RSPCA South Australia v Ross & Fitzpatrick

RSPCA South Australia is concerned about the level of misinformation being published and promoted on social media by certain individuals in regards to an ongoing prosecution case being heard in the Murray Bridge Magistrates Court. The online discussion threatens to negatively impact the legal process.

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Some instigators of the misinformation appear to be aligned with the two defendants Colin Ross and Kerrie Fitzpatrick, who are being prosecuted for 17 offences under South Australia’s Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations. These charges include ill treatment of animals causing serious harm, failure to comply with Animal Welfare Notices and failure to comply with new South Australian Standards for Breeding and Trading Companion Animals.

Both defendants have previously pleaded guilty in Victoria to animal cruelty offenses relating to the breeding of border collies and other dogs. Fitzpatrick is currently subject to a nine year order banning her from owning dogs in that state. (RSPCA is seeking to have South Australian laws changed to recognise prohibition orders across state borders.)

The misinformation on social media relates to 10 adult and five puppy border collies seized by RSPCA inspectors in October 2018 from a large-scale dog breeding facility in the Murray Mallee region. The adult dogs were taken into RSPCA care because they were assessed as experiencing the most chronic mental suffering of the approximately 300 dogs on the property. Their mental state was among the worst our experienced dog care and vet staff have ever seen.

All 10 seized dogs and 5 puppies were living in small and overcrowded cages. The total number of dogs at the facility significantly exceeded the breeders’ council-issued license permitting a maximum of 100 dogs to be kept on the property. There was no evidence that the dogs were provided with any enrichment or exercise. Three of the seized dogs were pregnant and gave birth to 27 puppies while in RSPCA care. Of the total 32 puppies, 12 puppies did not survive due to congenital defects as a result of chronic inbreeding and poor early pre-natal care of their mothers. The remaining 20 puppies have already been, or are in the process of being, adopted.

As previously advised, RSPCA has been awaiting advice from a second external, independent veterinary animal behaviour specialist on the recommended course of action for each of the 10 adult dogs. This advice has now been received and confirms the initial independent specialist’s recommendation on four of the dogs that they should be humanely euthanased as soon as possible.

Everyone would have wished for these dogs to have lived full lives free of anxiety and stress, but very sadly, these four dogs have now been euthanased on the basis of compelling expert consensus that this was the best course of action to relieve the suffering of these animals. This was a heartbreaking decision for RSPCA staff who have cared for them over the past five months, and for anyone who loves animals.

As part of our overall care plan for these dogs, RSPCA staff continue to look after the six remaining adult dogs as part of the ongoing efforts to rehabilitate them. Last Friday’s court decision to legally place the dogs in RSPCA’s ownership means that at an appropriate time, highly regulated foster care with RSPCA’s most skilled dog foster carers will be considered for these border collies. Decisions relating to the care of these dogs continues to be in line with RSPCA’s care practices for all animals.

This matter is next due before the Murray Bridge Magistrates Court for a pre-trial conference in May.

In court, RSPCA South Australia will allege that the conditions of confinement and deprivation at the intensive dog breeding facility managed by the defendants caused all ten dogs’ chronic mental suffering.

Full details of the steps taken by RSPCA over several months to have the defendants comply with laws and regulations prior to the decision to seize the dogs will be revealed in court. Also to be revealed will be full details about the conditions in which the dogs were kept long term, and expert opinion about the impact those conditions had on the dogs’ mental health.

RSPCA urges people to question the true motives of individuals who have purported to be trying to act in the dogs’ best interests, given their ongoing determination to publish incorrect information and evidence of alignment with the defendants.

RSPCA continues to have serious concerns about the welfare of all dogs that lived at the defendants’ property. If successful in the prosecution of this case RSPCA will seek court ordered custody of any animals remaining at the breeding facility. RSPCA believes the remaining animals are capable of rehabilitation and safe rehoming in the community. Due to the large number of dogs likely to be involved, RSPCA may seek the assistance of responsible rescue groups with that process.

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