A 25-year-old University of New South Wales student was convicted on 19 February 2020 at Downing Centre Local Court for two animal cruelty offences after his one-year-old Maremma Sheepdog, Milk, was left to die of starvation on his Zetland unit balcony.
For the charge of committing an act of aggravated cruelty, the man was given an indicative sentence of 16 months’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of eight months. For the charge of failing to provide veterinary treatment for emaciation, he was sentenced to a further four months’ imprisonment, to be served concurrently. He was also banned from purchasing, acquiring or taking possession or custody of any animal for ten years.
NSW Local Court Chief Magistrate, Judge Henson, determined that the offences were at the top of the range in terms of objective seriousness among acts of animal cruelty, and that the defendant’s moral culpability in committing the offences was towards the highest level, stating the defendant’s conduct was “egregious” and “wicked”.
The judgement recognised that the community would be “sickened and appalled” by the defendant’s actions. “The very fact of the existence of the RSPCA reflects, and significantly so, the overwhelming view of our community that cruelty is unacceptable.”
On Thursday 20 June 2019, an RSPCA inspector attended a Zetland unit in response to a cruelty complaint relating to an animal sighted on the unit’s balcony. There the inspector found the deceased body of a severely emaciated dog on top of a cardboard box. There was no source of food or water on the balcony and the area was covered in faeces and dog hair.
Milk’s body was surrendered to the RSPCA and taken to the RSPCA Sydney Veterinary Hospital for a veterinary assessment. A post-mortem examination revealed that the dog was in a severely emaciated body condition, with no fat present and severe muscle atrophy of the entire body. All bone prominences were protruding and she had an extreme abdominal tuck. There were numerous cycles of maggots on her body. She had overgrown nails, faeces on the fur around her anus, and blood discharge around her vulva. Her body weighed 10.1 kilograms (approximately 33% of the minimum standard weight for Maremma Sheepdogs of similar age and sex).
Between 8 July and 10 October 2019, an RSPCA inspector tried repeatedly to secure an interview with the defendant, who was unresponsive via email and postponed plans for an interview. In November 2019, RSPCA inspectors obtained evidence establishing that the defendant was the person in charge of Milk at the time of the relevant offences. As a result, he was determined to be the person responsible for Milk’s death.
The veterinary report found that emaciation was the cause of death for Milk. Emaciation to the extent of Milk’s body is a prolonged process which cannot occur within a period of days. For the body to reach this state, the body broke down all available fat and most of the available muscle to use as energy to continue to support life. Milk had not been provided proper and sufficient food for a minimum period of three months to reach this level of emaciation. The muscle atrophy was so severe that there was barely any muscle palpable on the body, noting that the maggots were not present in areas which would have reduced any of the muscle or fat reserves observed post-mortem. It is very likely severe dehydration also contributed to the dog’s death. Milk required veterinary consultation, examination and assessment for her very poor body condition for at least two months, and the defendant’s failure to provide this care ultimately resulted in her death.
“The defendant’s behaviour is inexcusable. This dog starved to death, alone, on a cold balcony, surrounded by her own urine and faeces. She had nothing but a cardboard box. It was a cruel, needless death. Pet owners are responsible for the lives and welfare of their animals,” said RSPCA NSW Chief Inspector Scott Meyers. “This sentence reflects community expectations that serious animal cruelty offenders will be punished.”
“Furthermore, we remind people looking for a pet to ensure they are educated about the needs of different animals. A Maremma Sheepdog is a working breed, and requires plenty of space and exercise, and a small balcony in a city was not an appropriate home for this type of dog.”