26-year-old Bradley Wilson was convicted of aggravated cruelty after nearly biting a mouse in half.
Wilson put the live mouse into his mouth, pulled off its tail, bit down on it and the spat it to the ground. The little critter later died from its injuries.
Wilson blamed his actions on a night of heavy drinking – but the Magistrate in Port Macquarie Local Court was less than impressed, calling it a “barbaric act” and giving Wilson a criminal conviction and a $2,000 fine.
Veterinarian Dr Michelle Lawler submitted that the animal would have suffered unnecessary, unreasonable and unjustifiable pain as well as distress and suffering.
Aggravated Cruelty Offences
Section 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) (“the Act”) makes it an offence to commit “an act of cruelty” upon an animal.
Section 4 defines “cruelty” to include any beating, kicking, wounding of an animal, exposure to excessive heat or cold or inflicting pain on an animal.
It is also an offence to authorise another person to commit an act of cruelty on an animal that you own, or are in charge of.
Cruelty also includes failing to take reasonable care of an animal, or to take reasonable steps to alleviate pain or suffering, or to provide necessary veterinary treatment.
The maximum penalty for animal cruelty is 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $5,500 for an individual, or a $27,500 for a corporation.
Section 6 of the Act relates to “aggravated cruelty”, which is defined by section 4 as:
(a) causing the death, deformity or serious disablement of the animal, or
(b) the animal being so severely injured, so diseased or in such a physical condition that it is cruel to keep it alive.
The maximum penalty for aggravated animal cruelty is 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $22, 000 for individuals, or a fine of $110, 000 for corporations.
Section 530 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) contains an additional offence of “serious animal cruelty” which includes torturing, beating or killing an animal. That offence comes with a maximum prison term of 5 years.
Animal Cruelty: A Prevalent Offence
The thought of gratuitous cruelty being committed upon vulnerable animals is something that makes the blood of any animal lover boil, and there have been calls for harsher penalties for animal cruelty offences.
Tasmania has responded by increasing penalties for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 1993. The maximum penalty for animal cruelty under that Act has recently been raised from 18 months to 5 years imprisonment, and/or a fine of $30, 800 for individuals.
But the harshest penalties are in Western Australia, where a person can be sent to prison for up to 5 years and/or get a hefty fine of $50, 000 under the Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA). The penalties in other states range from 1 to 4 years in prison and fines.
While these penalties might seem harsh, there continue to be a vast numbers of complaints about cruelty to animals every year. From 2013-14, the RSPCA investigated a whopping 58,591 animal cruelty complaints – most of which related to dogs, cats, horses and livestock. On top of this, tens of thousands of dogs and cats are abandoned and put down every year, simply because owners decide that they no longer wish to care for them.
Whether the correct response is to introduce harsher penalties – or to better educate owners and impose stricter controls upon ownership – it’s clear that something needs to be done to address the situation.