The Legislative Assembly will hear horror stories of neglect and abuse of animals on Thursday as the government moves to introduce laws to improve welfare, safety and health standards.
Transport and Municipal Services Minister Meegan Fitzharris said tougher animal protection standards were needed after RSPCA officers identified the emergence of new trends, including an increasing instances of extreme neglect, threats to the safety of inspectors and owners of seized animals seeking to avoid the cost of their treatment.
Ms Fitzharris said recent cases had demonstrated that some provisions of the Animal Welfare Act have created unintended barriers to effective investigation, enforcement and prosecution of animal welfare offences. The changes have been developed after consultation with the RSPCA ACT, the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and the Veterinary Surgeons Board.
As recently noted by a judge, existing offences in the law require prosecutors to demonstrate that an owner's neglect had caused the animal pain, meaning not all forms of neglect to an animal are criminalised.
If passed by the Assembly, the new laws would create a clearer definition of neglect and cruelty towards animals and mandate that a person in charge of an animal has a duty to care for it.
A person who fails to take reasonable steps to provide for an animal's basic needs, or who abandons their animal, could face fines of up to $15,000 or imprisonment for one year.
Authorised officers will have better powers to investigate and prosecute animal welfare offences effectively and safely, and the range of orders that can be made by a court to prevent animal neglect and cruelty will be broadened.
Improved enforcement of the code of practice for the sale of animals is also planned, making it mandatory for information about the care of any animal sold in the ACT to be provided at the point of sale.
Ms Fitzharris said the laws would also see improved animal welfare education and prevention.
She will tell the Assembly of three recent instances of extreme neglect, including a 2014 case where the owner of four dogs was in Queensland while the animals starved, went without water or shelter and had infections, illness and insect infestation on their bodies.
In one 2015 case, RSPCA officers found a dog suffering from third degree burns after being scalded with cooking oil. Despite the seriousness of the injury and the animal's suffering, the owner had sought no treatment from a vet.
"To reduce the likelihood of prosecutions for neglect based on ignorance, community awareness initiatives will be developed...to help people who have animals to understand their basic responsibilities," Ms Fitzharris said.
"These include the responsibility to provide food, water and shelter; treatment for illness, disease or injury; and allowing the animal to display normal patterns of behaviour."