RSPCA calls for stronger animal welfare laws after four animals euthanised

Lachlan Roberts 19 September 2019 23
RSPCA ACT CEO Michelle Robertson

RSPCA ACT CEO Michelle Robertson said a recent court ruling highlighted the need for stronger animal welfare laws and punishments. Photo: File.

Warning: some readers might find photos in this article distressing.

RSPCA ACT said it will continue to advocate for stronger animal welfare laws after a court ruled in favour of a defendant despite four animals in the defendant’s care having to be euthanised.

In April last year, RSPCA inspectors found a number of birds and other animals injured and in poor living conditions at the site of a local business attraction. The inspectors seized two canaries, a rainbow lorikeet, a turkey and two chickens which were in an “appalling condition”, according to RSPCA ACT CEO Michelle Robertson.

Ms Robertson said the injuries to the two chickens, the turkey and one canary were so severe the veterinarian decided the most humane course of action was to euthanise the birds.

Under the existing Animal Welfare Act 1992, charges were laid in relation to four of the animals for “failure to take reasonable steps to provide an animal with appropriate treatment for illness, disease and injury”.

The court proceedings took over a year, with the magistrate eventually ruling in favour of the defendant earlier this month.

Two chickens, a turkey and a canary required euthanasia. Photo: RSPCA ACT.

Currently, there is no legislation or licensing agreement for businesses that own animals and where animals are an integral part of their business, which Ms Robertson believes provides a loophole.

“Even though the defendant was confirmed as the owner of the animals, the responsibility for their care had been delegated to his employees; therefore, the magistrate ruled the defendant had no knowledge of the animals in their appalling condition,” Ms Robertson said.

The surviving canary and rainbow lorikeet were surrendered back to the business earlier this month, which Ms Robertson said was very difficult for RSPCA staff and volunteers.

“Our volunteers and staff nurtured and cared for these birds and brought them back to health,” she said. “One volunteer, in particular, is incredibly dedicated and she has a real heart for our birds. For more than a year, she would come in every week to care for them.

“I spoke to her after the ruling and she was devastated. It is quite difficult because what can I say to her to make it better?”

“We can’t just say these were just a couple of chickens or birds. That is not good enough,” RSCPA CEO Michelle Robertson said. Photo: RSPCA ACT.

If found guilty, the defendant would have received 100 penalty points (one penalty points is $160), imprisonment for one year, or both. Ms Robertson said even if the defendant had been found responsible for the animals’ welfare, the consequences are not strong enough.

“It is so, so rare to see maximum penalties imposed,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to ever happen. We need animal cruelty consequences to be in line with community expectations.

“If it does go to prosecution, there needs to be fair, balanced sentencing but at the moment it seems completely unaligned with what people would expect. Even in extreme circumstances, it seems that there are no real consequences. This is not just an ACT thing, it’s a national thing.

“I don’t want to portray the RSPCA as wanting to stick it to everybody because that is not what it is about. We just want good outcomes for our animals and there needs to be fairness.”

RSPCA inspectors seized two canaries, a rainbow lorikeet, a turkey and two chickens in “appalling condition”. Photo: RSPCA ACT.

On 4 September Ms Robertson wrote to the Ministers of Urban Services Chris Steel to advocate for stronger animal welfare laws, stating there are a number of amendments in the Animal Welfare Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 that could have assisted in a successful prosecution of the case.

“In the Animal Welfare Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, the proposed amendments under Section 16 make it an offence to display animals which are unfit for purpose,” the letter read.

“There is also a new offence under the substituted section 6B which makes it an offence for a person in charge of an animal to ‘fail to give the animal care that is appropriate for the animal’s wellbeing’.”

Ms Robertson said the proposed amendments to the Animal Welfare Legislation will help the RSPCA when it is passed.

“We need to continue to advocate for stronger animal welfare laws,” Ms Robertson said. “We can’t just say these were just a couple of chickens or birds. That is not good enough. These defenceless animals had no voice and received no justice.”

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23 Responses to RSPCA calls for stronger animal welfare laws after four animals euthanised
Barbara Belmonte Barbara Belmonte 2:28 pm 22 Sep 19

Previous comments have a link to the ACT courts.

Cathy Thomas Cathy Thomas 6:46 pm 21 Sep 19

I can guess where it was after a visit last weekend and I didn’t like the conditions now! I would not have gone if I’d known this.

Julie Delves Julie Delves 12:14 pm 21 Sep 19

Time to name and shame this business. That might make the owner take some responsibility for the welfare of his animals.

Spiral Spiral 12:57 pm 20 Sep 19

Completely disgusting.

I wonder if it is really a flaw in the law or a poor interpretation by the judge.

If it is a flaw in the law then it would be good to hear from the government on when the loophole will be closed.

May Mac May Mac 8:55 am 20 Sep 19

"Currently, there is no legislation or licensing agreement for businesses that own animals and where animals are an integral part of their business, which Ms Robertson believes provides a loophole."

How are animals an integral part of the business? If so, they showed themselves incapable of running such a business and should be closed down. If not, they should get on with whatever they actually do and not include animals, and not have been given back the surviving animals. Another example of the gap between legislation / the legal system and justice / common sense. I feel so bad for the staff and volunteers who invested so much care on the animals after the owner and those he delegated to did not. Also for the RSPCA who invested money in trying to get justice.

Lyn Kemp Lyn Kemp 7:17 am 20 Sep 19

Absolutely agree as the law as it stands is totally inadequate. Animals need protection too!!!

Ian Hawke Ian Hawke 6:10 am 20 Sep 19

How does one delegate the responsibility? Surely the responsibility is legally with the one who holds the licence to operate the business?

notdingers notdingers 10:11 pm 19 Sep 19
Rauny Worm Rauny Worm 9:34 pm 19 Sep 19

Go Michelle!!!

Keran Niquet Keran Niquet 9:00 pm 19 Sep 19

Identify the business!

Sue Skinner Sue Skinner 9:00 pm 19 Sep 19

Why won't you post the business name? At least we could make decisions about using that business. Just posting in this manner makes people sad & achieves nothing.

Jennifer Crawford Jennifer Crawford 8:38 pm 19 Sep 19

It would be nice to know the “business” involved, so we can make sure we aren’t supporting this disgusting lack of compassion and care for innocent animals! 🤬🤬🤬

    Andrew Millar Andrew Millar 11:37 am 20 Sep 19

    It’s all in here.

Shannon Blakeden Shannon Blakeden 7:15 pm 19 Sep 19

Why do they bother posting these articles without naming the business

.. it doesn't solve anything

Paula Brewer Paula Brewer 7:08 pm 19 Sep 19

Emma Smith after our conversation this afternoon 😢

Andrea Lloyd Andrea Lloyd 7:01 pm 19 Sep 19

Animal welfare law and penalties need to be so much stronger! The poor defenceless animals need us to protect them not allow them to be abused! How a court could find in favour of this defendant is beyond me! 🤬😥

    May Mac May Mac 9:04 am 20 Sep 19

    I'm struggling to understand the loophole. A private owner of an animal is subject to animal welfare legislation but a business owner of an animal is not? Having a profit-making relationship with an animal exempts one from taking responsibility for its welfare? It can all be made to go away with the simple word 'delegated'? Where does the buck stop?

Dean Koeck Dean Koeck 6:54 pm 19 Sep 19

Tegan Townsend disgusting

    Tegan Townsend Tegan Townsend 11:03 pm 19 Sep 19

    Dean Koeck I'm not even going to click on it cause I know it'll break my heart.

Kerri Hallas Kerri Hallas 6:47 pm 19 Sep 19

Why can’t we name and shame the business. Even if the defendant was found not guilty, you cannot deny negligence and cruelty occurred.

    Lauren Heeney Lauren Heeney 9:16 pm 21 Sep 19

    Read the court document link in the comments

Amanda Adams Amanda Adams 6:29 pm 19 Sep 19

Think we’d all like to no,it’s disgusting that these por animals suffered,everyone needs to no ,otherwise it’s pointless only telling one side of things

Christine Fraser Weatherby Christine Fraser Weatherby 6:19 pm 19 Sep 19

Id be interested as well

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