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.”
The SPCA is calling for New Zealand pet shops to stop selling cats and kittens that are not desexed to help prevent litters of unwanted animals.
Summer is ‘kitten season’ - the time of year when cats breed - and as a result thousands of unwanted and stray kittens end up at the SPCA.
Pet shops selling un-desexed animals further contributes to these large numbers, stretching the SPCA’s limited resources even more.
In Manawatu, the SPCA is dealing with the fall-out of their area being flooded with un-desexed cats and kittens purchased from pet shops.
Manawatu SPCA General Manager Danny Auger has heard reports of pet shops in the district selling hundreds of un-desexed and unvaccinated cats and kittens a year. This summer the Centre is full of kittens, and has had to enlist the help of a record number of foster families to care for them.
“The problem with selling or giving away un-desexed animals is that the new owners often don’t follow through with getting their new pet desexed. Or they may not realise just how young a cat can become pregnant and end up with an unplanned litter of kittens,” says SPCA New Zealand CEO Andrea Midgen.
An un-desexed kitten sold in a pet shop today could have a litter, possibly two, by the end of the season. When a cat can have four litters of up to eight kittens in just a few months, the problem can escalate very quickly.
“There is certainly not a shortage of cats and kittens looking for homes in New Zealand,” says Ms Midgen.
“We need to work on reducing the number of kittens being born each year and ensuring that every cat in the country is being properly cared for. The SPCA believes every animal sold in a pet shop should be desexed – there is absolutely no need for them to breed when there are already so many animals that need good homes.”
Every animal adopted from the SPCA is behaviour and health-checked, vaccinated, microchipped and desexed, a policy that Ms Midgen says should be adopted any organisation selling or giving away an animal.
The SPCA also spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year running free and low-cost desexing campaigns across the country.
“Desexing is the single best thing we can do for animal welfare in this country,” says Ms Midgen. “New Zealand has thousands of unwanted and homeless animals – it’s a big problem. We know that by preventing unwanted litters being born, we’re helping to prevent the cycle of animal cruelty.
“But all our efforts are pointless if pet shops continue to sell large numbers of un-desexed animals. They are flooding areas with unwanted pets that are ending up in our Centres. This has to stop.
“We’re asking all pet shops to work with us on this, rather than contributing to the problem.”