Major first-time release: RSPCA publicly reveals SA animal cruelty case files

August 26, 2018

For the first time ever, RSPCA South Australia has today thrown open its animal cruelty case files to the public, giving South Australians a no-holds-barred look at the horror of animal suffering occurring every day across our state.

The decision to release RSPCA prosecution case files from the 2017/18 financial year – the first such information release in Australia – is part of a major ‘Combat Cruelty’ media and advertising campaign launched today.

By exposing the scale of chronic animal neglect within SA for the first time, the Society hopes the community will acknowledge the gravity of the situation and help address it.

RSPCA South Australia Chief Inspector Andrea Lewis said an examination of case files from recent years uncovers an “alarming pattern of animal neglect” that – like other serious social issues – can no longer be allowed to remain out of sight and out of mind.

Eight out of 10 (83%) successful court prosecutions related to animal neglect, while only two in 10 (17%) cases involved deliberate cruelty. The main trigger for RSPCA South Australia prosecutions during the 12-month period was starved dogs.

“For the past few years we’ve seen a significant rise in the incidence of starving dogs, whether caused by inadvertent or deliberate neglect, with catastrophic consequences for their animals,” Chief Inspector Lewis said.

“Animals are suffering and dying in homes and backyards from a lack of basic care or nourishment – that’s the tragic reality of what we’re dealing with most often.

“It’s shocking and it’s unnecessary.”

From July 2017 to June 2018, RSPCA South Australia’s team of just nine inspectors investigated 4,077 cruelty reports, with the majority relating to neglect of dogs.

Of the 4,077 reports, 70 cases involving 79 defendants were considered so serious RSPCA Inspectors used their legal power to prosecute under SA’s Animal Welfare Act.

The Catalogue of Cruelty files also revealed:

  • 18 cases resulted in prison terms, with 15 suspended and three immediate
  • The three immediate prison terms were for aggravated cruelty and neglect offences involving organised dog fighting, deliberate dog poisoning and the starvation of two dogs, one of which died.
  • 93% of prosecution cases related to inadequate food, water, living conditions and/or veterinary care – some with fatal consequences (the remaining 7% were for breaches of prohibition orders to own animals).
  • 1,324 animals were seized by, or surrendered to, RSPCA South Australia inspectors as a result of cruelty report investigations.
  • More than half of all animals seized or surrendered were dogs (22%) and cats (31%), with cat hoarding evident in several cases.
  • Inspectors found 83 animals dead on arrival and another 316 were euthanised on humane grounds, due to their extremely poor condition and strong likelihood of ongoing suffering.

While the causes of animal suffering ranged from minor neglect to sickening cruelty, Chief Inspector Lewis said many cases involve people who find themselves unable to care for their animals through no fault of their own. Unsurprisingly, poverty, mental health and social isolation often contribute to animal neglect.

“The neglect cases we’re dealing with fit into three main categories, and the biggest category would be people who have fallen on hard times,” Chief Inspector Lewis said.

“They’re clearly not thinking about their animal’s welfare and are often unrealistic about the number of animals they’re capable of caring for.

“Good animal care requires time, energy, money and knowledge.

“If people find they don’t have these resources, and have no way of acquiring them, then we ask that they find alternate homes for their animals or surrender them to us.

“Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for an animal is to let it go, to let someone else take care of it.

“The second category could be called the ‘puppy syndrome’, where people have fallen in love with a cute puppy but failed to think through their responsibilities towards that animal throughout its whole life.

“The third and most disturbing category is deliberate neglect. Some of the saddest cases we see involve neglect of old animals, at a time in their lives when they most need their owners to step up and provide for their needs.

“Once again, these people had options but instead allowed their animals to suffer, often to a horrific extent.

“The behaviour of these individuals often reflects appalling attitudes towards animals. Sometimes their animals become an outlet for venting their frustrations in life.

“In these cases, where animals have suffered and often died because of wilful neglect or other forms of deliberate cruelty, the most appropriate response is prosecution.”

As part of RSPCA South Australia’s new Combat Cruelty campaign launched today, the Society will tomorrow release new outdoor advertising across Adelaide.

It uses a creative concept developed for The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA ®) by Saatchi and Saatchi.

The advertisements, rolling out via Adshels and bus backs, feature images such as a brick, a washing machine and a cat, along with the tagline: “Whatever you can imagine, we’ve seen worse.”

Drawing on real cases of cruelty reported to RSPCA South Australia, the imagery serves as a reminder of the disturbing situations RSPCA inspectors witness daily.

Combat Cruelty campaign Facebook banner

Throughout the Combat Cruelty campaign, a series of stories about animals saved from abuse and neglect will be told across RSPCA South Australia’s social media channels and website.

These stories from the coalface provide a first-time window on the function and unique challenges of the inspectorate.

One of the campaign’s priorities is to equip people with information so they can recognise and help prevent cruelty. As a first step, all South Australians are encouraged to take the RSPCA’s new Combat Cruelty pledge at www.combatcruelty.com.

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