Adelaide Now, July 6 2012
ANIMAL protection authorities are striking back hard at the worst abusers with a four-fold rise in prosecutions in five years.
But the RSPCA is facing a new challenge in the increasing abandonment of animals, which it says is partly caused by rising financial pressures on households.
Figures released to The Advertiser by the RSPCA show there were 2200 public reports of ill-treatment of animals in the last financial year.
Of those, 69 alleged offenders were prosecuted and all but two cases resulted in convictions.
This is a big jump on the 17 prosecutions recorded in 2007-08.
Despite the court successes, the number of animals suffering abuse remains staggeringly high. Among the thousands of cases reported last financial year are allegations a 30kg german shepherd was kept locked in a galah cage measuring 70cm by 70cm by 90cm. Inspectors are also investigating decapitation of a lamb and the deaths of two six-week-old labrador-cross puppies in a sealed garbage bag.
RSPCA chief inspector Simon Richards said the “significant increase” in prosecutions was a result of changes to the Animal Welfare Act in 2008. Under the new Act, fines and prison terms were doubled to a maximum four-year jail term or a $50,000 fine, which encouraged the public to come forward.
“Our penalties are among the highest in the country (and) our prosecution rate is higher than any other state,” Mr Richards said.
“The tougher penalties indicate the public opinion on animal cruelty and how abhorrent it is, and have increased people’s awareness.”
Although investigative techniques had “vastly improved” in recent years, thanks to forensic science, the RSPCA prosecutes just 3 per cent of reported cases.
“A prosecution is not a win for the RSPCA – we’re about prevention,” Mr Richards said. “A small proportion of our cruelty reports result in prosecution and, obviously, there’s an enormous number that don’t – we resolve those issues through education (of alleged offenders). Prosecution is for the worst of the worst … ”
University of SA psychology lecturer Dr Alan Campbell said cruelty could be motivated by revenge or a misplaced sense of “fun”.
“Animals are easy targets … for a period of time they can get off on the killing and when that happens, consequences just go out the window,” he said. “For others, it’s to demonstrate violence (or) the power one has over a family. Killing a family pet demonstrates that (a person) can kill a family.”
Neglect cases, he said, were often borne out of ignorance.
“There may be an understanding that animals can fend for themselves,” he said.
“They believe you should be able to leave them in paddocks to eat grass, or dogs and cats in a pen and chuck some food in there.”