils were told in guidance this month from the state government that, per a 1998 law governing pets, “before destroying a seized or surrendered animal they must consider whether there is an alternative action.”

New South Wales is under a lockdown until the end of August, but workers in “animal welfare, care and accommodation services” are authorized to keep working.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that one of the dogs killed recently gave birth and that volunteers from the shelter were distressed by the killings.

More than 4,800 coronavirus cases have been reported in New South Wales in the past week, according to state data, as parts of Australia endure restrictions amid an outbreak fueled by the delta variant.

Still, Bourke, where the dogs were killed, has recorded a total of seven coronavirus cases, while Cobar, where the shelter employees were located, has recorded only one case, according to government data.

The New South Wales office said that local governments were “encouraged to continue to work with rehoming organizations and volunteers to care for animals” when possible while following coronavirus protocols.

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