Fact check: RSPCA South Australia’s seizure of 10 adult border collie dogs

March 31, 2019

RSPCA South Australia wishes to provide context to a very sad situation regarding 10 beautiful but severely mentally damaged border collie dogs currently in our care.

The case is currently before the Murray Bridge Magistrates Court, and therefore we unfortunately cannot legally nor ethically discuss the evidence in full detail until such time as the case finalises.

But we can confirm that the dogs were seized by RSPCA inspectors in October 2018 from a property within the Southern Mallee District Council region, in the state’s east.

Why did RSPCA South Australia attend?

Inspectors executed a warrant in response to a report about a number of animals being kept in poor conditions at the property of dog breeders Colin Ross and Kerrie Fitzpatrick.

What was found at the property?

Inspectors found almost 300 dogs at this property. That number of dogs far exceeds the breeders’ council-issued license permitting a maximum of 100 dogs to be kept on the property.

The dogs were being kept in small and overcrowded cages – it’s suspected they had been in this captivity for their whole lives.

There was no evidence that these dogs received any enrichment or exercise. They were being used as part of a large-scale commercial puppy breeding operation.

How many border collies were removed from the property?

RSPCA inspectors seized 10 adult dogs from the property – those considered to be in the worst condition, exhibiting the most chronic behavioural issues and mental suffering. Some of these dogs were pregnant and later had puppies while in RSPCA care.

For the past five months, the seized dogs have received ongoing attention from our 13-member veterinary team, along with extensive behavioural monitoring and modification training from qualified animal behaviourists at our Lonsdale animal care centre.

Our staff have also been looking for any small indication that these adult dogs are capable of trusting and relating to humans.

To help animals transition to life as family pets, we do put them into foster care whenever possible, until they are adopted. Sadly, while foster care has been possible for most of the puppies, it has not been possible for the adult dogs due to their chronic anxiety and unpredictable behaviour.

What will happen to the adult border collies?

Dogs in RSPCA’s care are assessed by qualified RSPCA animal behavioural staff using a national protocol developed with the assistance of experts from the USA.

On top of regular and ongoing assessments made by our own staff, an independent and external veterinary behavioural expert has assessed the dogs twice.

We are now awaiting the results of a third independent expert behavioural report on each of the dogs, conducted by one of Australia’s leading dog behaviourists, before making a decision on the best course of action.

We would like nothing more than for these dogs to live the remainder of their lives in a stress-free and caring home environment.

It is a very sad fact, however, that it appears that many of these dogs are just too severely mentally damaged to ever make that possible. Most of the 10 dogs are now extremely fearful of humans and avoid any form of interaction. Their behaviour is highly erratic and unpredictable. This makes the dogs a significant risk to the safety of humans and other animals.

We know that, with a lot of time and care, many dogs rescued from puppy farms are capable of being rehabilitated. We have and do take this course of action in many cases. However, not all dogs can be rehabilitated – some are just too damaged and moving them to new environments just prolongs their chronic anxiety and suffering.

It must be remembered that these 10 border collies were seized because they were assessed as experiencing the worst mental suffering of the 300 dogs on the property.

Nonetheless we are seeking the best possible external expertise in assisting to make this difficult decision.

While a decision on each dog has not yet been made, it is possible that some or all of these dogs may unfortunately need to be humanely euthanased.

Why can’t RSPCA release the border collies to other rescue groups?

As a responsible rehoming organisation, RSPCA South Australia is committed to only rehoming animals that are safe to be placed in the community.

Last financial year, local councils received more than 2200 reports of dog attacks/harassment in South Australia. More than 350 victims of these attacks required hospital admission. RSPCA will not adopt or release any animal that is found to represent a risk to the community. This is our obligation to – and the expectation of – the broader South Australian public.

We do rehome more than 4,500 animals every year, including over 700 dogs. Our staff are extremely experienced in caring for animals and are supported by nearly 500 skilled and experienced foster carers.

RSPCA appreciates the offers from well-intentioned rescue organisations to take these dogs. However, it is not a question of needing to find people who would be prepared to take them.

We already have very experienced foster carers who could be called upon if the dogs were capable of benefitting from housing in a domestic environment, and were safe to do so. Unfortunately neither is the case. The dogs’ behaviour indicates that they’ve had little or no experience of life outside a cage. Hence, they have likely never enjoyed the usual human interaction and socialisation received by family pets.

The professional advice RSPCA has received to date indicates it would be highly irresponsible and inhumane to place these dogs into foster care or make them available for adoption.

This is a very sad situation for the dogs, for our staff and volunteers who have been caring for them for the past five months, and for anyone who loves animals.

We remain committed to our prosecution of the owners who allegedly subjected these animals to the neglect and cruelty that caused their irrecoverable mental damage.

What about puppies born to the adult border collies?

Several of the seized adult border collies were pregnant and have since had puppies while in RSPCA’s care. Some of these puppies have congenital defects as a result of inbreeding.

The puppies continue to receive expert care and attention from RSPCA’s staff and foster carers.

The puppies currently display no major behavioural issues. All of them have been assessed as suitable for rehoming and RSPCA is confident of finding good homes for every one of them.

Are the dogs’ owners being prosecuted in court?

Dog breeders Colin Ross and Kerrie Fitzpatrick have been formally charged with 17 offences under SA’s Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations, including ill treatment of animals causing serious harm, failure to comply with Animal Welfare Notices and failure to comply with breeding standards.

Both defendants have previously been convicted of dog breeding offences in Victoria.

This South Australian case is ongoing.

In February RSPCA was granted an order by the courts that effectively transferred ownership of these dogs from the defendants to RSPCA. An appeal by Ross and Fitzpatrick against the order was dismissed in Adelaide’s Supreme Court on Friday, March 29. This means the dogs are now legally owned by RSPCA South Australia.

RSPCA is now awaiting the results of a third independent expert behavioural report on each of the adult dogs before making a decision on the best course of action.

Meanwhile, the prosecution case against Ross and Fitzpatrick is continuing in Murray Bridge Magistrates Court. Unfortunately we can’t say anything more at this stage due to legal constraints.

This is a very sad case and has been hard on all of us here at RSPCA. But our team is doing everything we can for these poor dogs to ease the suffering they are experiencing as a result of their past poor treatment.

We will provide members of the public with more information as soon as we are legally able to do so.

How can members of the public identify good puppy breeders?

RSPCA urges South Australians to take caution when buying puppies from breeders to ensure you don’t unwittingly support an irresponsible operation.

Even after cat and dog law changes made in August 2017, the onus still remains on you – the buyer – to be vigilant when checking the integrity of a breeder.

Tips on how to identify responsible breeders can be found here.

Please consider how your words can impact this case

Every volunteer and staff member at the RSPCA works tirelessly with a shared passion for animals. Many of us do unpaid hours and some encounter terrible situations.

Our inspectors, call centre and customer service staff, vet team, animal attendants, volunteers and management are all here for one reason – the animals. The animals are worth every cent, every minute, every heartache and every sleepless night.

We will not falter with name calling and disparaging remarks. The animals are the reason we are here.

Every dollar, every volunteer hour and every limited resource spent on responding to these words or the damage caused by them is time taken away from animals in care and in need.

Sometimes the people we meet do unspeakable things to animals. But others, people who are supposed to be on the side of animals, hurt them by sharing and promoting these untrue and damaging remarks. We urge people to be cautious before commenting on this case as careless comments risk compromising the legal process.

Contact us

Our operations are out in the open. We are accountable. We are required to comply with laws in relation to how we enforce legislation, prosecute, and obtain and spend our money.

Our annual reports, our audited books and our operations on a daily basis are out in the open.

RSPCA South Australia is 90 per cent funded by donations. Every cent earned is spent working for animals. Without donations from the community, we cannot be here to help animals in need.

We welcome questions, we are happy to answer any concerns, and we always strive to do better. 

  • If you have a concern, you can contact us. (But please note that, while the border collie case is currently before the courts, we are unfortunately very limited in what information we can disclose.)
  • If you hear something you don’t like about us, please ask us about it before sharing.

If you love animals, if you genuinely care, then work together with us. No person or organisation is perfect, but together we can overcome any obstacles and make new lives for the animals we care about.

You can also find out more about our inspectorate arm – the only of its kind in South Australia – and how it functions here.

UPDATE: For more information, please see our statement (made on April 3, 2019) and detailed ‘get the facts’ Q&A document.

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