A woman whose Labrador endured what RSPCA South Australia’s chief veterinarian described as “an unimaginably long and painful death” was convicted in the Christies Beach Magistrates Court this week of an aggravated animal cruelty offence.
The 39-year-old woman pleaded guilty and was convicted on one charge of ill-treatment on an animal in relation to a 10-year-old dog, named Rocky. A warrant has been issued for a second defendant in the case, a 39-year-old man who failed to attend a court hearing on the matter this month.
An RSPCA South Australia inspector found Rocky deceased in the backyard of the couple’s Mitchell Park property on 5 August 2019. The male defendant advised the inspector that the dog had died the previous day.
The inspector observed the dog to be in an extremely emaciated state. A subsequent post mortem examination determined that the cause of death was emaciation and dehydration associated with a malignant tumour in the dog’s rear right hind leg. The ulcerated and maggot-infested tumour had severely swollen the affected leg, making it grotesquely deformed from the hock to the paw. It had also metastasised and spread to the dog’s internal organs.
The court heard that the woman received veterinary advice on 13 March 2019 (five months prior to the dog’s death) that the condition was incurable. Treatment options were discussed, but the dog was never taken back to the vet again.
The woman stated she was aware that the dog needed to be euthanased by June 2019, when the disease had progressed. She stated that she could smell that the tumour had become septic around 18 July 2019. Despite his deteriorating condition, the dog was not provided with any pain relief in the last five months of his life.
RSPCA South Australia Chief Veterinarian Dr Brad Ward stated the dog would have suffered significant pain due to the physical pressure of such a large, septic growth on his leg, and concluded that the dog had starved to death.
Dr Ward stated that the dog’s owners should have sought euthanasia when the animal first showed signs of discomfort.
“This was a huge tumour, first noticed on the dog’s leg by this woman in February 2019,” Dr Ward said.
“Instead of humanely euthanasing their dog, these owners chose to leave him to suffer the full burden of a severe disease process for five months, with no pain relief whatsoever. It is a truly shocking case of an animal suffering from neglect, one of the worst that I have seen.”
Magistrate Teresa Anderson described the circumstances of the dog’s death as “appalling”.
“The dog was emaciated, the leg was swollen and deformed. It was obvious to everybody, especially you as you are nurse-trained. If you are going to be the carer of an animal, you need to make sure the animal does not suffer. This animal suffered a terrible death.”
Magistrate Anderson sentenced the woman to three weeks’ imprisonment, suspended on condition of good behaviour for 12 months. She is prohibited from owning any animals until further order, other than a cat currently in her custody (subject to the animal being microchipped and desexed within four weeks of the order).