Should Animal Cruelty Penalties be Tougher?

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Cat sitting on green grass

Last month, Liverpool Local Court heard that a 21 year old man had, according to one witness, been kicking the kitten “like it was a football.”

By way of defence, the accused stood, with his hands on his hips, and told the judge that the stray kitten was already dead when he had thrown it on the ground, kicked it until its intestines came out, and threw it by its tail in a nearby car park.

Dead or not, most people would question how anyone could think that kicking around a stray kitten until its guts spilled out was okay behaviour.

The judge deemed it one of the “most disturbing cases” he had ever heard, but the charges were dropped. Although a witness said she saw the kitten moving a little after the first time it was thrown to the ground, the magistrate could not convict as he couldn’t be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the cat was alive at the time.

There were ants crawling on the body when the police found it (indicating a less recent death), no one heard the kitten scream and no fresh blood was found by the police.

If he had been convicted of the charges, which were torturing, beating and causing death to an animal, which constituted serious animal cruelty under section 530 of the NSW Crimes Act, he could have been facing up to five years in prison.

Serious animal cruelty is described as when a person with the intention of inflicting severe pain tortures, beats or commits any other serious act of cruelty on an animal or kills or seriously injures or causes prolonged suffering to the animal.

Surprisingly, recognised religious practices are a valid defence to this behaviour.

According to the NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, aggravated animal cruelty can be punished by up to two years in prison and/or a $71,000 fine.

Unfortunately incidents of animal cruelty are not rare.

Stolen dogs may often become victims of abuse, being used in dog baiting to train fighting dogs. One owner tragically found her own pet dead having being mutilated and hung from a tree in a public park.

The RSPCA have to deal with abandoned, mutilated or abused animals on a regular basis. One senior inspector from the RSPCA said that there was a rise in animal cruelty complaints this year of almost 20 per cent.

In the 2012-13 financial year, nearly 49,861 cruelty complaints were made to the RSPCA Australia wide, with 14,610 of those coming from NSW.

But out of the nearly 50,000 complaints made, 10,040 charges were laid, and only 343 of those it to a successful prosecution.

Even potential two or five year jail sentences – depending if the crime is dealt with summarily or on indictment – don’t seem to be a deterrent. And even if the maximum penalties are high, it doesn’t mean that those who were convicted will be doing any time at all.

One group of Queensland lawyers have formed a group ‘BLEATS’ – Brisbane Lawyers Educating and Advocating for Tougher Sentences. Their aim is to ensure that those who inflict pain and suffering on animals are punished accordingly, after noting many offenders were dealt with very leniently by the courts.

One example is that of an 18 year old man who had kicked to death a kitten at a local park in front of children. Although the maximum penalty under Queensland law was a $75,000 or two years imprisonment he got only one month in jail. He was released after 5 days when his appeal was upheld. He got some community service and a fine instead of jail.

The situation in NSW is similar. While the case at the beginning of this blog post was ultimately dropped, some cases that ended in conviction were dealt with surprisingly leniently.

One woman in Cessnock who was found guilty of two counts of animal cruelty to her horse, who was starved, emaciated and suffering from a lack of veterinary care by the time the case was investigated. The horse was removed from her custody and she was fined just $1,000 (as well as $2536.32 in vet and boarding expenses).

If you witness an act of animal cruelty, you can report it to either:

  • The RSPCA;
  • Animal Welfare League NSW; or
  • NSW police

To make a complaint, you will need to give your name, address and phone number as well as the location of the animals, people involved (if known), your concern about the animals and the time and date. You should also report any other information that will help an inspector to investigate.

Unless there is a witness, the likelihood of animal cruelty being detected is slim.

Animals are vulnerable and can’t speak for themselves, and many believe that the consequences of inflicting pain and suffering on them should reflect this: that those who perpetrate these sorts of crimes should be able to expect to face some fairly unpleasant consequences themselves.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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