What is the Law and Penalties for Animal Cruelty in NSW?

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh


On September 19, 2018, a Chinese man living on the Gold Coast who was videoed repeatedly beating his three-month-old puppy with a stick for barking pleaded guilty to animal cruelty.

Jian Leo Zhang, 28, was captured in a video recording taken by his outraged neighbours recurrently hitting his Samoyed puppy named Ka Ka at a Broadbeach Waters home on March 19. The Chinese shop worker was filmed hurting his fluffy white pet with a stick whilst in his underpants.

Appearing in the Southport Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, Mr Zhang pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and was sentenced to 12 months’ probation by Magistrate John Costanzo, who informed the court that the offender beat the dog at least five or six times.

Magistrate Costanzo also said it was evident that Mr Zhang intentionally continued to abuse Ka Ka despite seeing that he was afraid.

“It is also obvious your attack was deliberate, and you persisted knowing the dog was exhibiting fear and pain.

“You say the dog liked to bark, that is like saying you like to talk as a human,” Magistrate Costanzo said.

The Magistrate continued to advise that the incident on the video recording was “distressing” to the dog and “concerning” to the neighbours who had to witness the act.

“You’re a mature-aged man who should know better than to treat animals in the way that you did,” Mr Costanzo said.

“Barking is a dog’s means of communicating.”

Zhang Receives Pet Ban for Three Years

During the trial, audio from the neighbours’ recording was played, in which Ka Ka was heard across the courtroom loudly yelping in fear.

Veterinary written verification presented to the court read that Ka Ka was discovered with urine stains all over his neck, chest, and front legs, and that these were clear indications of the dog being rubbed in urine or held down in urine while being hit.

The documents also outlined that both puppies were unsure and hesitant with people, which is not the normal behaviour of that specific breed or age of puppy.

Of the attack, Magistrate Costanzo said that there were no grounds to defend the incident as disciplining or training the puppy, especially given the signs of abuse that Ka Ka had shown. These signs of abuse were also evident on another puppy under Mr Zhang’s care.

Along with the 12-month probation, Magistrate Costanzo also prohibited Mr Zhang from owning a dog for three years and ordered the offender to pay legal and vet costs reaching $8,500.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) confiscated both Ka Ka and Mr Zhang’s other Samoyed dog. They were placed into foster care with an experienced dog owner so they could begin behavioural and psychological rehabilitation.

Little Remorse from Zhang at Trial

Outside the court, Mr Zhang spoke to the media and apologised for abusing the dog. However, he maintained that this was in an attempt to discipline Ka Ka after he consumed a mat.

Given Mr Zhang’s response to being charged, the RSPCA’s Tracey Jackson said that while she was satisfied with the outcome of the incident, she was also concerned by the offender’s retort.

“While the offending itself is offensive, the lack of remorse that follows is even more concerning,” she said.

She also said the prompt action of the neighbours to record the dog being abused helped.

“These neighbours have told us they had heard this kind of squealing and yelping from the dog before,” Ms Jackson said.

Magistrate Costanzo said the sentence was fitting in light of Mr Zhang’s determined denials and unfailing lack of remorse.

Animal Cruelty Offences in NSW

In NSW, offences of animal cruelty are treated very seriously by the Courts. The law in NSW regulates all actions and behaviours directed towards animals. This ranges anywhere from neglect to imposing life-threatening injuries or death to an animal.

In NSW, the welfare of animals, including farm animals and pets, is protected under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 and section 530 of the Crimes Act 1900.

Cruelty to Animal Charges under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act

You can face up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine if guilty of committing an act of cruelty to an animal under section 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW).

You will also face the same maximum penalties under section 5 of that Act if while in charge of an animal, any one of the following apply to you:

  • You fail to exercise reasonable supervision, control or care to prevent an act of cruelty on the animal; or
  • You fail to take reasonable and necessary steps to alleviate the pain in circumstances the animal is suffering pain; or
  • You fail to provide the animal with any necessary veterinary treatment.

You can expect to face up to 2 years imprisonment and/or $22,000 fine where you commit the above offences in a way which causes the animal’s death, deformity or serious disablement, or it’s so severely injured, diseased or in such physical condition that it’s cruel to keep it alive.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) defines an animal as any member of a vertebrate species, including fish, bird, mammal (other than human), reptile or amphibian. An animal also includes a crustacean when at a place such as restaurant where food is prepared or offered for consumption in the place/building by retail sale.

An ‘act of cruelty’ is defined in section 4(2) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) as including any act or omission to the animal that unjustifiably, unnecessarily or unreasonably causes the animal to be:

  • Beaten, killed, wounded, kicked, mutilated, maimed, pinioned, abused, tormented, tortured, terrified or infuriated; or
  • Over-worked, over-loaded, over-driven, over-ridden or over-used; or
  • Exposed to excessive cold or heat; or
  • Inflicted with pain

Defences to a Charge of Animal Cruelty Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act

You will be not guilty to a charge of animal cruelty under this Act if either of the following apply to you where the act you commit on the animal is done in a way that inflicted no unnecessary pain on the animal:

  • Ear marking, ear-tagging or branding the animal- if the animal is a stock animal and it doesn’t involve firing or hot iron branding the animal’s face.
  • Castrating the animal- if the animal is a pig of less than 2 months old or a stock animal of less than 6 months old belonging to a class of animals comprising sheep, goat or cattle.
  • Dehorning the animal- if the animal is a goat of less than 1 month old or a stock animal of less than 1 year old belonging to a class of animals comprising cattle.
  • Tailing the animal- if the animal is a sheep of less than 6 months old.
  • Performing the mule’s operation on the animal- if the animal is a sheep of less than 1 year old.
  • Where you were authorised to hunt, shoot snare, trap, catch or capture the animal, or destroy or prepare the animal for the purposes of producing food for human consumption.
  • Destroying or preparing the animal for destruction in compliance with a religion prescribed for this, or in compliance with any duty imposed under the law.
  • Where you were authorised to carry out animal research or to supply animals for the use of animal research in compliance with the Animal Research Act 1985.
  • Where you release a live prey for a predatory animal where the diet of the predatory animal included animals of the kind you released. This applies if you believed on reasonable grounds that feeding live prey to the predatory animal was necessary for the predatory animal to survive because it would not eat a dead animal or meat from a dead animal.

Serious Animal Cruelty Charges Under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)

You can expect to face a penalty of up to an imprisonment of 5 years in NSW if guilty of committing a serious animal cruelty offence under section 530 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

You will be guilty of ‘serious animal cruelty’ if the Magistrate or Judge is satisfied that each of the following elements of this charge is satisfied:

  • You beat, tortured, or used the animal as a lure or kill for purposes of blooding greyhounds or in connection with the trialling, training or racing of any coursing dog; and
  • You did that with the intention of inflicting severe pain on the animal; and
  • As a result, the animal is killed or is seriously inured or where you prolonged the animal’s suffering.

You will face a penalty of up to 3 years imprisonment if you:

  • Killed or seriously injured or caused prolonged suffering to the animal as a result of torturing, beating, or used the animal as a lure or kill for purposes of blooding greyhounds or in connection with the trialling, training or racing of any coursing dog; and
  • At the time of doing this, you realised the possibility of causing severe pain to the animal but did it anyway.

Defences to a Charge of ‘Serious Animal Cruelty’ Under the Crimes Act

Section 530(2) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) says that you will be not guilty of a serious animal cruelty charge if any of the following apply:

  • You committed an act alleged to be a serious animal cruelty charge in compliance with an authority from the Animal Research Act 1985 or any other law; or
  • You committed an act alleged to be a serious animal cruelty charge in the course or for the purposes of a routine agricultural or animal husbandry activity, or recognised religious practice, or the extermination of pest animals or veterinary practice.

Charges for Animal Cruelty in NSW

Depending on the type of behaviour inflicted on the animal, offences for animal cruelty in NSW can be charged either under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 or the Crimes Act 1900.

Commonly, such offending behaviour can be prosecuted by Police, or private prosecutions brought by bodies such as the RSPCA or Animal Welfare League (AWL).

The type of penalties a Judge or Magistrate can impose on offenders guilty of animal cruelty offences in NSW range from Full Time Imprisonment to section 10 dismissal.

See our page on the sentencing options in for an outline of all the penalty options in NSW that a Judge or Magistrate can impose for these offences.

Our Sydney criminal lawyers appear across all NSW courts. Call us if you have any questions arising from this blog.

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