It’s only August, yet we’ve already seen a despicable array of animal abuse cases make headlines in Australia and New Zealand this year.
Along with the grisly and violent nature of these crimes, they all share one other important aspect: the perpetrators basically “got away with it”.
Despite cruelty-to-animals laws that carry harsh penalties, including fines and jail time, animal abusers are consistently under-punished, and their crimes are not taken as seriously as they should be.
Enough is enough.
This is a problem that demands our urgent attention. Laws are worth nothing if they’re not consistently and meaningfully enforced.
This Issue Affects Animals and Humans
History shows that past incidents involving cruelty to animals appear regularly in the records of serial killers and rapists.
A direct relationship between animal abuse and other violent crime was first established by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1970s. A study by Dr John Clarke, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Sydney and consultant to the New South Wales Police Force, used police data collection to demonstrate that 61 per cent of convicted animal abuse offenders had also committed an assault and that 17 per cent were guilty of sexual abuse.
Animal abuse was a better predictor of sexual assault than previous convictions for homicide, arson, or firearms offences.
The world’s most notorious serial killers, including Jeffrey Dahmer, Dennis Rader, and Albert DeSalvo – better known as the Boston Strangler – have long documented histories of harming animals. In Australia, murderers such as Paul Denyer, John Travers, and Ivan Milat tortured and killed animals before turning to human victims.
The Worst of 2016
Here’s a list of 10 animal abusers who virtually got away with it in 2016, avoiding serious jail time and receiving lenient punishments for their crimes. The animals abused by these individuals have not been given any modicum of justice.
Read to the end to find out how you can help change the culture of under-punishing animal abuse.
1. The Chef Who Choked a Puppy: Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Craig Muller, 36, was ordered to undergo an anger-management course and sentenced to 30 months’ probation for violently abusing his kelpie puppy, Nera. In a number of sickening incidents captured on film by a neighbour, Muller subjected Nera to immense pain and fear – in one instance, holding her down on a table and choking her.
Other videos showed Muller smothering Nera and muffling her cries with a towel, as well as throwing her against a child’s swing set and slamming her against a glass table as she screamed in pain.
After the neighbour alerted the RSPCA, Nera was removed from Muller’s property and found to have a broken hip. She underwent surgery and physio before being prepared for a new home.
Muller was banned from owning an animal for just three years.
2. The Men Who Shot and Beat Two Kangaroos to Death: Horsham, Victoria
Thomas Robertson and Andrew Heggie shot three kangaroos with a shotgun and then filmed themselves beating them to death with baseball bats.
In the video – which they posted to Facebook – Heggie remarked, “This is for all you animal lovers”, before he beat a small kangaroo in the head five times. The animal did not lose consciousness until the fourth strike of the baseball bat.
The pair also took chilling photographs on their mobile phones – one showing Robertson with a shotgun, holding up the head of a dead emu, and another showing him with a knife between his teeth and severed kangaroo legs in each hand.
Both men escaped jail time, and Heggie was placed on a 12-month community correction order and fined just $1,800.
Robertson, who showed no signs of remorse, according to the magistrate, was fined over $6,000 and ordered to serve 175 hours of community service and complete a mental-health programme.
3. The ‘Rat-Biter’: Brisbane, Queensland
Matthew Maloney, 25, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service after biting the head off a live rat and posting a video of the incident to Facebook. He was also ordered to pay court costs of $90 and banned from owning an animal for three years. The RSPCA seized 17 rats and a snake from his property.
When questioned outside court, Maloney said that he didn’t think his behaviour was “that bad”. He also posted comments on Facebook labelling compassionate objectors “a bunch of sissies” who needed to “accept the food chain”.
4. The Teen Who Beat a Puppy so Badly That She Had to Be Euthanised: Christchurch, New Zealand
Despite committing “one of the worst acts of cruelty Canterbury SPCA staff have seen”, Logan Smoor, 18, was sentenced to just 15 months’ imprisonment for the violent beatings and neglect of puppy Kia.
After suffering at the hands of Smoor, Kia had 11 fractures, lost sight in her right eye, and was starving. She was in such excruciating pain that simple acts such as drinking and urinating would have been difficult and caused her further pain. She later had to be euthanised.
Smoor also admitted to killing a rat by slamming the animal in a cage door.
Although Smoor did face jail time, 15 months is an extremely lenient sentence and does not reflect the severity of this violent, premeditated crime.
5. The Snapchat Possum Killers: Brisbane, Queensland
Callum Gibson Mckenzie and Hunter Lawrence Jonasen, both 17, repeatedly ran the wheel of their car over a live possum – laughing as they filmed the incident to post on Snapchat. An RSPCA official described the case as “perhaps the worst case of premeditated animal cruelty we have seen in Queensland” – yet the men were given just 12 months’ probation, with no conviction recorded.
The possum endured unimaginable pain, and after being slowly, repeatedly crushed, he managed to crawl away, eyes bulging and fighting for his life with his spine severely fractured and entrails exposed. The animal later died.
The original charge for this crime was “serious animal cruelty”, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years. The men later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of “animal cruelty”, which carries a maximum three-year sentence.
6. The Man Who Forced a Dachshund’s Head Into the Dirt: Brisbane, Queensland
Another cruelty-to-animals case, another paltry “community service” sentence: Trent Matthew Hassum was called a “scumbag” by a member of the court gallery after footage revealed that he dragged yelping dachshund Aubree by the collar, forcing her face into the ground, only stopping after his pregnant partner yelled, “You’re going to kill her!”
Hassum then used his full bodyweight to hold Aubree down as she struggled to get free, before holding her up in the air by her collar.
He was sentenced to 150 hours of community service and banned from owning an animal for three years – again, the punishment does not reflect the violent nature of his crime.
Aubree has since been moved to a new home.
7. The Serial Animal Hoarder: Auckland, New Zealand
The SPCA in New Zealand has been investigating known animal hoarder and neglecter Ann Power for 13 years and this year prosecuted her for the fifth time.
A large number of animals were seized from Power in February, after a two-year battle waged by the SPCA – initially sparked by reports of a horse on her property who had starved to death, was covered with faeces, and had a skin infection that had been left untreated.
More than 40 dogs were removed from the property in this latest raid – some too traumatised or weak to walk.
The court allowed Power – despite her fifth conviction on charges related to animal welfare – to keep up to 40 birds, 18 sheep, 11 cows, four horses, four llamas, four dogs, and four cats on “compassionate grounds”.
We must ask: where is the compassion for these animals, who were left to languish in this hellish environment?
8. The Man Who Decapitated a Cat: Gold Coast, Queensland
Jordan Christie, 21, cut a cat’s head off as part of a dispute over money.
After decapitating the cat – named Moo – Christie used the animal’s blood to write a threatening message on the garage door of the home. He then reportedly left the cat’s head at the front door.
A burnt-out car was also found in the driveway, and Christie enlisted the help of friends to attempt to extort money from someone linked to the property.
He was due to face trial in March, but after pleading guilty to all the charges – arson, extortion, and the unlawful killing of an animal – he was sentenced to just three years’ imprisonment. Having already served 10 months in pre-sentence custody, Christie was then released on parole and did not have to spend any further time in jail.
9. The Farmer Who Left Pigs and Cows Neglected and Suffering: Taranaki, New Zealand
Pigs and cows so badly neglected, some had to be euthanised and a critically ill calf left to die: these were just two of the sickening examples of cruelty uncovered by inspections at a farm in Hurford.
The facility included pig troughs covered with thick algae and contaminated with urine and faeces. Some pigs were also kept in small pens without food, water, or bedding and were covered with their own excrement and suffering from lameness and mange.
Sick animals were ordered to be euthanised, but this was not done. Instead, they were left to suffer.
After pleading guilty to multiple charges under the Animal Welfare Act, farmer Robert Ross Dawson, 64, could have faced a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Instead, he was fined just $6,000 and ordered to pay veterinary and court costs.
Hannah Gregus/ Sympathy at Slaughter
10. The Neighbourhood Cat Killer: Adelaide, South Australia
When his neighbour’s friendly 2-year-old cat, Spock, entered his garden, Kent Wilson shot and killed him, before burying his body.
Spock, who was microchipped and mostly kept indoors, had gone missing from his home – leaving his worried guardians on a frantic search for him.
Nineteen-year-old Mia Shepherdson questioned Wilson, stating later, “He admitted he had shot and buried him on our ‘behalf’ …. I left crying, he said ‘thanks for coming’ and suggested I should buy another cat”.
Wilson faced a maximum $50,000 fine or a four-year prison sentence after being found guilty of ill-treating an animal to cause death. Instead, he was fined just $2,000 and spared conviction for cruelty to animals.
These cases represent a small number of the cruelty-to-animals reports that occur on a daily basis.
Over and over, we see horrific examples of animals who are abused and killed.
Other Notable Cruelty Cases in 2016
Kangaroo Killers Never Caught: Melbourne, Victoria
Two kangaroos were found on a suburban street with their throats slit. The leg of one was hacked off, and a foetus had been cut from the womb of the other, who had also been beheaded. A local resident witnessed the attack by a group of young men. They have yet to be caught.
Calls for Another Investigation Into Sheep Abuse Ignored: Murrayfield Station, Tasmania
After a whistleblower reported horrendous abuse and neglect of sheep, it was determined that there was enough evidence to file cruelty-to-animals charges. But instead, a paltry fine of just $280 was issued. Upon release of the shocking photos from Murrayfield Station this year, thousands of PETA supporters called for a new investigation into this case. So far, there are no plans for such an investigation.
Chicken Killer on the Loose: Orange, New South Wales
Six chickens were savagely killed at Glenroi Heights Public School in June. The devastated young students made the gruesome discovery, and so far, the perpetrator has not been identified. PETA is offering a reward for information leading to a conviction.
Man Who Shot Kangaroo With a Crossbow Still to Be Sentenced: Melbourne, Victoria
James Calleja, 34, will be sentenced on 12 September for offences which include shooting a kangaroo through the head. Driving an unregistered car with no number plates, Calleja (along with his brother) dressed in camouflaged gear and trespassed on private property before shooting Spot the kangaroo.
It remains to be seen whether Calleja will face any jail time for shooting Spot – who suffered with an arrow through his head for almost a month before being seized by wildlife officers. He later died of shock.
Puppy Farmer’s Son Trains Dogs to Kill Wildlife: Shepparton, Victoria
Sentenced to six months in prison, Kaleb Kennedy, 20, is currently out on bail, appealing his conviction, and due to appear in court again on 25 August.
Among the charges against him were aggravated cruelty to a deer, boar, goat, and cat, after he had trained his three dogs to maul and kill other animals.
How You Can Help
It’s easy to feel outrage when we read these stories and learn about the lenient sentences handed down to animal abusers. But it’s not enough simply to be angry – we need to take action.
Your voice matters. And a public outcry has already brought about tougher laws in the past. In 2012, two Queensland teenagers savagely beat a pair of alpacas with a metal fence post. One animal was found dead at the scene, and the other had to be euthanised.
The seriously inadequate sentencing handed down by the courts prompted a huge public outcry, ultimately resulting in the introduction of tougher laws in the state and the possibility of a seven-year prison term for severe cruelty to animals.
We must continue to speak out and demand that these laws be much more regularly and meaningfully enforced.
In addition to pushing for harsher penalties, we must also introduce early intervention plans and make humane education a priority in our schools.
Take action now.
Write to your local MP and express your concerns. Urge him or her to examine the way animal abusers are currently dealt with and remind your MP of the links between cruelty to animals and violence towards humans.