Do we need to toughen our animal cruelty laws?
In a recent case of animal cruelty, Matthew Clement Maloney of Brisbane was found guilty this month after biting the head off a live rate and posting it online where it was viewed hundreds of thousands of times. At the sentencing hearing the magistrate commented that the incident was “narcissistic” and “attention seeking” and sentenced Maloney to community service, as well as banned him from owning a pet for three years. Maloney told reporters he was remorseful for his actions, but he said they were not “that bad.” He said there was “a lot worse he could have done.”
Maloney was ultimately sentenced to 100 hours of community service.
In the worst case of animal cruelty Australia has seen in recent years, two men tortured and killed the puppy of one of the men’s ex-girlfriends. The innocent little fox terrier named Peanut was slashed with both a knife and garden years, had her legs amputated, nose severed and was decapitated by two Mackay men who had kidnapped the dog from the owner’s home. One of the two men, Jonathon Blake allegedly had a falling out with the dog’s owner and they sadistically recorded the brutalisation as an act of revenge.
Blake ultimately spent 1 year in prison for the offence.
Last December a woman in the Goldcoast was found guilty of animal cruelty after a RSPCA officer was forced to seize and euthanize a Rottweiler named Maxy after neighbours complained about its horrific condition. The 11 year old Rottweiler was left to die a slow and painful death in her backyard while the woman was, as she said, “too busy working” and “no longer had time to take care of it.” By the time he was apprehended the dog was in an excessively poor condition with a body score of zero out of nine and being so starved that cranial wastage was found in his head due to the muscles in his head shrinking.
The woman was ordered to pay a $1,300 fine and $1,400 in vet bills for “failing to take reasonable steps to provide treatment” for the suffering animal.
Critics say sentences and fines like these are far less than the sentences that could be imposed. For example in the case of the Goldcoast woman, the maximum fine under Queensland’s Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 is $235,600 with a maximum jail term of three years. Under 242 of the Queensland Criminal Code 1899 the maximum penalty for the offence ‘serious animal cruelty’ is seven years.
Animal Cruelty Deemed to be Widespread in Greyhound Industry
Greyhound racing is considered by many as one of the most barbaric sports in Australia. Despite a public outcry more than a year ago over trainers illegally ‘blooding’ their dogs, the sport is still going on today. The greyhound industry says that illegal ‘blooding’ is only practiced by a few trainers, which industry advocates say are the ones tarnishing the industry. However, the RSPCA says it is a widespread practice that many more than a select few trainers participate in.
The Baird government has decided to shut down the industry entirely starting next July based on a Special Commission of Inquiry report that revealed widespread animal cruelty in the industry. From the practice of blooding to the unnecessary slaughter of 18,000 race dogs per year, there is no way the industry can be regulated or monitored to ensure people are doing right by the animals involved. The ‘culture of cruelty’ is just too ingrained says a spokesperson for the RSPCA and as Baird says “further regulation is not a viable option.”
Do we need to toughen our animal cruelty laws?
There are no national laws pertaining to animal cruelty in Australia. Each state and territory regulates animal welfare in their own jurisdiction. For example, the largest fine in Australia for animal cruelty is in Queensland, which has a maximum fine of up to $75,000 and in Western Australia the maximum jail term is up to 5 years.
In NSW, animal cruelty is regulated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ACT 1979. Under the ACT, the maximum penalty for aggravated cruelty to animal is 2 years imprisonment and/or 200 penalty units.
Under s.530 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) an offence of serious animal cruelty with “intention of inflicting severe harm” could result in a 5 year maximum jail sentence.
Penalties can be applied to either deliberate and/or negligent acts of animal cruelty. The legislation in most States also allow ‘banning’ orders, which prohibits people from owning or handling animals once they have been convicted of animal cruelty.
Are all animals treated equally under animal cruelty laws?
Most people are not aware that not all sentient beings are treated equally under the law. There are certain circumstances in which animals are exempt from animal cruelty legislation.
Under Animal Welfare Codes of Practice, animals including livestock, animals used in films and for scientific purposes, zoo animals, pests; as well as rodeos, circus and theme park animals, and animals hunted for sport, fishing etc. are allowed to be treated in such a way as would be considered illegal under regular anti-cruelty legislation. For example, Section 9 of the NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, stock animals (except horses) are allowed to be confined without being provided adequate exercise. Hunting can also go unchecked even though these activities may involve considerable cruelty to the hunted animal.
As Glenys Oogjes, Executive Director of Animals Australia says, maximising profits for cruel industries . . . . can never provide a justifiable reason in any civilised society for allowing repugnant acts of animal cruelty. The Australian government has funneled millions of dollars in appearance fees, track upgrades and prize money into the greyhound racing industry but at what cost?
The RSPCA is advocating for national consistency in animal welfare legislation. Their position paper outlines key requirements for a ‘model’ Animal Care and Protection Act, which include among other things: an “absolute prohibition on all forms of animal cruelty” and “enforcement mechanisms which provide for both educational and punitive responses to animal welfare offences.” Banning greyhound racing is a step in that direction.