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Man sentenced after pet cat left hanging in leg-hold trap until dead

22/02/2017 

A Masterton man who caused a neighbour’s cat to die while hanging by its leg in a leg-hold trap was sentenced yesterday in the Masterton District Court.

Ross Dorrian, 55, pleaded guilty to two charges: using a restricted trap in contravention of the Animal Welfare (Leg Hold Traps) Order 2007 and ill-treatment of an animal causing the animal to suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.

He was ordered to pay $1500 fine to the SPCA, $500 emotional harm to the owners, $263 vet costs and $100 in legal fees.

The case began on or about Sunday 20 March 2016 when the defendant set a size one, restricted, leg-hold trap to catch possums, nailing it to the top of a post on his rear boundary fence of his property in Colombo Road, Masterton.

The Animal Welfare (Leg Hold Traps) Order 2007 prohibits the use of leg-hold traps within 150 metres of a dwelling without the express permission of the occupier or in any area where there is a probable risk of catching a companion animal.

“Mr Dorrian set his trap within 150 metres of approximately 143 dwellings and didn’t seek permission from any of his neighbours at any time,” says Steve Glassey, Wellington SPCA Chief Executive.

The defendant checked the trap on the evening of 22 March and found it empty.

The next night at about 8.30pm, a four-year-old, female, tabby/tortoiseshell and white cat called Eli was discovered, dead, hanging by her left front leg from the trap.

“Because the trap was suspended from a fence post, Eli was left hanging by her left front leg, unable to pull herself up. Numerous scratches and scuffmarks on the fence confirm her desperate efforts to escape,” says Mr Glassey.

“Let’s be very clear here: this trap was set incorrectly. It is not acceptable for a trap to be set in such a way that would leave any trapped animal hanging, regardless of whether it is the target animal or not. Doing so could result in cruelty offences being committed, as in this case.”

The defendant failed to check the trap on 23 March and was unaware that Eli had been caught.

“Any live capture trap must be checked within 12 hours of sunrise on each day the trap remains set to determine if an animal has been caught,” says Mr Glassey. “Again, the defendant failed to do this.”

Veterinary examination of the cat’s body revealed that the elbow of her left forelimb was dislocated. Compression from the trap may have caused lack of blood supply to the limb and nerve compression. After about 30 minutes this would have caused pain that would have got progressively worse.

The cause of death could not be established, but the presence of scratches and scuffmarks on the fence, coupled with the fact that the cat died in the trap, suggest that shock, dehydration, hypothermia, and exhaustion were contributing factors.

The veterinarian concluded that Eli would have suffered severe pain and distress at the time of having her foot caught in the trap, and hanging from the trap would have caused stretching and strain on the muscles on the left forelimb and trunk, which would have caused severe discomfort and muscle pain. Eli would have also experienced distress from being restrained and being unable to express the normal fight or flight behaviours when exposed to pain.

When interviewed, the defendant said that he knew that there were cats around but stated that they didn’t tend to go into his property as he had built the fences up over the years. However, he agreed that there was a probable risk of catching a cat. He expressed significant remorse and has been co-operative throughout the investigation.

“Setting leg-hold traps in urban areas is totally unacceptable for several compelling reasons,” says Mr Glassey.

“You can’t set leg-hold traps within 150 metres of any dwelling without the occupier’s permission. You’re also not allowed to set a trap where someone’s pet could easily be caught in it. And you shouldn’t set it in such a way that animals caught in the trap would end up hanging off the ground.

“Even if you do satisfy these conditions, you also have to check it daily within 12 hours of sunrise or face possible cruelty charges if an animal is caught and you fail to deal with it in a humane way.

“The SPCA wants to send a clear message on this issue: don’t set leg-hold traps in urban areas. The risks to pets and children are real and the consequences are potentially severe.”