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Law and Labradors: My Work Experience at the RSPCA

Labrador on a leash

Earlier this year I was lucky to spend two weeks volunteering at the RSPCA, working with a prosecutor of animal cruelty charges.

Each state and territory RSPCA is an independent organisation associated with the RSPCA Australia. Because of the differing nature of criminal law in each jurisdiction, not every RSPCA has a prosecutorial function. The RSPCA I volunteered with has both an inspectorate and a prosecutor.

During my work experience I attended meetings about ongoing investigations. I read case files and assisted with the decision to prosecute or not. If prosecuting, I drafted formal complaints for the Magistrates Court, and if not, I drafted letters of caution. I undertook research, read and assisted in the preparation of trial briefs, and also watched court proceedings and sentencing upon guilty pleas. A truly exciting (and nerve-racking) experience was being asked at short notice to appear in a regional court by telephone link, in place of the prosecutor!

The experience helped to consolidate a lot of the criminal procedure skills I've been learning during my PLT course, and I learnt a lot about animal welfare. Animal cruelty matters range from the serious to the extremely inhumane, but that they arise in a wide range of contexts. It is sheer injustice that some people would wilfully cause an animal to suffer, but in some cases cruelty charges arise simply because people can't afford to keep or treat their pets. Either through stubbornness or blind love, they keep the animal in suffering instead of surrendering it to the RSPCA.

I helped the prosecutor complete a lot of tasks, and undertook some comparative research to assist in his future prosecutions and sentencing submissions. Of the cases I read, charges had been brought for many forms of cruelty. These included malnourished pets, pets with injuries left untreated for days or weeks, and the worst cases involved situations including wilful violent acts, and keeping animals in squalid conditions.

The office environment, and the organisation itself, is amazing. You are allowed to bring your pet to work and there are always animals coming and going from the offices. The team is friendly, and ultimately you’re working to prevent animal cruelty and promote the proper care of animals. It feels really rewarding!

The RSPCA staff have incredible personal strength to be able to inspect and prosecute animal cruelty on a regular basis. The substance of the work can be harrowing, and you see things that you can never forget, but at the end of the day there’s also great satisfaction in knowing that you make a difference to the lives of the creatures we share this planet with.

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