Animal cruelty case highlights urgent need to regulate all animal rescue organisations

Today’s finalisation of a serious case of neglect involving multiple animals has highlighted the urgent need for regulation of organisations that take in injured and homeless animals.

The animals were in the custody of a 41-year-old woman listed as the treasurer of Not the End of the Road Animal Rescue, a registered charity on the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC) register. Its stated purpose on the register is: “Preventing or relieving the suffering of animals”.

Not the End of the Road Animal Rescue Inc is also a registered association listed on the Register of Incorporated Associations of Consumer and Business Affairs. The Australian Fauna Care website has the following description of the association:

We are a South Australian volunteer not-for-profit organisation caring for sick, injured and orphaned birds and native animal wildlife. We also assist with referral and rehoming of unwanted pets through collaboration with other rescue organisations and extensive private carer network.

Our dedicated volunteers also have a specific focus on birds with various viral, behavioural or other issues which would normally be recommended for euthanasia.

Following alternative and holistic methods – we have had major success in providing a quality of life and improvement in health with regard to a number of species affected by Pscittacine Beak and Feather Circovirus (pbfd), poisoning, gun shot wounds and major feather plucking issues otherwise not controlled by conventional medication.

In the Elizabeth Magistrates Court on Friday 16 February 2024, the woman pleaded guilty to 20 charges under SA’s Animal Welfare Act of ill-treating animals. The charges related to 57 animals – two puppies, 17 cats, two rabbits, one lizard, three possums, one duck and 31 birds.

An RSPCA SA inspector attended at the woman’s northern suburbs property on 28 July 2021 to investigate a cruelty report regarding the living conditions of animals. No-one was home, and the inspector noticed approximately 10 cats sitting on a window ledge inside the house. Two parrots with suspected beak and feather disease were also observed through windows, free-ranging inside the house.

Due to concerns for the welfare of animals at the property, RSPCA SA inspectors, an RSPCA SA veterinarian, two SAPOL Officers and three officers from the city of Salisbury re-attended at the property on 11 August 2021, with a warrant. No one was at the property but the front door was unlocked and the RSPCA gained entry.

On entering the house, inspectors noticed an overwhelming smell of ammonia. The house was squalid, and the large amount of rubbish and household items throughout the house made it difficult to move from room to room. Bird droppings covered the walls, surfaces and objects in each room.

There was a large number of animals inside the house, some confined to cages or enclosures, others free-ranging, including birds flying about the house and at least one cat and one duck. There was also a large number of dead birds throughout the house.

The inspectors’ observations while inside the house included:

  • Two cross-bred puppies in an enclosure with no food or water
  • A dog in a faeces-strewn bedroom with no water
  • 15 cats inside a faeces-strewn enclosure measuring approximately 2×1.5m, with no food or water
  • Cats in cages with no food or water and litter trays overflowing with faeces
  • Three possums with no food or water
  • A water dragon in a cage with no water
  • Two lorikeets in a cage with no water
  • Two caged magpies with no water – one with a broken leg
  • Three caged galahs with no water – one with a broken wing
  • A caged pigeon with a broken wing
  • Two rabbits in faeces-filled cages with no food or water
  • 28 assorted dead birds, including a rainbow lorikeet in a pot in the kitchen

The inspectors seized the two puppies, 17 cats, two rabbits, one lizard, three possums, one duck and 30 birds. Many of the parrots were found to be suffering from highly infectious Psittacine beak and feather disease, the most common viral disease among parrots. The 28 dead birds were also taken as evidence.

The woman agreed to surrender most of the seized animals except the two puppies, two of the cats and 10 birds. Subsequent attempts in the following weeks to persuade the woman to surrender further animals to RSPCA SA were unsuccessful. Due to the large number of animals the organisation was caring for at considerable cost, an application was made to the courts for a forfeiture order. The success of this order on 23 December 2021 meant the remaining animals could be assessed for their suitability to rehome, and the majority of animals were adopted or transferred into the care of reputable wildlife organisations.

Animal welfare notices (AWNs) were issued for animals left at the property, requiring specific actions to be taken within a certain timeframe to rectify welfare issues. On 16 August 2021, an RSPCA SA inspector returned to the property with a Senior Fauna Permits Officer from the National Parks and Wildlife division of DEWR (Department for Environment and Water) to check on the remaining animals’ welfare, and for compliance with the AWNs.

The dog confined to the bedroom on the first attendance was still confined to the bedroom and, though the room had been cleaned, the animal still did not have access to water. The water in the remaining birds’ enclosures still appeared dirty. A subsequent visit by RSPCA SA inspectors found all the animals had been removed from the property.

In the Elizabeth Magistrates Court today, Magistrate Christopher Smolicz sentenced the woman to a prison term of four months and two weeks, reduced by 30% (due to her guilty plea) to three months and four days. The sentence was wholly suspended on an 18-month good behaviour bond. The defendant is prohibited from owning any animals except two pet dogs. No order to pay costs was made due to her current financial difficulties.

His Honour agreed that whilst the offending was not malicious, it constituted a high degree of negligence for which imprisonment was the only appropriate penalty. He outlined a number of factors that increased the seriousness of the offending – the scale involved, the extent of the suffering experienced by the animals and the fact that the accused was in a position of trust as she was running a charitable rescue.

“The animals provided by members of the public to you would only suffer in your care despite the public believing you were providing appropriate care,” His Honour said.

“Animals cannot look after themselves nor can they speak up for themselves…they are reliant upon humans to provide appropriate care for them.”

Not the End of the Road is one of two registered animal rescue organisations that have been prosecuted for animal cruelty offences in the last two years, the other being SAHARA (South Australian Humane Animal Rescue Association).

In its submission to the ongoing review of SA’s Animal Welfare Act, RSPCA SA proposed that rescue organisations that are registered charities raising money from the public should be required to comply with specific standards of care and have to adhere to an approved Capacity to Care, restricting the number of animals they can take in. These regulations would apply to all registered animal rescue organisations, including RSPCA SA.

In a move welcomed by RSPCA SA, the state government has announced that the development of an animal shelter licensing system will be undertaken separately to the review of the Animal Welfare Act and is anticipated to be completed in mid-2025.

“At present, anyone can set themselves up as an animal rescue organisation and take donations, with no safeguards to ensure the animals are receiving proper care or that the funds are being used for that care,” said RSPCA SA Acting Chief Inspector Emma Shepley.

“In the absence of good management and regulatory oversight, things can and do go seriously wrong. This case is another example of an animal rescue organisation going completely off the rails, resulting in a lot of animals suffering from a lack of basic care and professional, timely veterinary treatment.”

Under SA’s Animal Welfare Act, the maximum penalty for animal cruelty is $20,000 or two years’ imprisonment. For an aggravated cruelty offence, the maximum penalty is $50,000 or four years’ imprisonment.

RSPCA South Australia is the state’s only animal welfare charity with inspectors empowered to prosecute animal cruelty under SA’s Animal Welfare Act.

Members of the public who witness animal cruelty or neglect are urged to immediately call RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty report hotline on 1300 477 722.

/Public Release. View in full here.