With pet ownership comes responsibility

FOR THE first few months it is all smiles, posing for photos and cuddling.

Santa dropped off a new furry member of the family on Wednesday morning and you couldn't be happier.

Next minute there's pee on the carpet and fur all over your new cashmere sweater.

Suddenly Fido or Fluffy isn't so cute.

On average 10.8 animals a day are taken in by the three RSPCA shelters in the state.

Launceston care shelter and state operations manager Lorraine Hamilton says it's not often until winter- when Fido or Fluffy have grown into themselves and there's muddy paw prints on the carpet - that the animals find themselves at the shelter.

In the year to date, 412 dogs and 413 cats were surrendered by their owners to the RSPCA in Tasmania.

A further 726 dogs and 1769 cats were this year found lost or abandoned.

Earlier this week, Launceston shelter staff rocked up to work one morning to find a bouncing young pooch tied to the front gate, abandoned.

While not all animals surrendered to the RSPCA and organisations like it are mistreated or neglected, unfortunately, some are.

How small is the leap from indifference or neglect to straight- out cruelty?

The unfortunate story of Cheyanne was one of the worst animal cruelty stories this city has seen; an already three-legged silky cross Maltese had its front leg cut off by someone and had to be euthanised.

Vitriol for those responsible poured in from every channel.

If this monster responsible is caught, under Tasmania's Animal Welfare Act 1993, the maximum jail term for an individual is 18 months and the maximum fine is $26,000.

That's for aggravated cruelty, which means it results in the death or serious disablement of the animal involved.

For straight up animal cruelty ("any act, or omit to do any duty, which causes or is likely to cause unreasonable and unjustifiable pain or suffering to an animal") it is a maximum jail term of 12 months and a maximum fine of $13,000.

Two years ago, a 20-year-old Deloraine man received a three- month suspended sentence for torturing and killing several possums.

In September, a North-West dairy farmer was sentenced to 15 months' jail and fined $110,00 in costs for nearly 200 counts of animal cruelty.

The latter was considered one of the harshest sentences for animal cruelty in the country.

Yes, these are extreme examples but cruelty and neglect are deliberate.

And yes, the majority of people are good pet owners and show kindness towards fauna big and small.

But one does not "forget" to feed their dog for three weeks or fail to notice a cat riddled with disease.

You do not have to be an animal fanatic wearing a cat sweater to know what sort of treatment is appropriate for animals.

We will not see equal punishment for crimes against animals as we do for the same against humans.

But we should at least close the gap a little.

While the animal welfare act is under review, any amendments or changes are likely to be a long way off.

It should be drummed into people that when you take an animal into your care, you are responsible.

If you cannot remember to feed your animal, if you cannot afford veterinary care, or if you just want a puppy to pose with for Instagram, for God's sake, step away from the pet shop.

And if you can do all these things and more, consider adopting an animal from an RSPCA care shelter or similar, where, as we converse, an animal has just been dumped.

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