Animal abusers avoid our court

By Ivy Jensen

MORE than 100 animal cruelty reports were made in Campaspe Shire in one year.

Yet most never make it to court – and not even two cases a year end in a conviction.

According to RSPCA Victoria’s Annual Cruelty Report, our shire had 108 cruelty reports from 2017-18, ranking 36th of Victoria’s 79 local council areas and 21st on a per capita basis.

This represented 14 per cent of cases in the Loddon Mallee.

RSPCA Victoria chief executive Liz Walker said she was disappointed for the third consecutive year that issues with providing the most basic standards of living for animals – meaning sufficient food, water and shelter — made up the highest proportion of offences reported.

‘‘It breaks our hearts to see our inspectors and vets attend to so many animals that are severely malnourished and ill, who clearly haven’t been shown even the most basic level of care,’’ Dr Walker said.

‘‘These statistics reflect that there is still a lot of important work that needs to be done to educate Victorians and improve animal welfare in our communities.’’

A landmark study into penalties for animal abusers has found there have only been 15 cases of animal cruelty heard in Echuca Magistrates Court in 10 years.

One of those included a Tongala man who was convicted last year of animal cruelty, fined $4000 and banned from owning any animal for three years.

It followed an RSPCA Victoria investigation which found three dogs in an emaciated condition due to no provision of food and negligence.

This case reflected the Sentencing Advisory Council’s review of sentencing for animal cruelty offences in Victoria which revealed offences are far more likely to involve neglect than deliberate cruelty and about 98 per cent of offenders avoid jail.

The review, which analysed data for 1115 cases that involved 2960 charges of animal cruelty in the 10 years to December 31, 2017, also found 15 per cent of animal cruelty cases in 2016 and 2017 occurred in the context of family violence.

Centre for Non-Violence client services general manager Yvette Jaczina said considering most domestic violence was not reported to police, the links between it and animal cruelty was much stronger than the 15 per cent identified.

‘‘We hear from women we work with that animal abuse or threats to harm is part of their experience of family violence and it can be incredibly difficult for them to make a decision to leave,’’ she said.

‘‘It also has a big impact on children. When working with women undertaking safety planning we consider pets and how they can also be free from harm.’’

Ms Jaczina said CNV worked with local animal welfare agencies and shelters to find appropriate accommodation for pets if that was what was needed on an interim basis.

‘‘This option can be limited, particularly for larger animals,’’ she said.

‘‘It is so important to be considering pets as well as it gives women and children peace of mind during traumatic times. If women experiencing family violence need advice about threats or harm to pets, they should call the police or get advice from CNV.’’

According to the review, family violence perpetrators were four times more likely to be sentenced to prison than other animal cruelty offenders.

It also found most common offences were aggravated cruelty (25 per cent), failing to provide veterinary treatment to a sick or injured animal (24 per cent) and failing to provide sufficient food, drink or shelter to an animal (19 per cent). The report stated RSPCA Victoria, which received the most complaints, ‘‘emphasised during consultation that their primary goal is to promote the welfare of animals, and that this is often best achieved through providing assistance and education, rather than employing a criminal justice response’’.