When Can You Be Found Guilty of Animal Cruelty?

by Doogue + George Criminal Defence Lawyers

The charge of Animal Cruelty covers situations where animals are treated cruelly.

Examples of Animal Cruelty

  • The owner of a small farm with 6 horses failed to properly feed and shelter his horses for 6 months. The horses’ poor health was reported to the RSPCA by neighbours and the man was convicted of Animal Cruelty.
  • A boy who was given a domesticated parrot for Christmas grows tired of the parrot’s squawking. The boy’s family set the parrot free in their local park. The parrot is found dead 2 days later.
  • A jogger is startled by an overly playful puppy that jumps near him in a park. The man kicks the puppy and then runs away.

What are possible defences to an Animal Cruelty charge?

  • Someone else did the cruel acts.
  • There was an honest and reasonable belief that the treatment of the animal was not cruel.

There are other possible defences depending on the circumstances surrounding the alleged offending. Each matter is unique and requires an individual approach and strategy.

Questions in cases like this

  • How do they prove there were cruel intentions?
  • Was there a case of mistaken identity?
  • Was someone else taking care of the animal/s?

Maximum penalty and court that deals with this charge

The maximum penalty for this offence is 250 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months in the case of a natural person, or 600 penalty units in the case of a body corporate.

This is an offence that is typically heard in the Magistrates' Court.

What is the legal definition of Animal Cruelty?

The legal definition of committing an act of cruelty upon an animal is long and complex. It is cruel to do any of the acts or omissions listed below:

  1. wounds, mutilates, tortures, overrides, overdrives, overworks, abuses, beats, worries, torments or terrifies an animal; or
  2. loads, crowds or confines an animal where the loading, crowding or confinement of the animal causes, or is likely to cause, unreasonable pain or suffering to the animal; or
  3. does or omits to do an act with the result that unreasonable pain or suffering is caused, or is likely to be caused, to an animal; or
  4. drives, conveys, carries or packs an animal in a manner or position or in circumstances which subjects or subject, or is likely to subject, it to unnecessary pain or suffering; or
  5. works, rides, drives or uses an animal when it is unfit for the purpose with the result that unreasonable pain or suffering is caused to an animal; or
  6. is the owner or the person in charge of an animal which is confined or otherwise unable to provide for itself and fails to provide the animal with proper and sufficient food, drink or shelter; or
  7. sells, offers for sale, purchases, drives or conveys an animal that appears to be unfit (because of weakness, emaciation, injury or disease) to be sold, purchased, driven or conveyed; or
  8. abandons an animal of a species usually kept in a state of confinement or for a domestic purpose; or
  9. is the owner or the person in charge of a sick or injured animal and unreasonably fails to provide veterinary or other appropriate attention or treatment for the animal; or
  10. other than in accordance with the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994, the Wildlife Act 1975, the Access to Medicinal Cannabis Act 2016 or the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981, intentionally administers to an animal or lays a bait for the animal containing a poison or any other substance which, when administered to that type of animal, has a harmful effect on the animal; or
  11. uses spurs with sharpened rowels on an animal; or
  12. carries out a prohibited procedure on an animal


The section that covers this offence is section 9 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

What can you be sentenced to for this charge?       

A range of sentences are possible for an animal cruelty conviction. The sentences go from a fine at the more minor end of the scale, to prison terms at the highest end in the worst cases. Like most criminal cases, outcomes depend on the circumstances and what material your lawyer puts before the court.

Sentencing Outcomes in the Magistrates’ Courts

From July 2013 to June 2016, there were 285 cases of Animal Cruelty that were heard before the Magistrates’ Courts of Victoria. These cases were divided into 4 groups which all fall under section 9 of Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act 1986:

  • 26 cases – section 9(1)(b): loads, crowds or confines an animal that causes or is likely to cause unreasonable pain or suffering
  • 64 cases – section 9(1)(c): commit act that causes, or is likely to cause, unreasonable pain or suffering to an animal
  • 92 cases – section 9(1)(f): fail to provide food, drink or shelter for an animal
  • 103 cases – section 9(1)(i): fail to provide veterinary attention or treatment for an animal

Fines were imposed in a majority of all cases (61.75%), most of which were sentenced to an amount of $20,000 or more. Imprisonment was also imposed but only to 1.75% of the cases. Of these, the longest period imposed was more than two years but less than 3 years but this happened to only a single case. The rest of prison terms imposed all fell under a year.

Other sentencing results include: Adjourned Undertaking / Discharge / Dismissal (25.96%), Community Correction Order (6.67%), Wholly Suspended Sentence (3.51%), and Youth Justice Centre Order (0.35%).

Have you been charged with the offence of Animal Cruelty? Get in touch with a lawyer and find out your best course of legal action. Doogue + George Defence Lawyers represents clients facing criminal charges in any Victorian court. Book an appointment with one of our criminal law specialists.

You may also visit this page where this article was originally published: https://www.criminal-lawyers.com.au/offences/animal-cruelty.


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