For a more detailed introduction to this web page, please go to
with reports from an extraordinary number of highly indignant people aggrieved enough with the RSPCA to organize public documentation of their experiences and observations.
See Media Release at bottom of this web site for latest update (April 14, 2003).
This site is dedicated, after a couple of preliminaries, to the scandalous treatment meted out to Glynne Sutcliffe Huilgol, an Adelaide woman whose Australian kelpie dog, Banjo, died, when over16 years, of old age.
A BRIEF BIO is helpful to assessing the plausibility of the RSPCA charges:
“Glynne Sutcliffe grew up in Melbourne, where she took an Honours degree in History and a Diploma of Education from the University of Melbourne. She subsequently obtained a Masters degree in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. She has taught in High Schools in Victoria and South Australia, andhas tutored and lectured at the Universities of Sydney, Flinders and La Trobe, primarily in Sociology…
“In the nineties she established the Early Reading Play School to provide the foundations essential for children to acquire literacy skills in a simple and easily accessible way. She can report that the more than two thousand children who have done the program to date are near universally achieving at a level between eighteen months to three years ahead of the benchmark expectations for their age.”
An extra dimension is given to the Adelaide story by a quick look, first, at a report on the dreadful consequences for both animals and people of an RSPCA campaign in the early 19th century. This is just a reminder that the RSPCA’s ruthless disregard for anything but its own (often self-interested and ignorant) opinions is not new.
Planners from hell
Victorian lawmakers put the dog before cart
In 1824, the newly formed Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals launched aggressive campaigns to deliver helpless beasts from such atrocities as ear cropping, skinning alive, bull baiting and cockfighting. But in its zealousness, the RSPCA also targeted the common practice of using dogs as beasts of burden.
Hauling dogs were an essential part of life and economy of the time. Only the relatively well off could afford to maintain horses, but the even poorest family was able to keep a dog in the family home and feed it scraps. Working dogs — Newfoundlands, Great Pyrenees and Saint Bernards — hauled textiles and produce from town to town quickly and efficiently. The gentry, including Queen Victoria herself, were strong supporters of attempts to stop dog hauling. Dogs, to this segment of society, were pampered pets and status symbols. The RSPCA played to the sentiments of the public and Parliament with tales of hideous mistreatment. Their efforts finally paid off, and by 1855, an act of Parliament outlawed the use of dogs as beasts of burden throughout the U.K. Fish and vegetable merchants petitioned to prevent passage of the law on the grounds that they would be forced out of business, but public opinion was clearly on the side of dogs.
Instead of saving dogs, however, the new law caused untold suffering. Small merchants and hawkers had no use for the animals that had once been vital to their lives. Suddenly they were an unaffordable luxury, and their owners either turned them out on the streets, or simply slaughtered them. Terrible massacres were reported in places like Birmingham, Liverpool and Cambridge as these cities struggled to cope with the packs of starving dogs roaming their streets.
- Cecily Ross
DOCUMENT 1: Glynne Sutcliffe Huilgol’s initial response to the RSPCA charge that she ‘ill-treated an animal’…
A statement made by Glynne Sutcliffe,
on Monday 17th December 2001
One year ago exactly, on Sunday 17th December 2000, at4.40pm my dog Banjo was seized by the RSPCA, and subsequently euthanased without consultation with me, or my consent.
I had been home for the previous 2-3 days when the dog was outside the house. The dog was seized when I uncharacteristically went out to an end of year social occasion. (My social life is pretty thin on the ground.) This was a whistle-blowers end-of-year get together. I left at about 3.00pm, to my recollection, and got home about 9.00pm to find the RSPCA note on my door.
The time span between my departure and the RSPCA arrival strongly suggests that I had been under surveillance, and that the raid was timed very precisely to avoid any confrontation or discussion with me about the dog.
Banjo was sixteen years old, and he was dying. He had had arthritis that had made it difficult (but not impossible) for him to get around for some time.
He was originally my daughter’s dog, given to her as a Christmas present in December, 1984. However he continued to live in the family home after she left in order to live closer to the university. At that stage he became to all intents and purposes my dog, and for the ten years after my family’s break-up, between 1990 and his death in 2000, he was my daily companion.
My sister’s photograph of him has hung on the lounge room wall for the last few years.
When he became immobile in that last week of his life, at first he was in the house. But he became incontinent, and wet the carpet. At that point I put him outside. He was quite a heavy dog, and I could not lift him, but I put him on a blanket which meant that I could pull him as necessary into the shade. I left water close to him, and gave him aspirin to relieve the arthritis pain. Being summer, the couple of days before the RSPCA raid were quite warm. When they arrived he was on the east-facing verandah where I had left him in the afternoon shade.
When I got home to find him gone, and the RSPCA notice of seizure on the door, I became very upset, and immediately rang the number indicated on the note, and protested about what had been done. I learnt he had been put down.
I asked for the return of his body, so I could bury him on the property where he had lived his entire life. I was told this was impossible. I presume it was impossible because they had immediately cremated him. They did not admit to this, but said that once an animal had gone into the Veterinary Pathology Services building at 33 Flemington St. Glenside, that it could not leave that building!
I feel that the whole episode was outrageous, for reasons that are no doubt not legally ‘relevant’.
However, there do seem to be some issues that a court should take into account:
1) Is there a legal requirement that a dying animal be put down? (If this is the case I was certainly not aware of that legislation)
2) If the government requires that a dying animal be put down, apart from the moral and emotional aspects of the situation, is it legitimate to demand that someone with limited resources, spend a large sum of money on getting a pet, admittedly ill and suffering, killed? It is extremely hard to get out of a vet’s surgery without parting with $150 to $200.
3) On the moral and emotional side, Kevin Andrews fought a good fight against euthanasia for human beings. And the government agreed. The pro-death lobby was voted down. Are animals of lesser consequence than human beings? I don’t see any reason to suppose this. I believe that a companion animal should be allowed to die a natural death in the place where it has lived its life.
4) The RSPCA is becoming better known for killing animals than for protecting them. I think it may be time for the government to investigate its activities. To say the least, its personnel are high-handed in the extreme. They assume the right of the Almighty to determine questions of life and death. They act in a dictatorial fashion. They determine arbitrarily what should or should not be done. And their claim to always decide properly requires extraordinary effort to contest. See report on The Australian on 11 Oct. 2001.
5) Animals have died of natural causes for millennia. Perhaps there is another angle to this situation. Does the RSPCA think that I should perhaps in some way have prevented Banjo from dying?
6) It is extremely likely that the RSPCA’s prosecution of this case is to be attributed to their anger at my protesting their decisions, and their intention to teach me that they have the upper hand, and that they can make whatever decisions they like without asking anyone.
7) There is a very strange time lapse of some 7- 8 months between the seizure of the dog, and the decision to prosecute. I would like to find out why it took so long to act, if they felt action was warranted. (To my recollection, the case was instigated in late July or early August, 2001.)
8) POSTSCRIPT: Friday 8th February 2002.
On reflection I put it to the court that the case should be dismissed; there is no case to answer. The dog was within hours of a natural death.
The RSPCA has described his death as ‘hideous’– this is highly emotive language. Death is not ever pretty. Death is the anthithesis of life. Laws prevent pro-euthanasia doctors plying their trade with human beings. If it is my lot to die in pain I am prepared to accept it as the price of life, rather than help institutionalize medical practice that permits or should we say encourages putting people down. Animals are not fundamentally different from human beings. The argument that this or that animal should be ‘put out of its misery’ is a specious rationalization of human hubris. It is an attempt to claim moral virtue for human convenience. What it means is that the animal in question is no longer useful to human beings.
I have only ever been to Oakbank once, and I would never go again. The occasion I attended was marked by the brutal and hideous killing of two lovely horses, despite my offer of caring for them on my property. Logically, if a steeplechaser breaks and ankle, it is reasonable to conclude that it will never race again. On the other hand, we know how to mend bones. A horse could easily be put in a body sling while its leg mended. It could have a long and happy life after the leg was mended, even if it was no longer a top racer. It is killed because its owner deems it of no commercial value any more. Given the amount of money that the horses in question had no doubt earned for their owner prior to falling and injuring themselves in an activity designed and pursued for human entertainment, it seems especially vicious that the owner doesn’t choose to have them healed.
I don’t see any race-horse or steeple-chaser owners in court for murder, though there is a case to be made, in contrast with this instance of Banjo’s death from old age. His life with me was longer than many other dogs of his breed ‘normally’ enjoy – testimony, I think, to the care and love that he got.
DOCUMENT 2: the charge of ‘ill-treating an animal’ was refined to ‘failure to alleviate distress’ in order to avoid the implication that Glynne actively hurt her dog.
The first day of the trial consisted entirely of RSPCA Inspector Peter Master’s statements and the testimony of the two vets called in by the RSPCA to back up, or amplify Peter Master’s assertions.
Following the first day of the trial, on 2nd July, 2002, the local newspaper, The Advertiser, ran a major story on p.7, accompanied by a photograph.
On the second day, July 3, Glynne Sutcliffe cross-examined the ‘expert witnesses’, and discovered dimensions to the story that the RSPCA had essentially lied about. These extra dimensions were certainly relevant to getting a more realistic understanding what was going on.
The Advertiser, contacted on the morning of the 4th July with a letter corrective of the earlier story simply refused to publish the corrections, modifications, etc. Here is what they refused to publish:
121 King William St.
Adelaide, SA 5000
Fax : 8206 3669
4th July 2002
– SOME EXTRA FACTS USEFUL TO THINKING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED
Readers of your story (Wednesday 3rd July) on the death of Banjo, my red kelpie dog, and my trial for ‘failure to alleviate distress’, may be interested in what emerged on the following day. (I am puzzled that you ‘rushed to judgment’ with a half-told and still unfolding story, derived almost entirely from RSPCA Senior Inspector Peter Masters ’self-justificatory narrative.)
Supporters of the RSPCA might appreciate knowing more of the details so they can better assess how the RSPCA uses the money they donate.
The trial has taken two days so far, and I have not yet had a chance to speak, except, on the second day, as a cross-examiner of prosecution witnesses. It was this cross-examination that produced initially suppressed details of high relevance. The trial has now been adjourned until12th November.
Banjo was a much loved companion animal born in November 1984, and therefore over sixteen years of age when he died on Sunday, 17th December 2000.
A photograph of Banjo taken by my sister has hung on my lounge room wall for the last several years. He was getting old, and had been in failing health for some time. He had long since ceased to be of any ‘use’, e.g. as a guard dog. It would have been considered quite ‘normal’ had I decided to have him ‘put down’ at any time in those last two years of his life. But I felt I owed him. He had stood by me. I would stand by him. I had no wish to take his life. I made a conscious decision against euthanasia, and for letting nature take its course.
After reading my two-page defence, Magistrate Eardsley initially set a date for a Pre-Trial Conference (rather than a trial) because, he said, it was most likely to settle in the PTC. His comment suggested he was puzzled by the RSPCA prosecuting an owner for allowing a sixteen year old dog to die in its own time. (Magistrate Prescott subsequently chose not to facilitate settlement at the PTC. His reasons for doing so were not given. It is possible that his reasons were not entirely derived from the facts of the case in front of him. See below.)
The general air of unreality about the trial was exacerbated by discussion of the need to prove, by reference to witnesses, that a dog was an ‘animal’ within the meaning of the relevant legislation –i.e. had vertebrae and was neither a fish nor a human.
Two key RSPCA witnesses, Dr. Sarah Drysdale, veterinary surgeon, and Dr. Julie Lucas, veterinary pathologist, said they had estimated Banjo’s age as “mature”, “over 5”, “between 5 and 9 or 10 years of age”. (That they could be so much in error here does suggest there may be problems with the rest of their testimony.)
The path tests ordered by the RSPCA generated the report that he died of acute necrotising myositis and cellulitis. We were told that this had to be a consequence of ‘inoculation’ with clostridium spores. Clostridium spores can only infect the body as a result of a bite or other wound. This wound was not located or sighted either by Dr. Drysdale or by Dr. Lucas. I assume therefore I could not be held responsible for any over sight in this matter.
Clostridium infections, we learnt, are extremely rare in domestic animals but are reported in the literature, and have rapid onset and rapid progression. A bit like meningococcal infections in humans, if you catch such an infection in the early stages it can be cured with antibiotics, but in the case of clostridium infections, if 24 hours pass and the symptoms begin to appear, it is already too late and the animal will die within 24 to 48 hours –unless you can get access to rare specialist expertise. This expertise is completely unavailable in SA. It is to be found only at Melbourne or Sydney universities.
Now because the veterinary professionals thought Banjo was much younger than he actually was, and the RSPCA seized the dog when I was not at home, it followed that they took no history of the dog -and could not link his condition to his age or medical history. They could not have known that he displayed no symptoms other than lying down, going into a coma, or semi-coma, and becoming incontinent. Dr. Lucas gave the court along list of symptoms which she inaccurately supposed must have been manifest, and which I therefore must have ignored. The entire list was constructed on the basis of assumptions that were a totally inadequate guide to the realities of the situation.
Had they known Banjo’s age and medical profile, they may have concluded that irrespective of the technical cause, the shutting down of all of the body’s vital systems is the immediate precursive to a natural death. The Advertiser reported me as ‘admitting’ that I knew he was dying. I did not ‘admit’ anything – I informed those who enquired that this was the case.
Because he was virtually comatose, Banjo’s awareness of pain was presumably minimal. The greatest amount of pain and distress that he experienced in his last 24 hours of life is likely to have been the result of being bundled up in Inspector Peter Masters’ RSPCA blanket and being tossed into the back of Masters’ van, and driven around the countryside until he located the emergency vet services at Anzac Highway, and then being prodded and poked by a vet who wanted to add to her store of medical knowledge - before she decided, arbitrarily, with no effort to contact me at all, that she should proceed with immediate euthanasia.
Masters told the court that Banjo was ‘lying in his own urine’ and that he stank so badly that Masters had to open his van windows to get some fresh air as he drove Banjo around. That this was a massive exaggeration was clear when Dr. Drysdale failed to confirm this assertion of odour. On oath, she said she detected no untoward smell at all. Neither did I, when sitting with him on my front porch, as I did during those last couple of days.
Cross examination of Dr. Lucas elicited the information that palliative care for Banjo would have cost upwards of $1800,and that this would only have been provided in the context of allowing the owner time to come to terms with the grieving process in the hope of obtaining agreement to euthanase within a few hours. Dr. Lucas also confirmed that Adelaide has no institution comparable with Melbourne’s Lort Smith Animal Hospital, from which, had I been in Melbourne, I may have sought some advice regarding Banjo, even given my view that in the circumstances it would be useless to hope for a veterinarian solution.
The RSPCA’s intervention in Banjo’s dying meant that I wasn’t able to sit with him at the end, and that he was cremated in the pathology services lab, so that I could not bury him on the property where he had lived his life.
It seems that a natural death is no longer permitted domestic animals.
Our courts are generally expected to endeavor to make judgments that are comparable in comparable circumstances.
Assuming that legislation covering children is stricter than the legislation covering animals, it follows that every parent of every child that has died, or in future will die, of meningococcal disease should be prosecuted for failure of duty of care, as well as for failure to alleviate distress – because death would not have ensued (speaking generally)if the parents had been alert to the initial symptoms. That they were not so alert would automatically have caused a failure to provide appropriate medication according to the latest medical text books. And the child would have died in excruciating distress, etc.
It follows that the elderly husband of a woman who died of cellulitis, within a week of a small circle of cellulitis appearing on her hand, should be prosecuted not for failure to alleviate distress but for murder.
It follows that every farmer in the country who has had an animal die without knowing the reason, and without consulting a vet, must similarly be hauled into court.
The world does not have enough lawyers, magistrates or available court times – not even in lawyer-dense Adelaide!
There may be a more ‘logical’ explanation of what has been going on than the facts of the case seem to warrant. It is not irrelevant, incidentally, that I was attending an SA Whistleblowers function on the Sunday afternoon when Banjo was seized.
A dairy farmer friend of mind asked me why I am being subjected to a witch-hunt, the magnitude of which he is fully aware is not limited to prosecuting me for the dying of an old dog, dear friend, whose time had come. Actually he knows the answer.
Readers of The Advertiser can perhaps draw their own conclusions if they know that, since a break-in at my home in 1995, I have been asking for an enquiry into police corruption in SA. More specifically, during the early months of this year I ran an appeal in the Supreme Court, alleging police harassment - which has been ongoing since my1996 detailed accusations to the Police Complaints Authority, and intensified with my public statement on the matter at a Business Enterprise Centre networking breakfast on 14th June, 2000. There were three separate hearings in the Supreme Court, amounting to some five or six hours of argumentation. The hearings were brought to a close when Justice Wicks decided he did not have jurisdiction in the matter! I am not sure how to interpret this, but certainly it did not amount to denying the truth of what I was saying.
Why am I not surprised that The Advertiser chose to report the RSPCA’s accusations against me, and not my accusations against the police?
Now that WA has bitten the bullet on police behaviour maybe its time for SA to follow suit. As a matter of general policy I am recommending serious attention be paid to the application of the principle of zero tolerance to the police before any attempt is made to apply it to the public at large.
Glynne Sutcliffe, MA (Chicago) BA Hons, Dip Ed (Melb.)
Chandlers Hill, SA
PS: When I came home after the first day of the trial my three year old Siamese tom cat had disappeared. Tom cats do wander. This is not the season. Nor has he reappeared by the time of writing this addendum, 7 days later, on 9th July. Wandering tom cats return home. That he has been stolen by one or more persons who knew that I was in the city that day is a near unavoidable conclusion. He was friendly, and would have been easy to catch.
PS: We have recently had a large scale public debate about the way insurance companies have demanded a rake-off from every tennis club and senior citizens’ group in the country, via the mechanism of public liability insurance. I believe there is some analogy to be drawn with the vested interest implied in the demand that owners of companion animals develop a life-time relationship with their local vet.”
DOCUMENT 3: a statement made by Mr. Robert Owen, a volunteer who helped Glynne with running the Early Reading Play School for a couple of years, including during 2000, when Banjo’s health was failing.
I, Robert Hugh Owen, of Ansett Ave, Netley, do affirm and swear that I met Glynne Sutcliffe in March of 2000 and that I helped her with the Early Reading Play School project until approximately November 2001.
In the course of doing this I needed to be at her home on Main Rd., Chandlers Hill, on a several days per week basis and as a result of this, I became very friendly with her red kelpie, Banjo.
Although I have never owned a dog, I have always been involved with dogs belonging to close friends and relatives. I always enjoyed good relationships with dogs and many dog owners remarked how I handled their dog and how well their dogs accepted me. This included a Doberman and other large aggressive dogs.
When I first met Banjo it was obvious that he was aging but was a healthy well cared for animal. I noticed after several months that he was gradually becoming less mobile.
He initially had a female terrier visitor from an adjoining property who would come visiting. Banjo would take off after the terrier although he was never going to achieve what he set out to do. I noted later that he was becoming much less able to even run after the terrier.
I also noted that Banjo was becoming incontinent as he was having a few accidents in the house. I found this a little difficult to deal with and was surprised at how patient Glynne was toward this occurring – she would never get cross with Banjo and I came to realise how close she was to Banjo. I used to get Banjo into his chair as he was finding it more difficult to get around. I noted that he often needed help to get to the lawn to urinate.
I spoke to Glynne about Banjo and said that I thought that Banjo didn’t have very long to live as he was becoming less interested in his food, less mobile and he had lost all interest in the terrier. Although Banjo did not appear to be in any obvious pain, and he never whimpered when being handled, I did wonder whether it would be humane to have him put down. I was interested in this issue as I have a cat that is very old – over twenty-one years who is also becoming less mobile, yet she appears happy and contented – although a vet had advised us that she was dying due to kidney failure some ten years ago!
Glynne said she wanted Banjo to live out whatever time nature had allocated to him. Banjo was not sick; he was old and was slowly dying. I have seen this same situation with many of my friend’s animals. Because it was close to Christmas and nothing was happening at the time with the school, I was not at Chandlers Hill in December of 2000. But whatever the immediate cause (clostridial infection?) of Banjo’s death, that he was into the dying process was obvious much earlier in that year.
I was shocked when I found out what had happened to Banjo, and believe that a great injustice has been done to Banjo as well as to Glynne.
DOCUMENT 4: a letter written for submission to the Magistrates Court by Glynne’s son, Dr. Vivek Huilgol. This letter was sent fromDr. Huilgol’s place of work in a large hospital in Shreveport, Louisana. It was deemed inadmissible as ‘evidence’ on the grounds that Dr. Huilgol was not an expert (despite getting his medical degree here in South Australia), that he was not present in court (so could not be cross-examined by the RSPCA lawyer),and that his testimony was based on hearsay!
CHARGES SHOULD BEDISMISSED
- CASEWITHOUT LEGITIMACY
- CONDUCTOF RSPCA REPREHENSIBLE
November 11, 2002
Reference: Glynne Sutcliffe Huilgol and Banjo
Dear Sir or Madam,
As a Specialist Physician licenced in Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA, as the son of Ms. Sutcliffe Huilgol,and as a dog owner I feel I am in a unique position to assist the court with its deliberations regarding my mother and her alleged mis-treatment of her dog, Banjo, prior to its involuntary euthanasia by the RSPCA.
Certainly the topic of euthanasia provokes passionate feelings, but both the Supreme Court in the USA and the Australian judiciary has deemed euthanasia illegal in humans. I see little to distinguish the level of care we should provide people and animals; however we have a special obligation to make informed decisions on behalf of those that are unable to do so – be they human or animal.
I believe the conduct of the RSPCA to be reprehensible in the extreme and was based in large part on their inadequate assessment of the age of the dog. Banjo was over 16 years of age – his longevity a direct tribute to the level of care provided by my mother over the years. Evidence presented by the RSPCA veterinary ‘experts’ has demonstrated their inability to determine the age of a dog; this calls into question their entire credibility. To assert that driving a dying dog in the back of a car for a number of hours in the heat of the Australian summer was providing compassionate care is highly questionable. Further, the entire notion that any dying animal has to be ‘put down’ is at best a matter for debate amongst learned individuals and should not form the basis for prosecution.
Finally, clostridial infections are difficult to diagnose at the best of times and are associated with a high mortality. Often, they represent the ‘final common pathway’ of a dying individual. For example, a person may suffer trauma in a gunshot injury; several days later they may die from a clostridial infection. Which then was the ‘cause of death’– the clostridial infection? Most people, provided that scenario, would state the person died from ‘complications of the gunshot injury’. When the elderly die from ‘old age’ the final cause of death is often a decreased blood supply throughout the body as the heart finally gets weaker, the lungs and then the patients succumb to pneumonia; no physician would be prosecuted because an elderly person died in their sleep.
In both humans and animals we live in a state of constant battle against bacteria that thrive in the host throughout life; a sour immune systems weaken, as our hearts pump less effectively, and as we oxygenate our bloodstream less effectively with age, these so-called ‘normal flora’ have an opportunity to multiply and hasten or ‘cause’ death. When younger, pneumonia often responds well to antibiotics. But few people would state that one-third of people die from pneumonia because of inadequate medical care, yet pneumonia does represent the ‘final common pathway’ for many of us.
The veterinary experts have, I believe, presented testimony to the effect that highly specialized resources would have been necessary to intervene to save Banjo’s life, but that these resources do not exist in South Australia.
I served in the Royal Australian Air Force as a physician and was, for two years (1989 – 1991), the Senior Medical Officer for Air Base Darwin. In the Northern Territory, at that time, no neuro-surgical resources were available in Darwin. If a person had a severe head trauma in the NT, their chances of dying were greater than if that same person had the identical injury in Adelaide. Were physicians prosecuted for not providing anon-existent resource? Clearly, access to resources and circumstances do dictate the level of care we are able to provide.
There is no dispute that the dog, Banjo, was dying. However, I hope that the Court has been persuaded that the ‘evidence’ of mistreatment by my mother is without foundation in law; she acted in the best interests of the animal, within the limit of the resources available to her in South Australia. The question that remains is “must all dying animals be ‘putdown?” If the answer is no, as it surely must be, then the case against her is without legitimacy.
I respectfully ask that the Court dismiss the charges against my mother.
Vivek R. Huilgol, BM, BS (Flinders 1986)
DOCUMENT 5: Defendant’s Concluding Argument (with further attachments)
Defendant’s concluding and summary arguments:
There is no substance to the primary charge that I ill-treated an animal.
Animals who live with me are an integral part of my household. Banjo was part and parcel of my everyday life for sixteen years. He was in and out of the house all the time, until at the end his incontinence mean the had to be put outside. Because it was summer, this was easier on him than if it had been winter.
Banjo was a loyal and loving dog. We often went on long beach walks together. He had the run of my property. He frolicked for most of his life. In his later years he slowed down. I had not been able to take him down to the beach for a while before he died – maybe a couple of years –because he only got half way from Seacliff to the Brighton jetty before he just sat down and refused to go any further – and I had been accustomed to taking him all the way up to the Somerton yacht club and back. At this point I suppose, it would have been culturally normal for me to have him put down. I rejected this option. I loved that dog. He loved me.
Your Honour told me at the outset that the onus of proof was on the prosecution and that the RSPCA had to prove five essential elements contained within the charge of ill-treatment, each to be held to be true beyond reasonable doubt. You said that if you were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that each of the essential elements had been proved, the law requires that the charge be dismissed.
The five essential elements you itemized were that:
- first, I was the owner of the dog in question;
- second, that the dog is an animal within the meaning of the Act;
- third, that the dog suffered pain within the meaning of the Act;
- fourth, that there were steps I did not take which could have been taken, which would have alleviated the pain suffered by the dog;
- fifth, that the steps which I am alleged not to have taken were steps which any ordinary reasonable person would have taken in the circumstances in which I was placed.
I am grateful for the clarity of this outline, and will speak to each essential element in turn, with the intention of challenging the last three elements.
To do so, the most important preliminary is to establish the age of the dog, because the prosecution case falls in a heap, primarily on this point.
One can say that the failure of the prosecution’s “expert witnesses” on this matter of age does throw doubt on their credibility with respect to anything and everything else, because their estimates were so much in error.
At first I thought that these estimates only proved a failure of credibility in our expert witnesses. It is possible that there is something else going on here as well, an issue I’ll briefly specify in a moment - not that I will pursue this point, except to flag the apparent collusion of our ‘experts’ as possibly indicative of a conspiracy to falsify, in order to magnify the prosecution case.
I have to correct a minor aspect of earlier testimony on this matter of age. I said earlier that my daughter was given Banjo as a puppy for her birthday on 26th June 1984, when she turned seventeen. This is not true. She was given a Siamese kitten, Sheba, on her birthday in 1984. She was given the red kelpie pup, Banjo, for Christmas that year. He was born in November, 1984. I am sorry for the confusion. The difference is not substantive.
This fact of Banjo’s real age was established to the satisfaction of the prosecution when Mr. Tremaine made a telephone call to my daughter, a surgical dermatologist, at her rooms in the city, whereupon she confirmed the above.
So we are dealing with the last hours of an Australian red kelpie who was sixteen years and two months of age. The significance of this is that the normal life expectancy of Australian red kelpies is between ten and fourteen years. So Banjo was more than two years older than the upper limit of life expectancy for his breed.
Regarding this, there is an implication that I just promised to make explicit, and that is that the RSPCA’s prosecution of me in this matter is not to be explained by ‘the facts of the case’. There is a clear possibility that the veterinarian experts who ‘estimated’ Banjo to be somewhere between five and ten years of age in fact chose those figures because it placed him in an age range less than the lower limit of normal life expectancy. If there is bad faith here it would have to be in order to have us believe that Banjo was ill, and could have been cured, rather than dying of old age, and beyond veterinarian help, other than the ‘help’ of putting him down. This is an important point which I can’t explore at this moment, but which nevertheless deserves some attention at some time.
Furthermore, there is no legislation which requires that the owner of a pet or companion animal have that animal put down at the end of its life. No Parliament on earth can ban natural death. No-one can be accused of ill-treating a human or an animal if they fail to prevent natural death. Being both natural and inevitable, death will come to all of us in due course. And there is no dictionary which allows that the demand for ‘alleviation of pain’ be deemed equivalent to euthanasia. That there is a culturally normative habit of putting pet or other animals down - when their owners deem them to have reached some point of no return - is not relevant here. (I might add that I find it usually quite appalling to hear the frequent confessions of pet owners that they “had to have X put down” for this all too often quite inadequate reason.)
Let us turn to the five essential elements that must be proven if the charge is to stand.
Regarding the first: yes, I was the effective owner of the male, red kelpie dog, called Banjo, that was seized and euthanased without my consent, and in my absence, by the RSPCA on Sunday afternoon, 17th December 2000.
While the dog was given as a puppy to my daughter, Shyamala, he was with me as his primary care-taker pretty much from the beginning of Shyamala’s days as a medical student at the University of Adelaide in 1986.When she was away for six months for her fifth year overseas medical placement in 1990-1 that transfer of effective or substantive ownership was established.
Secondly, I have no problem with the idea that a dog is an animal within the meaning of whatever legislation the SA Parliament has passed regarding animals.
Thirdly then let me turn to the question of the dog’s suffering and pain, ‘within the meaning of the Act’ and my supposed failure to ‘alleviate’ that pain.
In terms of the wording used by Your Honour, suggesting that I may be held liable for failing to take reasonable steps to alleviate pain suffered by the animal e.g. by reason of age, I say that all the ‘evidence’ we have heard concerning the distress the dog was supposed to be in, has been over-ridden by the agreed upon comatose or semi-comatose condition of the dog.
Coma is nature’s way of eliminating awareness of pain. Everything that Senior Inspector Peter Masters or Dr. Sarah Drysdale did that forced Banjo back into consciousness was more hurtful to him than to have left him alone.
Further Dr. Lucas’ comments about the degree of pain he ‘must’ have been suffering must be set aside as purely suppositional in the light of her statement that there were no external signs of pain, or indeed of clostridial infection (e.g. no external wound), no external sign of oedema, or anything else, that would prompt an owner to diagnose pain, or, for that matter any kind of infection. Everything she has said about Banjo necessarily having been in pain has been based on the evidence of the autopsy, and her diagnosis of clostridial infection, and her claims, based on 20-20 hindsight, on what this logically is deemed to have meant. But the logic on which she relies takes as an assumption that Banjo was much younger than he was, and that he was ill rather than dying, that he was conscious and therefore capable of feeling pain, and could have been cured if I had been more alert to his symptoms (assuming those symptoms a) existed, and b) were of illness rather than of dying – assumptions which cannot be taken as even relevant, let alone true, given the age and medical history of the dog. Certainly they are not proven ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.)
Regarding Dr. Drysdale’s remarks about Banjo’s flinching when touched because of the clostridial infection, please remember that he had had arthritis for some time. Arthritis may indeed now have many glorious new drugs to use in its treatment. None of them would be of any use in an old dog whose life was winding down, and who needed comforting rather than medication. Care in stroking or touching him when he was lying down was an automatic response to knowing he had had arthritis for some time, not that he had developed a ‘clostridial infection’.
I should perhaps speak to the issue of recumbence, which seems to have been taken as the most important and primary indicator of illness. Dr. Lucas’ belief that because he was recumbent he must have required veterinary attention is a non sequitur. The one simply doesn’t entail the other. And here we are dealing with conclusions that again seem best attributed to the wrong estimate of Banjo’s age. If indeed he was only five years old, or even if he were only ten years old, maybe recumbence would be reasonably taken to be indicative of illness that could usefully be treated. But not when he was over sixteen years of age.
I am a reasonable person, and I believe I came to a totally reasonable assessment that Banjo’s recumbence was a signifier for his imminent death. I know of no animal – or human – that dies of old age while standing. (see Transcript p.95)
I refer to Mr. Robert Owen’s oral testimony and formal statement to support this commonsense and reasonable assessment of what was happening to Banjo on the weekend of the 17th of December 2000.
As an average member of the public who happened to own a dog, I am at this point up against views held by Dr. Lucas that, whether consciously or unconsciously must be linked to her professional self-interest. For Dr. Lucas is quite adamant that human-administered euthanasia is the only proper way for an animal to die. (Transcript p.95 ff)
She admits that vets have no definition of a normal death.
The implication is clear, that the owner of any animal, companion or otherwise, that dies in the course of nature must be prosecuted, if the animal is, for example, recumbent for 24 hours or so.
I cannot possibly go into the extensive arguments that have been heard around the subject of euthanasia. Like my son (who is a doctor, and therefore an expert of sorts as defined by this court) I see no reason to treat animals any differently from humans, or to regard them as subject to a different set of moral values. (Furthermore, I am consistent here, insofar as I don’t eat animals either). (Had my son’s letter been admitted into evidence his comments here could be documented, instead of me just citing what he had to say.) I have, however looked up the International Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and have submitted the three-page entry on ‘euthanasia’ in order to provide the court with an indication of the range of the arguments involved, and the modern history of the debate. As my son observed, without benefit of consulting an encyclopaedia, the question of whether to “kill or let die” is a matter for argument amongst learned individuals, and should not be regarded as in any way mandatory. There is NO consensus regarding this issue, and it is a hotly contested issue. Legislation sensibly does not prescribe that dying animals must be euthanased.
If it is more natural to allow death to occur ‘with the family gathered around the bed’ rather than in hospital with tubes and machines everywhere, and a plug that can be pulled when the nod is given, then the equivalent of that ideal human scenario translated for Banjo meant that the script I was following was exactly right. He was lying down. I spent as much time as I could sitting next to him, talking quietly, and stroking him. He protected himself from pain through loss of consciousness – the semi-comatose or comatose state.
What then of the theory that if an animal is in pain, or if it is dying, we should ‘alleviate its distress’ using the only means available to us, namely to kill it, with active euthanasia techniques – potassium chloride injection or whatever.
I may not be an expert in law but I have spent a good part of my life teaching English in high schools and as a function of my time on University faculties as a sociology lecturer, regularly marking vast numbers of social sciences essays with a view to correcting and refining the students’ use of language in order to gain greater accuracy. So I can claim expert status with respect to English language issues, and I say categorically it is not possible to equate ‘alleviation of distress’ with the performance of euthanasia. There is still a slight chance that we may avoid a totally Orwellian future, where euphemistic untruths stand in for less palatable realities. Let us talk about alleviation of distress in terms of comfort, of drugs, if you like – but not the act of killing. Killing is killing. Until we can call things by their real names we will never be able to think clearly. If we think a person or an animal would be better off dead, we should say so, not pussy foot around talking about “alleviation of distress”. And we are categorically not entitled to interpret any legislative insistence on alleviation of distress as equivalent to an insistence on ‘putting down’ or killing.
If I could once again summarise to this point: Yes, I owned the dog. Yes, the dog was an animal within the meaning of the Act.
No, I did not ill-treat this dog. He was dying. He was not ‘ill’ as such (given that clostridial infections are a ‘common exit pathway’ for animals in the way pneumonia is in humans). The claim that he was in unbearable pain, based on the diagnosis of clostridial infection, ignores the fact that nature has its own way of dealing with pain, and in this case Banjo was protected from pain by coma.
Nothing, apart from recumbence, which we have dealt with separately, would suggest to any reasonable observer who knew his life and medical history that Banjo was in pain, as such, as distinct from being in the middle of the dying process.
We have been told that there must have been a wound by which the clostridial infection entered his body. But neither of our vetinarary specialists saw such a wound. I can therefore hardly be held accountable for not seeing such a wound. We have also been given veterinary testimony to the fact that no external sign of, for example, oedema or internal bleeding or any other aspect of his body’s finalbreakdown, was visible to the eye of even a very careful observer. All this information and supposition comes from the autopsy.
And recumbence must be reckoned in this case, by foresight or hindsight, to be part of his dying, and not part of an illness from which he could have recovered if given attention.
We must re-emphasise, furthermore, that the overall credibility of the crown’s star prosecution witnesses, our veterinary experts, must be strongly discounted when we realize that they could not supply an even nearly correct estimate of Banjo’s real age. It is as if a doctor looked at a woman of eighty-five, and estimated that she was probably between forty and fifty.
It is absurd and not legislatively required that an animal dying of natural causes at the end of a long and happy life should be taken to a vet to be killed, or terminated.
Apart from anything else it is an absurd notion that animal owning citizens must pay in the order of $200 to a vet for an interventionist termination if they have a pet that has come to the end of its natural life. Nor do I believe it was morally or legally incumbent upon me to have him euthanased (at a likely cost of $200) when he was recumbent, comatose, in no apparent pain, and assessed by me as likely to die within hours.
Approximately 83% of the population of Adelaide, unfortunately including myself, cannot afford to take an animal for veterinarian attention except for life-saving measures. No legislation exists to my knowledge that requires the owner of animal to have that animal’s life terminated by veterinarian intervention because that animal is, I repeat, comatose, apparently pain free, recumbent, incontinent and dying.
There is such a thing as a normal death, even if this is not amongst the concepts with which Dr. Lucas is familiar.
In Banjo’s last days I did what any reasonable person would do, to make the dog as comfortable as possible, and to give him as much comfort as I could. He had water left close to him. He was kept in the shade. I talked to him. I sat with him. Given that he was incontinent, I shifted him regularly, and hosed down where he had been lying.
Because he was a lovely dog, and had been my long-term companion I was certainly upset that he was dying, and had intended not only to bury him on the property but to give him a memorialized grave, with a headstone or some equivalent. I had even contemplated seeing if I could get a small statuette made. Admittedly, these things would have comforted me a little, rather more than Banjo. All these plans were ruthlessly destroyed by the RSPCA. It does seem to me that we could usefully use an RSPCH – a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Humans – to keep an eye on the activities of the RSPCA.
Now, I would like to make a small aside at this point –namely to say that if I were to be thought culpable for failing to provide for veterinarian intervention for Banjo’s dying, and if we stay within the logic of this approach (which I don’t believe but would like to assume for the moment) Sharni Milburn, who is by profession a veterinarian nurse, is far more culpable than I am. She came, she saw - and she left! And with her friends contacted the RSPCA, assertedly the next day. What kind of duty of care is that? Doctors have a duty of care to anyone ill or injured in their presence. Surely the same applies to veterinary nurses.
We may believe that they claim not to have contacted the RSPCA until Sunday morning, because this provides an explanation of sorts (very unsatisfactory at that) for the fact that the RSPCA didn’t come to my home until late Sunday afternoon, when I was not there to protect Banjo from them.
On the other hand Millburn’s behaviour, and that of her friends may be further evidence in support of the proposition that this case is a beat-up, carefully orchestrated from beginning to end to destroy my life and reputation in Adelaide.
(The timing of the RSPCA attendance at my property is suggestive of the high likelihood that my home and activities were under surveillance, and that the RSPCA deliberately waited before making their move on that Sunday afternoon to hear that I had gone out. I had been home every day all day the entire previous week, including the immediately preceding Saturday when Nerlich and Millburn and their mysterious and so far unnamed and anonymous friend came by, a good 25-6 hours before the RSPCA arrived.)
There are other very suspicious aspects to this case, including the fact that prosecution was not commenced until late July or early August in 2001, when the dog had been seized over eight months previously. I can speak to this if the court thinks it is relevant.
For the moment I need to briefly revisit the five essential elements that must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
I want to say:
- the dog did not suffer pain within the meaning of the Act, because it was comatose, with coma being nature’s way of protecting living creatures from pain;
- that there were no steps that I did not take, which could have been taken, which would have alleviated the pain suffered by the dog, since a) the dog was not in any apparent pain, and b) we are not entitled to interpret ‘alleviation of pain’ as linguistically equivalent to ‘killing’, ‘putting down’, ‘putting out of his misery’ or any other euphemism for terminating the life of the dog.
- that the step which I am alleged not to have taken (which must be understood to mean that I did not take Banjo to a vet for active, interventionist termination of his life) was a course of action which may be common or ordinary, but which cannot be regarded as necessarily reasonable. There are other rationalities within which my behaviour can be categorized as both normal and optimal, as well as the best course of action available to me given my situation and resources.
Finally, it is relevant for the court to take into account my character, my achievements, and my contribution to the public life of Adelaide, especially my contribution to the lives of some 2000 or more children who have attended the Early Reading Play School.
I then presented to the court the following sets of documents:
A. My daughter, Shyamala’s, summary outline of my character (dated November 16, 1987):
1. guts and strength of character
3. unique ideas
4. wide interests
5. an inventive mind
7. artistic talent
8. love for her children
9. love for animals
10. a liking for weird and unusual things
11. a love of books and knowledge
12. interesting conversation
My Mum has given me
15. a stimulating environment
17. reading and a love of books
21. a role model
22. belief in myself
23. kittens and puppies to love and enjoy
24. curiosity and scepticism
25. different ways to look at things”
B. Matilda Bawden’s affidavit.
“AFFIDAVIT OF MATILDA BAWDEN
I, MATILDA BAWDEN, of 10 Quondong Ave, Parafield Gardens SA 5107, in the State of South Australia, MAKE OATH AND SAY as follows:
1. I have known the Respondent for over seven years, through our membership in the Womens Electoral Lobby and South Australian Branch of Whistleblowers Australia Inc.
2. I am Treasurer of the South Australian WBA Branch as well as National Committee Member.
3. Ms Glynne Sutcliffe is well known by fellow-members of the South Australian Branch of Whistleblowers Australia Inc. (WBA).
As a human being she has been called upon to endure much. Her family life has been largely destroyed; she has found herself socially isolated (not least because of her commitment to achieving something worthwhile with her Early Reading Play School); her financial situation is far worse than she had any reason to anticipate; she is only just managing to retain a level of viability with respect to both her physical and emotional stamina. Her current stress levels are compounded by what she and her supporters would regard as grossly unjust and unreasonable litigation instigated by the RSPCA
Many of these have had tragic consequences on her family life which has been largely destroyed. Consequently, she has found herself: socially isolated, her Early Reading Play School business has been placed in jeopardy; with depleted financial resources; and declining general physical and mental health. Her current stress levels are compounded by what she and her supporters would regard as grossly unjust and unreasonable litigation instigated by the RSPCA.
4. She is generally respected as an honest woman who has a high level of personal integrity. She values the importance of continuous learning and education, and enjoys heated debate on, as much as general discussion of a wide range of social and political topics. She is admired as a woman with a deep commitment to the truth, decency and justice.
Sutcliffe has had many members of WBA visit her home over the years.
member of WBA ever had a reason to be concerned about the care she has
her pets. If asked, they would say Ms Sutcliffe gave considerable
and attention to her pets. She is an animal-lover who sees her
pets as an
integral part of her household.
Banjo was part and parcel of her everyday life for sixteen years.
in and out of the house all the time, until at the end his incontinence
he had to be put outside. Because it
was summer, this was easier to do than if it had been winter.
6. On the day the report to the RSPCA was made, Ms Sutcliffe had attended a meeting of WBA at Rostrevor.
7. Our members have discussed at length Ms Sutcliffe’s problems with the RSPCA and its legal case against her. From those discussions, I can say that our President of WBA, Mr John Pezy and his wife, Shelley, would equally consider the charges against Ms Sutcliffe wrongful and incapable of withstanding the burden of proof required for a criminal conviction.
8. We consider the case against her scandalous aWeconsider the case against her scandalous and outrageous in the extreme forreasons outlined above as well as the fact that on our understanding of the matter, the RSPCA case is fundamentally flawed and logically unsound at best.
9. It should be noted from the witness statement of Ms Sharni Millburn that at the time of her visit to Ms Sutcliffe’s house she did not identify herself as a Veterinary Nurse, nor did she say anything to her about the dog at all, let alone in the context of her qualifications, which are now being used and applied in the proceedings against her.
10. Based on her own statement, Ms Millburn commented to Leigh Nerlich, her companion, that maybe a suggestion should be made that the dog should be taken to a vet while they were outside discussing the kitten that was for sale. However, nothing was said until after Leigh Nerlich told Ms Sutcliffe that he did not want to buy the kitten when he merely questioned her about the general condition of the dog. It was only after leaving the property that the two discussed the notion that maybe something should be done, such as phoning the RSPCA, and it was not until the following day that Nerlich rather than Millburn actually phoned the RSPCA. This sequence of events is not consistent with a dog being in obvious need of relief from distress, which was not the case since it was comatose, but of the two having reached an agreement to deal with Ms Sutcliffe nonetheless, for personal reasons.
11. It concerns our members that the case presented against Ms Sutcliffe so far has largely focussed on erroneous, if not malicious, observations of her personality and lifestyle rather than the facts surrounding the care she had given an old and dying dog…
12. Another example of the flimsiness of the case against Ms Sutcliffe is evidenced by the statement by Veterinary Nurse, Ms Sharni Millburn, who observed that the dog had been “lying on concrete” rather than “soft material”. As any Vet would attest, dogs with arthritic conditions, including my own dog of 10 years, usually refuse to lie on anything other than cold (usually concrete) surfaces as the cold from concrete floors provides immediate relief from the arthritic pain and the heat that pain generates.
13. I have, myself, made available a kennel and various bedding for my dog, including trampoline-bed, kennel, carpets and sheep-skin rugs. He will not sleep on any of these.
14. In the midst of all thenoise around the allegations in this case, what is at risk of being lost is that Ms Sutcliffe has not been accused of causing deliberate harm to the dog in question. The proposition that she ‘failed to alleviate distress’ relies on amazing and hypothetical claims regarding the dog’s distress, and ignores the fact that the only action open to a vet consulted regarding Banjo at that stage of his near-ended life would be to have put him down.
15. Finally, it is difficult to appreciate how this matter has managed to proceed in light of the fact that “expert” witnesses for the RSPCA have been unable to accurately determine the fact of the dog’s age and medical condition, despite an autopsy. It, therefore, defies logic and common sense to appreciate how a lay-person, such as Ms Sutcliffe, might reasonably have known a more appropriate/ curative treatment for the dog’s condition.
16. For this reason, if Ms Sutcliffe is found
guilty on the charges, a dangerous
and outrageous precedent would have been set that would hold almost
owner responsible for simply allowing an animal to die naturally.
SIGNED MATILDA BAWDEN, FEBRUARY 26, 2003.”
C. Dr Llewelyn’s statement. (Not available in electronic format yet)
D. Robert Owen’s statement. (SEE ABOVE)
E. My son’s assessment (SEE ABOVE)
F. Early Reading Play School info sheet (SEE BELOW)
Early Reading Play School, Pty. Ltd.
ABN 78 076952 184
What you should know about the Early Reading Play School…..
Well, it has developed a unique program that:
· responds to the recent brain research findings that early learning actually increases a child’s IQ, as well as supporting easy and pleasurable learning in the years of formal schooling
· enables parents to take a successful initiating role in their children’s formal learning, by effectively sharing professional teaching skills with parents.
· Supports high academic achievement by a maximum number of students in any given year level, and enables all children to maximise their personal best.
· provides a solution to ‘the literacy problem’ (and makes reading a natural skill for all children who participate) by ensuring that all children who do the program start their school years 1) already familiar with their letters, 2) understanding the alphabetic principle,3) with phonemic awareness, and 4) able to code and decode from speech to print, and from print back to speech. It is estimated that 98% of children can learn to read effectively using the phonics-based approach adopted by the school.
· shows how to tackle the double-edged myth that children only learn well through self-initiated, discovery-based learning, and that they shouldn’t access any ‘direct content transmission’
· has the potential to allow all children to match the intellectual performance levels of children from those cultural environments where children customarily excel throughout and beyond the school years.
· could well prove to be an effective way to give disadvantaged children a good education
· requires a relatively small amount of time from both professionals and parents. (Parent-child classes are held one hour every fortnight, and are backed up by 15-20 mins a day at home.)
If you’d like to find out more, there is a 20pp.profile of the school available on request.
Film footage on the school is available from several TV current affairs reports.
This page uploaded 14thApril 2003.
Media Release below:
Date: April 14th, 2003
Contact: 8270 3548
Our courts continue to be vulnerable to exploitation by powerful groups and individuals who use the legal system for their own nefarious purposes, clog up court time, and waste social resources that should be dedicated to the provision of justice. A recent case has once again demonstrated this abuse. If it didn’t have some quite tragic elements it could even be regarded as a Comedy Hour special.
Animal welfare cases have a unique power to prompt community outrage. The downside of this is that an accusation of cruelty is in itself almost sufficient to carry the day, and critical scrutiny of the charge is extremely difficult. In addition, the RSPCA has assiduously built up a public profile of noble endeavor, which makes the assertions of its ‘inspectors’ generally taken at face value as true.
But in the UK, and to a lesser extent in Australia, there is a growing awareness that the RSPCA has a high vested interest in prosecutions, and that some common features of these prosecutions should provoke deep unease.
Firstly, it is through maintaining a high level of prosecutions that the RSPCA generates the high profile that assures the public that they are doing a good job in protecting animals (and thereby persuades a goodly number of individuals – primarily older women - that they are deserving of donations and bequests).
Secondly, prosecutions are almost all of individuals, most often of older women (!), who are vulnerable because they live alone, and are unable to access the resources necessary to mounting an adequate legal defence. Alternately they do not fully understand the need to defend themselves, or the possible consequences if they do not. Large corporations or those with a degree of social power do not find themselves hauled into court by the RSPCA (witness the live sheep trade, RSPCA approval given to halal slaughter techniques, the ‘barnyard egg’ scam, etc.) The RSPCA is increasingly noted as itself engaging in cruelties and unkindnesses that are provoking, e.g. a group called CAPACS (the Campaign to Protect Animals in Charity Shelters)
In Australia, asserted cruelty to dogs provides the RSPCA with a major fraction of the prosecutions by which they seek to achieve the twin goals of high profile prosecutions of vulnerable individuals.
The most recent case of concern to those interested in social justice is that of Glynne Sutcliffe, who has been prosecuted by the RSPCA for “Ill-treatment of an animal” (viz, a red kelpie dog named Banjo, who was seized by, and euthanased at the behest of, the RSPCA, on Sunday 17thDecember 2000).
On the basis of veterinary advice, the RSPCA maintained that the dog was suffering from necrotising cellulitis and clostridial infection.
The two vets consulted by the RSPCA (Dr. Sarah Drysdale at the Anzac highway after hours clinic, and Dr. Julie Lucas at the veterinarian pathology lab on Frome Rd.) estimated Banjo’s age respectively as : a) between five and nine years of age, and b) between eight and ten years of age.
Put down on 17th December 2000, Banjo was born in late October 1984. He had reached the ripe old age of sixteen years and two months of age! Perhaps one vet could make a mistake like this. Two seems less likely. So we ask - would any purpose be served by underestimating his age? Well, yes!!
The accepted life expectancy for an Australian red kelpie is ‘between 10 and 14 years of age”. So the vets’ (collusive?) underestimation of his age placed Banjo as younger than the lower limit of life expectancy. As such it would mean that he was ill, and possibly neglected – and not, as he actually was, dying of old age.
It is worth saying that vets are usually able to estimate any animal’s age pretty accurately, and the error in estimating Banjo’s age was so great that it calls into doubt the entire veterinary evidence presented in court. So one questions the accuracy of the diagnosis of illness. Initially one could have easily assumed that maybe because Banjo was old, he was vulnerable to infection, and that his death was triggered by infection even when it was fundamentally due to his age.
However the diagnosis of necrotising cellulits and clostridial infection is so convenient to explaining why a dog said to be so young was recumbent and dying, that it does become possible to doubt the clinical diagnosis also. The long list of symptoms said by Dr. Lucas as necessarily displayed by Banjo was not only suppositional but also completely fanciful, only excepting his being recumbent and comatose. Is it possible that the veterinary diagnosis was offered as the only plausible explanation for the poor state of a dog said (or, maybe, supposed) to be under ten years of age. Supposition is not usually deemed to be an ideal source of acceptable proof.
Now at this point we can gain insight from observations made of RSPCA prosecutions in the UK, where deliberate false testimony has been made under oath on more than one occasion, and where the RSPCA has taken care to develop protocols that prevent the accused from contradicting so called ‘expert’ witnesses in court.
This is done: a) by seizing the animal and holding it incommunicado for long enough to make the examination by any vet on behalf of the accused no longer relevant to assessing the animal’s condition at time of seizure, or b)cremating the animal (i.e. cremating the evidence) prior to laying charges and prior to the accused realizing the need to have their own ‘expert’ to address the situation.
Banjo was cremated, so far as one could tell, on Monday 18th December 2000. Charges were laid in late July or early August 2001. Should Ms Sutcliffe have obtained and wished to follow legal advice to obtain her own veterinarian diagnosis, it would have been completely impossible to do so. All the evidence was destroyed in the cremation.
A trial was scheduled for September 2001, which Ms.Sutcliffe overlooked because she was preparing to go overseas to visit her son in Louisiana. When she didn’t appear, the trial was re-scheduled for October and she was convicted and fined $1500 in her absence. When she came back to Adelaide and realized what had happened, she applied to the court for a new trial which the then Chief Magistrate Alan Munn was reluctant to grant until her absence overseas and ignorance of events in Adelaide were pointed out. When the CM felt obligated to concede her right to a trial at which she was present, he actually said that she’d be sorry she’d asked, because she would certainly end up worse off.
The trial was then scheduled for July 2nd and 3rd 2002. Proceedings on the first day -which consisted almost entirely of Peter Masters’ highly coloured negative testimony - were reported on p.7 of The Advertiser on July 4th. When the newspaper was asked to publish corrective details that emerged from Ms.Sutcliffe’s cross-examination of the witnesses on the second day the editor refused. The trial, still unfinished, was then set to continue in November2002, but Ms. Sutcliffe sought and obtained an adjournment partly for health reasons (she was recovering from surgery in September) and partly for professional reasons – as Director of the Early Reading Play School she needed to give her attention to the multitude of tasks entailed in bringing the year to a close.
The trial resumed on Tuesday 25th February. It continued on Thursday 27thFebruary. And then again on Tuesday 11th March. And judgment is to be handed down on 14thApril, 2003. The ridiculous prolongation of proceedings (e.g. attempting to determine with finality whether or not a dog is an animal within the meaning of the Act) should be noted to be another form of abuse that has become a perfected art form with the purpose of increasing court costs, which if they can be awarded against the accused, increase the impact of the fine by several multiples.
When proceedings did not conclude on Tuesday 25thFebruary Ms. Sutcliffe became distressed and hysterical. Subsequently she experienced periods of a fluttering sensation in her chest cavity sufficiently severe to send her to her doctor, who immediately ordered an ECG. The ECG shows “paroxysmal a trial fibrillation”. This is a life threatening condition which can be ameliorated with a pacemaker, but which constitutes an ongoing threat that she will have a heart attack, or a stroke generated by blood pooling in the heart into a clot that will rise to the brain. While the severity of the episodes have diminished, the condition has not and will not go away. Low fibrillation is as threatening as fast fibrillation. Sensations worsen when she lies down, making sleep hazardous. Her life has thus been directly threatened and almost certainly shortened by the RSPCA’s abusive use of the legal system, and the court’s willingness to collude with the RSPCA to prolong proceedings to an unbearable degree. The motive is almost certainly to “teach her a lesson”. Perhaps it is the RSPCA that needs to be taught a lesson, and the courts that need to be called back to attend to their proper duties, which do not include putting a woman on trial because her 16 year old dog, for whom she was already grieving, was pre-emptively euthanased by the RSPCA when he was in the midst of his dying.