On Monday 16th April, Kambah resident Stephanie Clarke was found guilty of breaching a court-ordered Animal Ownership Ban and was sentenced to 200 hours community service, 12 months good behaviour order and 12-month animal ban commencing from 16th April 2018.
This is the second time that RSPCA ACT Inspectors have brought a breach by Ms Clarke to the attention of the courts. Ms Clarke is well known to the RSPCA ACT Inspectorate with them having had at least ten interactions with the Defendant in the past three years.
This is also the first time that an animal ban breach has been successfully prosecuted in the ACT under the Animal Welfare Act 1992.
On the 7th December 2015, Ms Clarke was found guilty in two cases of animal cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act 1992 for failing to provide appropriate and adequate food, exercise, water, shelter as well as failure to take reasonable steps to alleviate pain for the dogs in her care.
The dogs were found to be malnourished, flea infested, suffering from pruritus and conjunctivitis with untreated injuries. Ms Clarke was found guilty and sentenced to a 12 months good behaviour bond, 120 hours of community service and was banned from owning, acquiring, purchasing or possessing any animal for three years.
You can read the original media release of that case in its entirety here.
7 December 2015
Ms Clarke was convicted under the Animal Welfare Act 1992 in the ACT Magistrates Court and as a result was given a three-year animal ban to purchase, acquire, keep, care for or control any animal.
10th February 2016
Just two months after her conviction and the court imposed an animal ban, RSPCA ACT Inspectors executed a search warrant at Ms Clarke’s residence in Kambah where they seized three dogs, seven cats and a blue tongue lizard from the premises.
The case was dismissed on the 15th December 2016 due to the Magistrate believing there was insufficient proof that Ms Clarke was in possession of the animals based on the wording in the legislation. Ms Clarke’s partner claimed they were hers alone – despite the fact the animals were living with the defendant.
17th October 2016
RSPCA ACT received information that the defendant was in possession of two dogs. This information was confirmed by a sighting of a dog in the defendant’s rear yard by RSPCA ACT Inspectors.
20th October 2016
A search warrant was issued for Ms Clarke’s Kambah residence. Inspectors seized eight cats, four dogs, one lizard, and one ferret.
SENTENCING 16th April 2018
Magistrate Cush condemned the behaviour of Ms Clarke and commented, “The defendant has been caught by the Inspectors, having clearly disobeyed a court order. She was previously convicted of failing to provide food, water and treatment to an animal.
This was an inappropriate number of animals in inappropriate conditions. She had fourteen animals there, eleven months after the court order. The animals were found in conditions best described as disgusting and unhygienic.”
Ms Clarke was sentenced to 200 hours community service, 12 months good behaviour order and 12-month animal ban which will be served concurrently with her other ban.
Ms Clarke’s case demonstrates deficiencies in the current form of the legislation. Further defects in the law were found by Justice Mossop in Keir v Croatto  ACTSC 222. RSPCA ACT has been working with the ACT Government, seeking an overhaul of the Animal Welfare Act 1992.
RSPCA ACT RECOMMENDATIONS
- That the law specifically prevents an offender under a ban from keeping, caring for or controlling an animal either solely or with another person;
- That animal bans be imposed more often and for longer terms.
Chief Executive Tammy Ven Dange discussed the current challenges with the legislation:
“We believe that animals bans are the only really effective part of a sentencing in these case as it can actually prevent animal cruelty in the first place. It deters others from offending and prevents guilty parties from being in a position of hurting another animal for a period of time. Unfortunately, right now, the legislation has too many loopholes, and the courts apply and enforce these bans unpredictably and inconsistently.
We have been working with the ACT Government to fix these issues, and hope that we might see improvements to the legislation to be tabled and passed by the end of this year.”
RSPCA Inspectors do not have any control regarding the sentences that are handed to individuals found guilty. If you too would like to see these loopholes closed and a tougher stance on animal cruelty crimes, we encourage you to write your MLA to ensure that the RSPCA ACT proposed Animal Welfare Act amendments are tabled and passed later this year.