Cooper & Ruby’s story, part 1: Abandoned and starving in SA backyard

September 07, 2018

It’s only because a neighbouring property went up for rent that the plight of Cooper, Ruby and Ralph came to light.

A person inspecting the Port Noarlunga South rental peered over the fence and was shocked to find two terribly emaciated dogs wasting away in the backyard next door. Little did they know, a third starving dog was also trapped alone inside the house.

Thankfully, that person promptly called RSPCA South Australia’s 24-hour cruelty report line on 1300 4 777 22, prompting a chain of events that would eventually lead to some happy endings – and a criminal court case.

Cooper, Ralph and Ruby when seized

The case perfectly illustrates the bulk of work RSPCA South Australia inspectors undertake – eight in 10 cases prosecuted in 2017/18 involved neglect rather than deliberate cruelty. Remember: you have the power to help us prevent such animal suffering. Please take our Combat Cruelty pledge today.

‘The mail was piled up, there was no food or water’

When RSPCA South Australia Inspector Verity arrived at the property in April 2016, she immediately knew the dogs had been abandoned for a prolonged period.

“There was mail all over the front yard, so I was really alarmed. There was no food or water at all on the property, just an old pot by the back door which was empty,” she recalls.

“Ralph and Cooper were so excited for human contact. Normally when they’re that thin, they can be very lethargic. But these guys were so excited to see somebody, they were just running on pure adrenaline – there was nothing else left in them.”

Ralph and Cooper after seizure

Worse yet, Inspector Verity could hear movement inside the deserted house. Cracking open the back door, she was almost bowled over as Ruby the dog burst into freedom.

“The next thing I knew, I had her in my arms,” she recalls. “They were so light that I ended up with all three dogs in my arms. There’s no way I could even pick up Ruby on my own now. But to be able to lift up these three wee dogs and pop them into my cage … they just could not wait to leave with me.”

New forever home: ‘A little old dog for a little old lady’

It was six months before Cooper was well enough to be placed up for adoption. But in October 2016, the aging Staffy cross Bull Terrier matched with nonagenarian Pat.

Cooper with owner Pat Walshe - photo Alex Beckett

“I didn’t want a young dog as I was 91 at the time. He was just so sweet and I thought it was a perfect match … a little old dog for a little old lady,” recalls Pat, who lives at Unley.

“He’s made himself perfectly at home. He has a bed in every room! Actually, he has his own 2-seater couch in the living room, which he kindly shares with his human friends – and, more importantly, with his best friend Ruby the German Short-haired Pointer.

Cooper with friend Ruby - photo Alex Beckett

“He sleeps in my bedroom in a beautiful bed purchased at RSPCA’s Lonsdale shelter.  He has a day bed in the kitchen and a bed under the verandah in the back yard. He loves sitting in the sun on his special mat so he doesn’t get a cold backside, and having treats wherever and whenever possible.”

Pat says she loves Cooper’s sweet nature and his generosity with kisses, and struggles to understand how anyone could harm such an animal.

Cooper before and after

“Thank goodness RSPCA intervened and cared for Cooper so well, and gave him a second chance at life,” she says.

“Having a gorgeous dog like Cooper has given me so much pleasure, so much love.  And the fact that we can share our old age together is very special.”

Sadly, little could be done to save Ralph

Back at RSPCA Lonsdale, our handlers did their best to rehabilitate Ralph, who displayed severe behavioural issues as a result of his past treatment.

He suffered stress and anxiety, which escalated to the high likelihood of biting handlers and children. Very sadly, despite ongoing attempts at specialist behavioural intervention, Ralph continued to pose a danger to the community and sadly had to be euthanased.


“It breaks your heart every time,” Inspector Verity says.

“It’s just not their fault, they didn’t choose to live like that. They depend on us completely and, if they’re given a bad start, they do whatever they need to do to survive.

“Unfortunately, you can’t pass on those bad behaviours and put the community at risk. You also can’t let a dog live in torment for the rest of its life. That’s not saving a dog, that’s prolonging it’s misery. But it doesn’t make it easy.”

So what happened to the other starving dog, Ruby? And was the three dogs’ former owner forced to face a penalty for such blatant neglect? Head to part two of our story to find out. And please, help us prevent animal suffering: take the pledge to Combat Cruelty today.

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