rspca

Defending the Defenceless

Animals Legislation Pet Care Queensland Law Rescue RSPCA Inspectors
Chester’s owner was employed and earning a decent income, but he did not want to pay a vet ‘$200 plus’ for humane euthanasia. Instead he waited until the local pound was open, paid the $20 surrender fee, and left the job of providing vet treatment for Chester to the pound manager.

Chester was 13 years of age – not quite elderly for a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. He was left at the local pound by his owner on a blistering hot day in February 2016, in poor body condition, underweight and had blood coming from his anus. He had inflamed skin, infected and sore eyes, and a severely infected and painful ear. 

He was in respiratory distress, panting rapidly and struggling for each and every breath. He could not stand up and lay helpless on his side in his portable bed, where he had urinated.
He was unable to respond to any stimulus, not even an ant that was crawling around his anus area. 

Chester’s owner was employed and earning a decent income, but he did not want to pay a vet ‘$200 plus’ for humane euthanasia. Instead he waited until the local pound was open, paid the $20 surrender fee, and left the job of providing vet treatment for Chester to the pound manager. 

When told that it would be several hours before a vet would be attending the pound, Chester’s owner said that was okay because Chester wouldn’t be likely to leave his bed. The pound manager was so concerned about Chester’s condition and knew he could not wait until the vet attended that afternoon. She immediately called a council officer off the road to return to the pound and transport Chester to a local vet. 

Chester was examined by the vet and humanely euthanased.

Council, or ratepayers, footed the bill – not the person who Chester had lived with for 13 years. 

Vet records confirmed that Chester had received regular vet treatment earlier in his life while in the care of another person, but since 2008, while in the sole care of his owner, Chester had seen a vet twice for a very bad skin condition and infected eyes and ears.

The owner had wanted to just buy the medications, but consults were required by the vet before medications would be dispensed. In 2010 Chester required sedation for his ears to be treated. In 2013, at his last visit to the vet, more than 3 years before he was left at the pound, the owner opted for an eye ointment at a quarter of the cost of the medication that was prescribed by the vet. 

From that day on, the owner claimed he used home remedies for Chester’s ears, eyes and skin condition. Chester’s condition in February 2016 would seem to confirm that those home remedies did not work. 

After hearing all this evidence, RSPCA prosecutors were astonished when a Magistrate described Chester as 'a tragic case of a loved dog’.

Chester’s owner told the Court that he had done ‘everything possible’ for Chester. Everything, it would seem, except what was arguably the most simple and obvious thing he could do – which was take him to a vet. Chester’s owner thought his actions on the day Chester died, and in the days prior, were reasonable. He thought the treatment he provided to Chester was appropriate. 

Vets gave evidence that the cheaper home remedies the owner said he used on Chester's infected ear were, at best, as useful as water

While possibly also causing further pain to already infected ears. They said while the home remedies may assist with cleaning the ears, they were not appropriate or effective treatment for painful infection. But Chester’s owner thought that using these home remedies alone for the severely infected and painful ears was reasonable and appropriate.

The Magistrate agreed.

Vets gave evidence that the home remedy the owner said he used on Chester's infected and sore eyes assisted with lubrication, but again, was not appropriate or effective treatment for infection.

Chester’s owner thought that using the home remedy alone was reasonable and appropriate.

The Magistrate agreed.

Chester's owner was found not guilty of breaching his duty of care to Chester.

Is it any wonder the RSPCA and the wider community so often feel disheartened by the way our legal system fails animals unable to speak for themselves?

After 13 years of devotion to his owner, Chester was left without love and care at the time in his life when he needed it the most. He spent his final hours struggling for breath, in pain from infections, unable to control his bowel and bladder, lying in his own urine with an ant crawling on him, and in an unfamiliar environment in the company of strangers. 

An undignified death. For the sake of another $150, about $11.50 for each year he devoted to his owner, Chester’s suffering could have been relieved hours or days earlier, and he could have been reassured by the presence of a familiar face in his final hours. 

RSPCA Inspectors often deal with people who neglect their animals because they cannot afford to provide veterinary treatment. But some cases, where people can afford the vet treatment but opt not to provide it, are even more disappointing. 

RSPCA Inspectors often deal with people who neglect their animals while they are young or breeding. But some cases, where people are not there for their animals at the time of their lives when they need it the most, are even more disappointing. 

Caring for young healthy animals is easy. It’s when they reach the end of their lives and need us the most, that owners are truly put to the test. This is the time owners need to step up and show appreciation for the years of unswerving loyalty and unconditional love their pet has given them. 

RSPCA Inspectors often deal with cases where the penalties handed out to animal welfare offenders seem inadequate. But some cases, where a Court does not even affirm such poor treatment of an animal as an offence, are even more disappointing. 

There are no regrets about this prosecution. We needed to do this for Chester. After 13 years, he deserved better than this. If nothing else, we can hopefully be assured that Chester’s owner will provide better care to his other dog when her time comes. If Chester’s case helps to educate one person, even the person who was his owner, then the prosecution was worthwhile.

If you’ve witness animal welfare concerns, report animal cruelty via our 24/7 hotline 1300 ANIMAL and find out more here.

Michael Beatty
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