Elizabeth Shanahan reckons ownership is a major factor in animal cruelty.
And she’s seen a lot of animals and sadly a lot of cruelty over the years.
She started as president of the RSPCA’s Rockhampton branch in 1993 but she’s been involved in animal welfare for more than 45 years.
“Some cruelty cases relating to animals are classed as a misdemeanour and not a crime because animals are classed as property. A bit like women were years ago and still are in some countries. Until animals are classed as sentient beings, this attitude with continue.”
In Queensland the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 is the primary legislation that governs the way animals are treated. Twenty years on, it’s about to be reviewed. So far, there has been no mention of animal sentience.
In some parts of Australia though, attitudes are starting to change. The ACT has become the first jurisdiction to accept animal sentience – recognising that animals feel pain, fear, discomfort and pleasure.
The ACT Minister Chris Steel who sponsored the new legislation says it reflects a “zero tolerance approach to animal cruelty,”
“Modern animal welfare is about considering how an animal is coping both mentally and physically with the conditions in which it lives……..for the first time under law we are recognising the science that animals are sentient, and they feel emotion and pain,” the minister says.
But while the leigislation does recognise that animals are sentient, in reality, it’s only likely to affect pets, not farm animals.
The Victorian Government is also considering animal sentience in a review of its, more than 30-year-old, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
The government says it is “ modernising animal welfare laws in line with community expectations” recognising that “animal welfare includes the mental and physical health of an animal. Good animal welfare is achieved through humane, reasonable and respectful treatment ……..”
And animal support groups share Elizabeth Shanahan’s hopes that recognising animal sentience has the power to elevate standards in their welfare.
Elizabeth says the current review of Queensland legislation is well overdue and positive changes must be implemented. That includes more power to those officers who enforce the Animal Care and Protection Act.
“The Queensland community expects laws that protect all animals should upgraded and enforceable and that standards must be mandatory”.
One issue Elizabeth feels strongly about is shade and shelter. She is one of many Queenslanders who have signed a parliamentary petition to change the laws.
The petition wants to make it mandatory for owners and carers to provide adequate shade and shelter for their animals. It calls for a definition of “adequate shelter” and penalties for those who don’t comply.
“Living in various regional towns in Queensland I have witnessed animals standing in tree less paddocks, sale yards and handling yards in temperatures of 35 to 42 degrees without shade and shelter. I can’t understand why this is allowed”.
“Surely giving them these simple comforts will not burst their budget and should be made mandatory in every State especially in hot climates. Plant plenty of trees and don’t cut them down would be a simple answer.”
Dairy New Zealand is one of the organisations that has researched the effects of heat exposure in its herds.
It says the comfort zone for a cow is 4 to 20 degrees, so cows (like many other animals) are affected by heat stress at much lower temperatures than people.
For beef cattle (British breeds) it’s 15 – 25 degrees, beef cattle (tropical breeds) 16 – 27 degrees, goats 10 – 20 degrees, pigs 16 to 25 degrees and sheep 21 – 30 degrees.
Pregnant, lactating animals as well as the old and the young are especially susceptible to heat stress. Poor air flow, high humidity and ground temperatures can make the heat load deadly.
In Elizabeth Shanahan’s part of the world summer temperatures last year regularly rose into the high 30s nudging 40. The mean for January was 34.3. That’s about 15 degrees hotter than what most animals (including cows) are comfortable with.
“The result is severe suffering”, according to Australian-born veterinarian Andrew Knight, Professor of Animal Welfare at Winchester University in the UK.
“All farm animals are sentient, sensitive animals, capable of feeling pain, stress and fear. “Being exposed to excessive sunlight can be highly stressful and decrease their health and welfare. Such systematic lack of care is indicative of the widespread exploitation these animals endure.”
Shelter and heat stress were among the top animal cruelty complaints the RSPCA received last year. In 2020, 1,116 emergency calls to the Queensland RSPCA were related to heat stress – either the animal was left in a hot car or it couldn’t reach shade and water.
The RSPCA says “Queensland’s heat is deadly”.
And as the climate science tells us, things are going to get worse.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology 2020 was Australia’s fourth-warmest year on record. Australia’s area-averaged mean temperature for 2020 was 1.15 degrees above the 1961–1990 average.
The mean temperature for the 10 years from 2011 to 2020 was the highest on record, at 0.94 degrees above average. All years since 2013 have been amongst the ten warmest on record for Australia.
Despite the climate forecasts, the research on heat stress in animals, and recent petitions, there are no mandatory minimum standards for the provision of shade and shelter for animals in Queensland.
Inspectors from the RSPCA and the State Government’s Biosecurity Queensland are jointly responsible for policing animal welfare breaches in the state.
Biosecurity Queensland sits under the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
One of Biosecurity Queensland’s primary objectives is to protect the state’s agriculture industry.
According to the Department’s annual report for 2019/2020, there were 1395 animal welfare investigations undertaken. In the same period 466 live animal export certificates were issued to” facilitate international market access for Queensland animals”.
The report does not detail any outcomes of its 1395 investigation. It says they were “to ensure high standards of animal welfare and support the ethical production of food products”.
“I have a problem with this of course as it’s referring to animals as food products and there lies the problem. Animals shouldn’t be referred to as only food products but as sentient beings. This attitude must stop if we are to give animals more protection from neglect, cruelty and abuse”.
Queensland has a total land mass of 1, 729, 742 square kilometres. The RSPCA has 23 inspectors. A lot of their work is with small farms and domestic animals.
In 2019/2020 they investigated 18,332 complaints. There were 304 successful prosecutions.
Elizabeth Shanahan acknowledges that they have it tough “It’s such a challenging job it takes guts to be an inspector.” But she says aspects of the legal system can make the job even harder.
“Because animals in this state are still classed as property the perpetrators can get away with a slap on the wrist.”
Offences are handled by the Magistrates Court so any decisions are not binding on future cases and dealings in the Magistrates Court can often go unreported in the media.
“There was a period of three to four years when no cases were before the courts.
But there have been excellent inspectors in the past who had investigativeskills and successfully won with two cases I can remember. One was the killing of a bag of kittens and he received three months imprisonment”.
Ironically, Elizabeth applied for a job as inspector back in 1993. She didn’t get it. But she was offered the role of manager for a new shelter that was planned for Rockhampton.
In 1993 a registered RSPCA branch was formed and Elizabeth was elected President. The shelter was to follow.
“It didn’t happen due to many problems, like unsuitable available land and lack of finances.”
Elizabeth lives in Rockhampton with her partner, one dog , two former rescue cats Rose and Podge and fosters three special needs cats Penny, Sadie and Charlie.
Sign the petition. Help make shade mandatory in Queensland.
Bureau of meteorology climate statement and reports
Victorian Government animal welfare action plan
Act Government animal welfare review
QLD review of Animal Care and Protection Act
QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries annual report 2019 2020
Dairy New Zealand