They are the cases that shocked even our most experienced inspectors.
As we throw open our animal cruelty case files for the first time ever, we’ve asked RSPCA South Australia’s small team of nine inspectors which of the 70 cases prosecuted in 2017-18 hit them hardest.
We know these stories are heartbreaking, and so difficult to read.
But we truly believe that it’s only by exposing the level of chronic animal cruelty and neglect within our state that animal lovers can help us – the only charity with inspectors empowered to take legal action against animal abuse offenders – in our fight to combat cruelty.
Case #1: Arthritic Beagle left to waste away in Munno Para backyard
It was the agonised, non-stop howling that alerted passers-by to a tragedy slowly unfolding in a Munno Para backyard.
Maddy the 11-year-old Beagle had developed such severe arthritis that her back legs had completely seized up, leaving her unable to walk.
Her family, noticing her condition and realising she could no longer climb their back stairs to reach her bed, had simply placed Maddy on their back lawn, out in the open without any shelter at all.
But worse was yet to come. By the time RSPCA South Australia Inspector Cheryl arrived, in January 2017, Maddy’s hindquarters had become completely infested with maggots.
“It was just horrendous,” Inspector Cheryl says. “She hadn’t been able to walk because her arthritis was so bad. So she’d collapsed and been urinating on herself, which created moisture and brought in the maggots.
“She was just being eaten alive by maggots. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
Inspector Cheryl promptly scooped Maddy up and took her straight to an emergency veterinarian.
“She cried the whole way to the vet in the back of my van. It was heartbreaking just hearing her. Beagles aren’t really vocal dogs so she must have been in such pain,” Inspector Cheryl recalls.
“Her owner admitted that she had heard Maddy crying all night. She worked, her partner had a job, so they had the means to take Maddy to the vet. They just didn’t. It’s incredibly difficult to understand.”
Veterinarians had no choice but to immediately euthanase poor old Maddy, finally freeing her from weeks of pain and suffering.
In May 2018, the prosecution case against Maddy’s owner was heard in Elizabeth Magistrates Court.
The defendant was convicted of aggravated neglect and received a four-month suspended prison sentence. She was given a 15-month good behaviour bond, was ordered to pay $1,340 in legal and veterinary costs, and was banned indefinitely from owning all animals aside from one already in her care.
“I see a lot of horrendous things in my job, but not such blatant cruelty where people are aware of something so serious and they just walk away,” Inspector Cheryl says. “It beggars belief.”
Case #2: Six dogs trained for brutal canine fighting blood sport
We’d held suspicions for months. But it was only after a tip off to our 24-hour cruelty hotline that we were able to secure a warrant – and what our inspectors found inside the Hillcrest property in February 2017 was simply shocking.
Six aggressive dogs, many bearing scars from vicious fights, were chained in the backyard. Inside the house: blatant evidence of a systematic effort to train deadly aggression into each dog.
“We were definitely all quite shocked at just how much evidence there was and how out in the open it was,” RSPCA South Australia Inspector Kristy recalls.
“We seized injectable anabolic steroids and a lot of other prescription drugs, plus a range of equipment obviously used to condition dogs to fight to the death. For example, we found electric shock collars, used to create inter-dog aggression, and several treadmills, which the dogs were forced to run on while bound with weights.
“The dogs themselves had scars across their faces, ears, neck and front legs, and even down their back legs, all obviously caused by fighting.”
Over the next six months, Inspector Kristy began building South Australia’s first case against organised dog fighting, spending countless hours collecting more evidence from two mobile phones and a laptop seized during the property raid.
Meanwhile, the six dogs were quarantined in our Lonsdale shelter – their dangerous nature wrought large when one dog attacked an RSPCA staff member, leaving her hospitalised for days.
“It was really difficult, because while they sometimes seemed like quite friendly dogs, they’d been bred, trained and conditioned to attack,” Inspector Kristy says.
“They were unlike any dogs we’ve ever dealt with before. We simply couldn’t trust them. There was no way of knowing if a wrong movement or word was a cue they’d be trained to and would lead to an attack.”
Heart-breakingly, RSPCA had no option but to humanely euthanase all six dogs as they posed such a danger to the community.
In April 2018, the case was finally heard in Adelaide Magistrates Court, where the dogs’ former owner Benn Hamilton was convicted of 12 charges related to organised dog fighting. He was sentenced to seven months’ jail and banned from owning animals indefinitely.
That landmark win became the first successful prosecution under amendments to SA’s Animal Welfare Act enacted in October 2015.
“It’s just such a sad case. These dogs were not like normal pets. They’d basically been trained to become dangerous machines,” Inspector Kristy says.
Case #3: Kitten with crushed hind legs ignored for at least two weeks
It’s hard to imagine the terrible pain little Duct Tape must have endured – and he was only a baby, just 12 weeks old.
Seized by RSPCA Inspector Verity from a Marion household in May 2016, Duct Tape was in truly awful condition. His owner told Inspector Verity that the kitten had been squashed beneath a recliner chair at least two weeks earlier – she claimed she had not sought veterinary treatment as she could not afford it.
“It was an accident; but they heard him cry out as he was injured and just didn’t do anything about it,” Inspector Verity recalls. “This poor kitten had no control of it’s back end, so it just had urine and faeces all over him, which had just soaked into his skin. It smelt absolutely awful.
“He was such a sweet little kitten, but he was just dragging himself along by the front paws. It was pitiful. Just pitiful.”
Inspector Verity rushed Duct Tape to an emergency veterinarian, who determined there was no option but to humanely euthanase Duct Tape to end his suffering.
“It’s so sad,” Inspector Verity says. “At the very least, immediate veterinary attention could have prevented Duct Tape from several weeks of suffering.”
Duct Tape’s former owner faced Adelaide Magistrates Court on February 8, 2018, pleading guilty to failing to mitigate harm.
She received a 12-month good behaviour bond, was ordered to pay $1313 in veterinary and court costs, and was banned from owning animals indefinitely. The magistrate opted not to record a conviction.
Says Inspector Verity: “I was just astounded that a whole houseful of people had watched this poor kitten struggling in pain and awful distress for several weeks, but had done nothing.
“I was gobsmacked at the lack of empathy for a living, feeling being.”
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In each of these cases, it was only thanks to members of the public, who called RSPCA South Australia, that our inspectors were alerted and able to act.
Ordinary South Aussies truly do have the power to help us prevent and stop animal suffering. Please join us by promising to stand up, speak out and take action against animal cruelty – take our Combat Cruelty pledge today.