Victorian puppy factories bloom from reluctant RSPCA

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Puppies in factories are brought up in horrible, cruel conditions (Image via YouTube screenshot, RSPCA Victoria)

A change in leadership within the Victorian RSPCA has led to increased business for the puppy factory trade, writes Debra Tranter.

FOR THE FIRST TIME in the history of the campaign against puppy factories, we finally have a State Government in Victoria who listened and has passed the most progressive animal welfare legislation to date. The WA State Government is set to follow Victoria’s lead. A ban on the sale of animals in petshops, a cap on the number of breeding dogs allowed to be kept, a cap on litter numbers and a Pet Exchange Register tackling the online market and providing traceability and accountability.

Leading up to the drafting of this legislation the RSPCA were a strong, loud voice that actively lobbied for legislative reform and stood with the public for calls to end puppy factories and the sale of animals in pet shops. The CEO and Chief Inspector took part in the consultations, as did I.

But at the 11th hour, something changed. RSPCA Victoria appointed a new CEO, who allegedly came in with a large broom and swept out everyone with extensive experience. A new set of upper management came in, with very little experience in animal welfare and a focus on saving money, not animals.

That’s when the RSPCA went missing in action when it came to lobbying for this new legislation.

The RSPCA were not in Parliament during the debate, they weren’t even in parliament when this historical legislation passed into law. They confused the public with their ambiguous statements and mixed messages. The strong voice and leadership on an issue that meant so much simply disappeared. 

Three years prior, in October 2014, the State Government granted RSPCA Victoria an extra $5 million spread over four years, for the specific purpose of setting up a dedicated task force to target puppy factories, the Special Investigations Unit.

CEO Dr Liz Walker stated at the time that the unit would be a “separate and dedicated investigative arm” that would focus solely on intensive breeders and unlicensed breeding operations.

The SIU was set up and I was pleased to offer its inspectors information to assist them in building their data base. It was an exciting time, with dedicated and passionate inspectors making a real difference. Puppy factories were being raided, dogs were being seized and prosecutions started.

That all ended in mid-2016, when the SIU was disbanded and inspectors were made redundant. The dedicated animal behavioural team, who specifically worked with damaged puppy factory survivors, followed shortly after. Redundancies and resignations were at an all-time high, and the morale levels of remaining staff and volunteers that contacted me plummeted. 

Since this time, very little has been happening at RSPCA Victoria. 

In the last two years, I don’t believe my complaints have been actioned and I have had to watch on helplessly as dogs suffer in unimaginable situations. During this time, I have even been threatened with legal action if I dare to speak out critically against the RSPCA in Victoria.

One puppy farmer with a ten-year banning order and a court imposed monitoring order, has advertisements on the Trading Post right now. For over two years I have been reporting her to the RSPCA but she continues to operate illegally.

A puppy farmer operating without a permit and in breach of the code has continued business as usual, with the RSPCA visiting the illegal property for over a year and merely walking away despite a clear breach of Section 45 of the Domestic Animals Act, that specifically states it is an offence to operate without a permit. Rescue groups have since stepped in to rescue the dogs the RSPCA ignored for a year. The RSPCA even tried to claim they don’t have any powers to shut the place down — a blatant lie, as they were granted seizure powers from illegal puppy factories in 2011.

I have watched in horror as a convicted paedophile operates an online business, with his wife selling $208,100 of puppies in the 12 weeks since I reported them. This business is likely to bring him into contact with families with children who respond to the adverts, surely a breach of parole conditions, which as also been reported to police.

This husband and wife have also sold adult female dogs they no longer wanted, in clear violation of the law stating adult females must be desexed as per the Code of Practice. A number of their puppies have died of parvo, but even that doesn’t seem to warrant any urgent action from the RSPCA.

The extra $5 million given to RSPCA Victoria by the State Government was to stop these things from occurring. Instead, RSPCA have allowed the public to purchase puppies from illegal puppy farms where the breeding dogs are kept in appalling conditions.

Recently, the RSPCA have been using cruelty on puppy factories to raise funds. Ironically, they have used photos from a criminally convicted puppy farmer, who has a ten-year banning order and is still brazenly operating. 

Last month, an email was sent out by the RSPCA CEO, promising that if you give the RSPCA $200 they will ‘train and equip inspectors to rapidly respond to cruelty’. This is a slap in the face to those that are exhausted from reporting cruelty over and over, only to have their complaints ignored and end up watching on helplessly as puppy farmers operate without any fear they will be caught and dealt with. 

We finally have a State Government who listened to the public and acted accordingly. It is the worst time for the RSPCA, who have powers of enforcement and prosecution, to turn their back and walk away. Yet that is precisely what they have done. 

So why is the RSPCA missing in action? Why have they stopped investigating puppy factories, seizing dogs and prosecuting criminals? After conversations with certain members of management at RSPCA, it makes me wonder if it's politically motivated. 

Enforcement of state cruelty laws appears reliant on whoever is in charge of the RSPCA at any given time. 

Last month, I reported a puppy factory in NSW to the RSPCA. Within a week, it was raided and dogs were seized. It used to be like this in Victoria up until a few years ago. Now months – and in some cases years – go by with little or no action.

I believe it is because of this anomalous approach to enforcement, dependent on whoever is in charge, that the RSPCA Victoria must have all powers of enforcement and prosecution removed, and a dedicated independent agency be established by the State Government with full powers of investigation, enforcement and prosecutions under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. This independent agency should also be charged with providing expert advice on animal welfare and have input into legislation. 

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is being reviewed in Victoria at the moment; this is another positive step and a great opportunity for further legislative reform. This State Government has changed the laws to further protect animals. They have provided $5 million to the RSPCA specifically for enforcement. Unfortunately, those in charge of that enforcement have failed.

Victoria leads the way in many areas. The prevention of cruelty to animals is so important it cannot be left to the whims of those in charge of a state based animal welfare charity with poor or little experience in animal welfare or enforcement and prosecutions.

We can create change. That much I know. 

But now we must transcend the current enforcement system that is failing animals and failing to hold animal abusers to account.

Debra Tranter is the Founder of Oscar's Law, Australia's most prominent puppy factory campaign. You can follow Debra @DebraTranter.

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Victorian puppy factories bloom from reluctant RSPCA

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