Salerno Law regularly provides legal advice to clients involved in both the agricultural and livestock industry. This includes providing advice in relation to regulatory issues, WorkCover prosecutions and criminal proceedings. On some occasions, these criminal proceedings involved charges relating to animal cruelty.

In a recent landmark case, Salerno Law was instructed to act on behalf of a part-time dog breeder (the Accused) who was facing charges brought by the RSPCA. Following lengthy and protracted criminal proceedings, the Accused (with the assistance of Salerno Law) was successful in having the seventeen (17) charges preferred by the RSPCA dismissed in the Liverpool Local Court in their entirety. Furthermore, the RSPCA was ordered to pay all of the legal costs incurred by the dog breeder in the defence of the proceedings.

The criminal proceedings, which began in 2019 and spanned over three (3) calendar years, involved the seizing of twenty-six (26) dogs (including puppies from the Accused’s home by RSPCA officers). The Accused was operating a very small, but successful dog breeding business. The RSPCA alleged that under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW), the Accused failed to provide necessary veterinary treatment to the seized dogs. This was despite the Accused having records and veterinary evidence that all of the puppies had received all necessary veterinary treatment (including vaccinations and appropriate microchipping).

The Accused denied all of the allegations, and Salerno Law were instructed to fully defend all of the charges.

On multiple occasions, and from the time the dogs were seized, through correspondence with the RSPCA Salerno Law requested that the dogs be returned to the dog breeder. This being on the basis that the evidence produced by the RSPCA did not support the allegations made, the initial seizure of the dogs was unlawful and where the dog breeder had provided all necessary veterinary treatment to the seized dogs.

Despite Salerno Law’s best efforts to encourage the RSPCA to discontinue the criminal charges preferred, the RSPCA remained determined in their position. This included refusing to return the seized dogs which included dogs that had been family pets for many years. Indeed, in the weeks prior to the hearing, the RSPCA issued the Accused with an invoice totalling more than $85,000 for its housing and veterinary treatment costs for the seized dogs. The RSPCA sought payment of the invoice from the Accused, a forfeiture order for all of the seized dogs, an order banning the Accused from being able to keep any animals and also a fine. Consequently, the matter proceeded to trial.

On 7 May 2021, this matter was heard before Magistrate R Prowse in the Liverpool Local Court of NSW for a two (2) day trial. On the second day, his Honour agreed with the Accused’s submissions and found that the RSPCA engaged in an “abuse of power” in firstly entering the accused’s property without a warrant and thereafter seizing the dogs. Furthermore, it was found that the RSPCA had “No Prima Facie case” for any of the seventeen (17) charges preferred against the Accused and ordered that all charges be dismissed.

On 16 June 2021, this matter proceeded to the hearing of the costs application made by Salerno Law on behalf of the Accused. This was again before Magistrate R Prowse however was heard in the Armidale Local Court of NSW. In addition to his earlier findings, His Honour found that the RSPCA unreasonably failed to investigate or investigate properly matters which they ought to have been aware of within the meaning of s 214(1)(c) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) and ordered pursuant to s 213(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) that the RSPCA pay the entire amount of the Accused’s legal costs.

Sadly, the seized dogs were unable to be returned to the Accused in circumstances where they had already been rehomed or in some cases euthanised. This was particularly distressing to the Accused especially considering the findings of Magistrate R Prowse.

Animal cruelty in any form is abhorrent and severe punishments are available to individuals or companies who are found guilty of engaging in such conduct. The RSPCA have a wide range of statutory powers to both enforce animal welfare law and investigate animal cruelty offences. This includes the power to enter properties, seize animals, seize evidence pertaining to animal cruelty offences, issue animal welfare directions/notices and on the spot fines and also initiate criminal prosecutions under animal welfare legislation. However, the RSPCA (similar to the Police) have the obligation to use such significant powers both lawfully, correctly and appropriately.

In this case, the RSPCA were found to have engaged in actions that amounted to an abuse of power. This ultimately resulted in the Accused suffering the loss of her beloved dogs, the anguish and uncertainty of facing serious criminal charges over a lengthy period and also the financial cost of having to defend the criminal proceedings. However, with the assistance of Salerno Law, all of the charges were ultimately dismissed and a full costs order awarded in her favour. Such a costs order being extremely rare in such proceedings.

Should you require any legal advice or assistance in relation to any area of law pertaining to the agricultural or livestock industry, please contact the team at Salerno Law.

Contact Cliff Savala or Thomas Malios for more information.

DISCLAIMER: This article is only meant to give you general information and should not be relied on as legal advice. Speak to one of our lawyers for more information.

Salerno Law is managed by Emma Salerno, Managing Partner and CEO, who has a wealth of experience from operating her own businesses across Australia as well as a range of in-house and commercial experience both in Australia and overseas.