Soquilichi Rescue Under Investigation

RSPCA Inspectors Animal Welfare Animal Cruelty Posted May 4, 2019
RSPCA Queensland is investigating another animal rescue group that has portrayed a very different public rescue image, to that of reality. We’d like to set the record straight and combat any mistruths about this situation.

Before we go on, we need to be clear that there are some excellent rescue groups operating in Queensland, and we appreciate these groups and are grateful for the work they do and in many cases, the assistance they provide to us.

Prosecution is always a last resort for the RSPCA and the decision to prosecute is not made lightly, regardless of whether we are dealing with individuals or corporations.

But we make no apologies for prioritising animal welfare, and in cases where we believe prosecution is necessary in order to protect animals, we are left with no option but to prosecute. Prosecuting does not always make us popular, but we cannot let that deter us when we know it is necessary in order to protect animals. That is, after all, our job. No amount of good work done by any rescue organisation can justify animals suffering unnecessarily, and in breach of the law.

What you see online is not always reality

In the recent investigation of Storybook Farm, we received criticism from supporters of that rescue group for stopping the ‘good work’ they were doing. But then, evidence emerged that showed a very different reality of the picture Storybook painted of animals they were caring for. You can read that case here.

We remind people that what they see and read on social media pages of some of these rescue groups, is not always an accurate representation of the facts. We saw that very clearly with Storybook Farm.

In this case, Soquilichi Ranch Rescue are now posting photographs of cats (see below) with the claim that they were in good condition when they went to the foster carer who only had them for a ‘matter of days’.

soquilichi rescue ranch public facebook post rspca cats seized

However, these are the photographs of the cats when they were seized by our RSPCA Inspectorate (below). This level of deterioration did not happen in the days that the foster carer had them in her care.

cats seized by rspca queensland inspectors from soquilichi

Veterinary reports for both cats found that they were underweight; with a score of 2 on a scale where 1 to 2 is emaciated, and 9 is obese. Both cats had cat flu symptoms, watery discharge from their eyes, sneezing, diarrhoea, and hair loss from ringworm.

These cats are now in RSPCA care.

Is this the first time RSPCA have investigated this group?

Unfortunately this was not the first time RSPCA Queensland had encountered issues with Soquilichi animals.

RSPCA Inspectors have conducted numerous investigations in relation to Soquilichi Rescue Ranch Inc. animals. This alone does not necessarily mean there are serious issues. We understand that rescue work often means taking in sick or underweight animals. Quite often, we conduct investigations with rescue groups and we work with them to address issues, or we are pleased with the response when these groups can provide us the information we need to be satisfied that there are no animal welfare concerns. Unfortunately with Soquilichi this was not the case.

Why did RSPCA Queensland charge Soquilichi Rescue Ranch Inc.?

In this particular investigation, the foster carer gave evidence to RSPCA that she agreed to take two mother cats with litters that were healthy, because she did not want to compromise the health of her own cat and kitten. She had never fostered for Soquilichi before.

RSPCA Inspectors obtained evidence that the following night, 21 cats - including a number of sick, underweight and otherwise compromised cats and kittens - were delivered to the foster carer’s place. This was on a hot evening, after the cats had allegedly been confined for hours in cages where they had urinated and defecated, in a car, with two Soquilichi representatives and a dog.

The cats had been in the care of the Soquilichi representatives prior to this. Less than a week earlier, a report was received that these Soquilichi representatives were housing around 100 cats; many in carriers and cages covered with a tarpaulin, at their residence several hours north of the foster carer’s house. That report sparked an investigation by authorities (there was no RSPCA Inspector in that area) and the need for the cats to be removed from the residence.

In this particular investigation, there were allegedly no instructions left with the foster carer, no veterinary history for the cats provided, and no food or flea treatments. The cats and kittens were, according to witnesses, ‘riddled with fleas’ and showed signs of illnesses; including ringworm, diarrhoea and cat flu. Many were obviously underweight and their coats were tufted, indicating dehydration. Two sick kittens were handed over with advice to ‘not worry about them as they would be unlikely to survive the night’. One kitten’s eye ‘fell out’ a short time later, and the second eye ended up being lost as well (pictured below).

soquilichi cat's eye fell out

The foster carer was overwhelmed and in tears. She had done foster work before for another organisation, but had never been in this situation. She called a friend for help. She set the cats up with food and water. She later told Inspectors that the cats drank litres and litres of water overnight, and ate ravenously, consuming a large quantity of cat food.

The foster carer bathed some of the cats the next day to remove faeces from their coats. She requested flea treatment, and someone from Soquilichi dropped in an extra-large dog Advantage with advice to give small dosages to share around the cats and kittens. When RSPCA Inspectors later asked the Soquilichi president about their cats and kittens, very little information was provided about their care before they were delivered to the foster carer, or any veterinary treatment provided to them. The president did not accept responsibility for the alleged neglect of the animals, stating “RSPCA is trying to make it out that I neglected animals that weren’t even in my care”.

The president declined to talk to the Inspectors anymore and lawyers later advised that no board members would speak with the RSPCA Inspectors at all.

As the president of Soquilichi was not taking responsibility for the care of animals that were not directly in her care, and reassurances could not be obtained from other board members, RSPCA Inspectors held concerns for other animals in foster with the organisation, and they decided that animal welfare concerns identified with the seized cats and kittens should form the subject of an application to prosecute. This application was then submitted to the prosecutions committee and after careful consideration, was approved.

What happened to the cats?

Three cats and four kittens were seized by RSPCA Inspectors in November 2018 from the foster carer’s residence as they required immediate veterinary treatment.

Inspectors did not seize the remaining cats owned by Soquilichi. The Soquilichi president was issued with an Animal Welfare Direction to have all remaining cats examined and treated by a vet.

RSPCA Queensland Prosecutions Officer Tracey Jackson says, “A cat called ‘Moonshade’ was assessed by RSPCA Veterinarians as being emaciated with muscle wastage, dehydration and vomiting. After two weeks of treatment, Moonshade could not be saved and was euthanased.

"Sadly the four kittens were euthanased on humane grounds as attempts to treat their illnesses were also unsuccessful."

Unfortunately, of the animals seized back in November 2018, only two cats were able to be saved even after days and weeks of around the clock veterinary care. These two cats, Davey and Sparrow, remain in the care of RSPCA. Despite numerous requests, Soquilichi has refused to surrender ownership of these cats to RSPCA so that they can be rehomed permanently.

Sadly this happens often when we are dealing with animals seized from individuals, but when dealing with rescue groups, an unwillingness to surrender seized animals is something we find inexplicable. Rescue work is carried out with the end goal of rehoming animals into loving homes, and the simple surrender of seized animals could ensure that takes place. It could also ensure that costs for boarding and veterinary care at RSPCA are not accrued.

Davey and Sparrow will continue to receive RSPCA care until the end of the court proceedings, at which time we will be asking the Court to transfer ownership of the cats to RSPCA. In the meantime, costs of keeping the cats continue to accrue.

Some might think it is unfair of RSPCA to seek to recoup costs from a rescue group or charity, but RSPCA is also a charity, and our donors do not expect that their money is used to benefit animal welfare offenders. So it is only fair that we seek to recover these costs. We do everything we can to avoid having to do this, but sometimes we are left with no option.

soquilichi rescue living conditions

soquilichi cat in home

Above: Pictures from the seizure.

What court action is happening?

Soquilichi Rescue Ranch has been served with a summons charging nine counts of breach duty of care relating to 12 cats and five kittens, alleging a failure to provide appropriate living conditions, treatment and food.

The foster parent pleaded guilty in Caboolture Magistrates Court in April to breach of duty of care charges, acknowledging that she should have contacted RSPCA immediately after the cats were delivered to her property. The Magistrate accepted submissions that the foster carer was only partially responsible for the offending, because she had a large number of sick cats thrust upon her. Her penalty was significantly lessened for this reason.

Will this cause the closure of Soquilichi?

The president of Soquilichi has been talking and posting about being forced to close due to this prosecution action and the reaction from members of the public.

RSPCA are not asking Soquilichi to close and we cannot see why this would be necessary. Soquilichi have posted numerous times previously about the possibility of closure due, for example, to financial reasons or Council pressure – but the doors have remained open. There is no reason why that could not be the case again. But Inspectors will insist, as they have discussed with this group in the past, that if they keep operating, they need to implement adequate processes and procedures for their foster network.

We know that there are good people doing good work even in rescue groups where there are issues. They all start with good intentions and a shared love of animals. We too share those good intentions and love of animals. We work closely with many rescue groups and are always willing to provide advice and assistance. But we cannot do that with groups who will not engage.

RSPCA did not alert the media after Soquilichi was served with the summons. This was not a case like Storybook where all animals had to come into RSPCA care and there was a public interest in alerting the community immediately. RSPCA were hopeful that one positive outcome of a prosecution would be an improvement in Soquilichi’s operations for the benefit of all other animals they rescue.

However, the president of Soquilichi posted publicly on their Facebook page soon after being served the summons. It was only then that media contacted RSPCA. Even then, it was only due to the nature of the information being shared by Soquilichi, that RSPCA were left with no option but to respond publicly. In this particular case we did not see that as an ideal outcome, but again, we were left with no option.

What are the ramifications for other rescue groups using foster carers?

Nothing has changed for any other rescue groups. This is not a new law. Whether you are an individual pet owner, a breeder, a foster carer, or a corporation – if you are a person in charge of an animal, you owe a duty of care to it. A person in charge includes the person who owns the animal, or has the animal in their care, control or custody. So all rescue groups who take custody, ownership or control of an animal, become persons in charge and owe a duty of care to that animal, whether or not the animal is in their direct care. 

Isn’t this rescue group just saving animals that don’t have other options?

Our advice to people who care for animals, whether in your home or running a rescue group, is to know your limits, ask for help sooner rather than later, and be prepared to admit when you have taken too much on and seek help.

“We understand that some people are opposed to euthanasia, but sadly we know that there are some things worse than a humane death for animals,” Chief Inspector Daniel Young says.

How can you identify good rescue groups?

‘Rescue’ generally means ‘to save form death or harm’. However, too often the RSPCA sees animals end up receiving care that subjects them to far worse conditions than where they originated from. Taking on an animal because you believe it may be euthanased, is not justification for keeping that animal inhumanely.

Chief Inspector Daniel Young says, “We often come across animal rescue operations that appear to be a way for people simply to legitimise hoarding behaviour. Others that run using foster carers operate without adequate processes and procedures in place to ensure animals are not languishing or suffering in foster homes. What you see on Facebook is not always what the reality is behind the scene. Do your due diligence, check out financial reports, ask around about the conditions animals are kept in, find out where veterinary work is done, and make considered decisions about fostering animals, surrendering animals and adopting animals – because they depend on you.”

A poorly run rescue group using foster networks, with animals scattered around in private homes, can turn into an animal welfare nightmare, just as easily as if those animals were kept in a classic hoarding environment. It is extremely difficult for Inspectors to address welfare issues in these foster care network situations. They often walk into a house and find a number of neglected cats or dogs, only to be told that they are foster animals from a rescue group. It is then difficult to obtain information about where the animals came from, how long they have been there, what treatments they had received, and who is responsible for them.

RSPCA Prosecutions Officer Tracey Jackson says that this case should be a wakeup call not only for rescue groups, but for foster carers. “Those who do the wonderful work of fostering animals need to understand the risks. When they take in an animal, they owe a duty of care to that animal, and they share that duty of care with the rescue group. If foster carers have concerns they should raise them with the rescue group, or with RSPCA.”

The damage of words

Whenever these emotional stories are published, we encounter people who draw conclusions, make up ‘facts’, and then level criticism based on that misinformation. Others jump on board far too quickly and share these harmful comments, which leads to a social media ‘frenzy’ based on untruths, which can do genuine harm to the people and animals involved.

Every volunteer and staff member at the RSPCA works tirelessly, all with a shared passion for animals.

Every dollar, every volunteer hour and every limited resource spent on responding to these words or the damage caused by them, is time taken away from animals in care and in need.

Sometimes in our line of work, we meet people who do unspeakable things to animals. But there are others, people who are supposed to be on the side of animals, who instead end up hurting them indirectly by sharing and promoting these untrue and damaging remarks.

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