What are the Legal Consequences of Committing the Act of Animal Cruelty in NSW?

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

Australia is overwhelmingly a nation of pet lovers. We give our cherished companions the best life we can – from cleaning the hairballs, to feeding them the healthiest pet food, to even providing them with dental care.

However, there are unfortunately still some people who treat animals cruelly and believe it is acceptable. Indeed, few of us realise that acts of animal cruelty, in fact, happen every day in Australia.

Last week, news of a horrendous act of animal abuse made headlines all over media outlets as a 30-year-old man was allegedly captured on CCTV continually punching a helpless dog in Mackay in north Queensland.

In the horrifying footage, which was shared to social media, the man appears to lure the dog towards him, before pinning the canine down on the ground and striking it more than a dozen times.

The man eventually stands up as the dog flees Green Street, following which he strolls away with a woman.

The woman fails to intervene during the attack.

 

RSPCA Horrified by Disturbing Footage

Following the release of the footage, spokesperson for RSPCA Queensland Michael Beatty said he was horrified by the vision.

“Personally, I find the attack very disturbing, I mean the attack just went on and on,” Mr Beatty said.

“What’s really disturbing is that it seems totally unprovoked – the dog didn’t act aggressively in any of the vision that we’ve seen and the dog had no idea what was going to happen when he went to the man.”

Mr Beatty said he has no idea what else to say other than the man simply “beats the crap out of the dog”.

According to the RSPCA, it is unclear whether the dog belonged to the man, or if it was a dog wandering around in the neighbourhood.

Needless to say, the attack is particularly disturbing due to its length.

“Unfortunately, it is a premeditated and prolonged attack on the dog,” Mr Beatty said.

“He has quite deliberately attacked it. He’s punching the dog for close to a minute.”

 

RSPCA Charges Man with One Count of Animal Cruelty

Following the RSPCA’s appeal for public assistance to find the attacker and calls received with information regarding the incident, the organisation confirmed that the man alleged to be in the footage, who cannot be identified, was charged with one count of animal cruelty.

The RSPCA also confirmed it had taken the dog in the footage into its care following the issue of a warrant on a property in connection to the video.

Other than having heartworm, RSPCA Queensland said the bull Arab cross was in moderately good health, describing the five-year-old dog as “lovely natured”.

The organisation also passed on their thanks to members of the public who reported the information, at the same time issuing a reminder that there can be grave consequences for openly posting potential information regarding a person’s identity on social media.

Meanwhile, although Queensland Police said they were aware of the video, the RSPCA has the supremacy to issue charges relating to animal cruelty.

 

Understanding the Different Forms of Animal Cruelty

According to the RSPCA, animal cruelty can take a variety of forms. These include overt and intentional acts of violence towards animals, as well as animal neglect or the failure to provide for the welfare of an animal under a person’s control.

Additionally, animal cruelty is not simply restricted to situations concerning physical harm. Inflicting psychological harm in the form of distress, torment or terror may also signify acts of animal cruelty.

With so many different forms of animal malice, state and territory animal welfare legislation does not attempt to define animal cruelty in a restricted way. Instead, it is described generally as “any act or omission that causes unnecessary or unreasonable harm to an animal”.

That said, most animal welfare Acts outline examples of inhumaneness. These may include:

  • Torturing or beating an animal
  • Confining or transporting an animal in a manner that is not fitting for its welfare
  • Causing death to an animal in an inhuman way
  • Failing to make adequate food or water available for an animal
  • Failing to arrange for appropriate treatment for disease or injury
  • Absence of appropriate living conditions for the animal

What are the Animal Cruelty Laws in NSW?

According to state and territory animal welfare legislation, all forms of animal cruelty are prohibited and obligations are imposed on all animal owners to provide for the welfare needs of their animals.

Breaching animal welfare legislation is a crime. Serious cases can result in hefty fines and imprisonment.

In NSW, section 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) prohibits anyone from committing an act of cruelty to an animal or while in charge of an animal:

  • Failing to exercise reasonable supervision, control or care to prevent cruelty on an animal; or
  • Failing to take reasonable and necessary steps to alleviate an animal’s pain if the animal is suffering; or
  • Failing to provide necessary veterinary treatment to an animal.

Anyone guilty of the above offence will face a maximum penalty of up to 6-months imprisonment and/or $5,500 fine.

Penalties are heavier if someone commits the above offences in such a way that results in the animal’s death, deformity or serious disablement, or if the animal’s severely injured, diseased or in such physical state that it will be cruel to keep it alive. The maximum penalty for this carries up to 2-years imprisonment and/or $22,000 fine.

What is an ‘act of cruelty’? This is defined in section 4(2) Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW).

An act of cruelty includes conduct that unjustifiably, unnecessarily or unreasonably results in the animal to be:

  • Killed, wounded, kicked, mutilated, pinioned, abused, tormented terrified, tortured, infuriated or beaten; or
  • Over-loaded, over-driven, over-used, over-ridder or over-worked; or
  • Exposed to excessive heat or cold; or
  • Inflicted with pain.

Section 530(1) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) prohibits anyone from committing a serious animal cruelty offence, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 5-years imprisonment. To be found guilty of this offence, the prosecution will be required to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accused person did the following to the animal, with the intention to inflict severe pain:

  • Tortured, beat, or committed a serious act of cruelty on an animal; and
  • killed or seriously injured or caused prolonged suffering to the animal.

This penalty is reduced to a maximum of 3-years imprisonment if a person does the above things to an animal realising the possibility that severe pain will be inflicted to the animal.

While heavy penalties attract such offending behaviour, the courts have the discretion to impose penalties ranging from full-time imprisonment to non-conviction type penalties, such as section 10 dismissal and non-conviction Conditional Release Order.

Check out our last blog here for an outline on the defences to these animal cruelty charges.

Contact our team if you have any questions arising from this blog. We have criminal lawyers in Parramatta, Newcastle and various other locations across NSW.

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