Stories about animal cruelty prosecutions provoke some of the most emotive reactions we see on our social media channels.

This isn’t surprising—our supporters and followers love animals as much as we do and to think of people wilfully hurting or neglecting them evokes sadness and disbelief.

Often, people also express anger and sometimes, a desire for revenge.

The most common question we get on social media posts about prosecutions is, ‘Why don’t you name and shame?’

This question can be motivated by different drivers. Some people think perpetrators should be ‘outed’ as a form of punishment in addition to that handed down by the court. Some argue that naming offenders will protect animals in the future. They say shelters and breeders will then know not to sell to people convicted of animal cruelty. Similarly, some people say naming will allow friends and neighbours to ‘keep an eye’ on the offender to ensure they’re not breaking any animal ownership ban the court may have imposed. In a very small number of cases, some people want us to ‘name and shame’ so they can seek the offender out and exact their own brand of ‘justice’.

Once an adult person appears in court, their name and anything said about their case is a matter of public record except in very rare circumstances when the court grants a suppression order. Therefore, there’s no legal impediment to RSPCA WA including names in articles about convicted animal cruelty offenders. In most cases, news outlets reporting on RSPCA WA animal cruelty convictions do name the offender and often include a photograph too. That’s their prerogative and they are within the law to do so.

So why don’t we?

When suspected animal cruelty is reported to us, our role is to investigate and take the most appropriate action, under the law, to ensure the welfare of the animal involved. This can include prosecuting people who we believe have broken the law under WA’s Animal Welfare Act 2002. We report these prosecution cases to help educate the public about the appropriate treatment of animals. Reporting also lets others out there who may be doing the wrong thing know that they could be fined or even jailed, and it reminds the community that we rely on them to be our eyes and ears and report suspected cruelty.

None of these desired outcomes is achieved by naming the perpetrators.

‘Why are you protecting them? Everyone should know what they’ve done.’

The punishment for people convicted of animal cruelty is decided by the court. We respect the magistrate’s decision. There is no place in a compassionate, professional organisation for us to have the attitude that we need to add to that punishment by facilitating public shaming. And we don’t ever want to encourage or facilitate vigilantism.

Speaking of compassion…

Our inspectors have seen it all and they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s extremely rare to deal with a situation that’s black and white. Most are complex, multi-layered and nuanced.

Many of our cases stem from neglect; for example, people not feeding their animals appropriately, hoarding animals with a belief they’re ‘saving them’, or leaving their health to suffer without getting them vet treatment. In many circumstances, these cases are linked to mental health and/or socio-economic issues. Should these people have reached out for help earlier? Yes, and that’s why in the worst cases they’re prosecuted. But there are often other factors at play and naming these perpetrators will not help their animal victims.

And then there’s this…

Animal cruelty and family and domestic violence can be two sides of the same coin. Perpetrators who are violent towards animals will sometimes also be violent to others in the home. In some cases, the family pet is used as a threat—the perpetrator will threaten or hurt the pet as a warning or punishment to a partner, or to stop them from leaving. In these cases, naming the perpetrator can betray the privacy of others trying to escape this web of violence.

‘If they’re named, people will know who they are and they won’t be able to get another animal’

This one is a stretch. Naming an offender on our website and social pages isn’t going to lead to breeders and shelters in WA knowing and remembering who they are. Even if it did, there is no legal requirement to show ID when purchasing an animal (although we do ask for ID here at RSPCA WA). Also, breeders and shelters aren’t the only supply chains for animals – offenders could get a pet from friends, family, classifieds, some online forums and a host of other avenues.    

Similarly, there’s the argument about ‘keeping an eye’ on those who have received an animal ownership ban from the court. Enforcement of a ban is a legal matter and not one that should ever be placed in the hands of the public.

The most effective way to prevent animal abusers from offending again is through legislation. In June 2020, the State Government released its response to the independent review of the Animal Welfare Act 2002. RSPCA WA played a big part in that review.

The government supports recommendations around increased information sharing between relevant organisations and the creation of a central register of enforcement activities. This includes official warnings, infringement notices, and directions. All inspectors and appropriately authorised personnel would have access to this central register.

RSPCA WA also wants to see a national register for recording the details of individuals found guilty of animal cruelty offences. This register would be accessible to members of state, territory and Commonwealth police forces, relevant government agencies and RSPCA inspectors.

We also support law changes that would allow court orders to be recognised across states.