When the law lets us be cruel

Source, Rafael Castillo
RSPCA inspector are often unable to remove animals from their owners, despite evidence of increasing mistreatment in 50,000 homes they visit each year. Olivia King reports.

Jesse the American Pit-bull cross is tied up in the backyard of a run-down home.

All he’s got is a small area in which to walk around, the concrete beneath his paws, a tiny bit of shelter, a bowl of water and some food.

Unfortunately for Jesse, his sad and lonely conditions meet the minimum requirements before an RSPCA inspector can seize an animal from its owner.

But some say this is just not right. “Dogs can’t be left in a situation where they just have the bare minimum,”says  Gisborne veterinarian, Dr Russell Dyer. “Being confined for long periods of time does damage to the dog physically and emotionally, and it also makes it easier for them to get sick and contract disease.”

Jesse is by no means alone in this predicament. Each year inspectors are called out to an average 50,000 animal owner’s homes to assess their pet’s living conditions, according to the RSPCA’s latest poll, and many times they are forced to leave the animals at their home because the law states that an animal only needs shelter, food and water for them to remain with their owner. Other contributing factors come into it, but in many cases the animal’s living conditions fall under the adequate level.

Animal cruelty cases have risen in the last three years, particularly in the ACT; with the RSPCA reporting a 40 per cent rise in 2014. Some of the most bizarre cases include a 26-year-old woman who slaughtered a goat in a Brisbane church as part of a Friday 13 prank, and a man cutting off the ears of his kitten to make him look fierce. Both were prosecuted. The RSPCA has found that abuse often follows when neglect starts, as the respect for animal has already being lost.

Canine and equestrian therapist Lilly Mackay treats animals that have been through trauma. Ms Mackay says the RSPCA and Project Hope do so many good things for animals, but there is a limit.

“I’ve seen horses with terrible feet that have to be left with their owners just with a warning, and it’s not right. If someone isn’t going to properly take care of their animal from the get-go, they shouldn’t be an owner. Some people get animals they don’t even know how to look after.

Horses often fall victim to this. The Project Hope inspectors most of the time have to let them off with some tips to better care for their animal, but in so many cases the animals are neglected again and again.

RSPCA inspectors have the power to seize an animal if it has been intentionally harmed, is terminally ill because of neglect or food,  or water and shelter hasn’t been provided, among other factors. Thousands of animals in Australia are seized from their owners and brought to the RSPCA for treatment and re-adoption. The volunteers and handlers of the RSPCA see some of the more heartbreaking cases come in. However it is always a concern for all the animals that are left in barely adequate conditions.

RSPCA volunteer Brigid Kearney says they see many mistreated animals. “Not all of them can be properly rehabilitated to the point where they can go up for adoption. That’s how bad it can be sometimes.”

“Your heart does go out to the pets that aren’t seized when the inspectors think they really should be. There’s only so much we can do. At the end of the day they belong to those people, even if it’s obvious their quality of life isn’t ideal at all. But the inspectors will do whatever they can for the animal. So if we’re lucky, sometimes the owners will surrender the animals willingly to the inspectors if they know they’re not giving them the best life possible.”

The RSPCA’s report on home and property checks from 2015 estimated that around 20 per cent of the animal owners willingly gave up their pets to the inspectors as they believed they were not giving them the best life possible, and could not in the foreseeable future. The fine line between what is an adequate living condition, and what is a good quality of life, must be determined to ensure all animals, like Jesse the American Pit-bull terrier cross, are being looked after as best they can be.

As animal therapist Lilly Mackay said, “a dog that is locked up all day and doesn’t have much interaction with other dogs, or even humans, can be thought of as semi-neglected. It is not a happy dog. An owner needs to ensure all areas of care necessary for that animal are occurring every day, and not just the bare-minimum.

“Some people think that as long as the animal is eating, sleeping and drinking it’s all right, but most home pets need consistent attention and interaction for them to have truly the best quality of life. That’s the simple fact of it. Too many people rush into getting an animal that they cannot give enough time to. This is something we need to encourage not to happen.”

If you or anyone you know has witnessed animal cruelty, neglect or abandonment please contact the RSPCA immediately on 9224 2222 or head to the RSPCA website to report on line at http://rspcavic.org/services/inspectorate/report-cruelty/