The NSW parliament has introduced a raft of changes to animal cruelty legislation, that could now see offenders slapped with the nation's harshest penalties.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Bill 2021 will amend the previous legislation penned in 1979, and increase penalties to both individual offenders and businesses that treat animals harshly.
Under the proposed legislation, anyone caught assaulting an animal could face 12 months' jail time, which is a doubling of the previous penalty.
The financial penalty for cruelty to animals will also increase from $5,500 per offence to $44,000.
Additionally, the failure to provide adequate food or shelter would see offenders paying up to $16,500 in fines as opposed to the previous $5,500 penalty.
Businesses that fail to provide for animals will incur an $82,500 fine instead of the previous $27,500 penalty.
In a statement, the RSPCA said the Bill "reaffirms the commitment to reforming and updating the animal welfare legislation in NSW to better align with community expectation".
"The Bill will also close a gap in existing animal welfare laws, where under the Crimes Act 1900, people convicted of the most serious cruelty offences cannot be banned from owning animals," the statement said.
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Independent state member for Wagga, Dr Joe McGirr, told The Daily Advertiser the new penalties are about recognising that cruelty does not always come in the form of violence.
"Some of the [previous] legislation understands cruelty to animals as being physical, but the way animals are treated can impact them as well," Dr McGirr said.
"Cruelty is not just physical. Treatment can also affect the way an animal behaves. I did have a dog that was affected by its previous care and quite frankly that dog had anxiety."
Animal Welfare League CEO Mark Slater told The Daily Advertiser the new legislation would be welcomed for its improvement to the definition of cruelty.
"The legislation recognises things like trigger stacking as being evidence of cruelty in some cases," Mr Slater said.
"Trigger stacking is when an animal is flooded by triggers and becomes volatile all of a sudden. They may be reacting to an environment or the sound of a voice, and their response might not be in line with the situation. That's when someone might get bitten without warning."
Changing the laws, Dr McGirr said, would be the first step to eradicating the problem of animal cruelty in society.
"Increasing the penalty is never the total solution," he said.
"Increasing the penalties is a good measure for two reasons. Firstly, it's a deterrent, and secondly, it sends a message about what society values.
"But the government has indicated it will be looking to widen the approach and the indication is they will be looking to do that this year. I'm looking forward to having more discussions on it this year."
Wagga-based animal adoption worker for Best Friends Pet Rescue, Janey Adams, agreed the penalties were a good start to changing the conversation, but said "as with everything, enforcing it is always the problem".
"Definitions are not the problem, it's the enforcement and it's resources to inspect and pursue complaints," Ms Adams said.
In NSW, the RSPCA has the power to investigate complaints of cruelty.
When an animal comes to Ms Adams at the Pet Rescue home in Wagga, it is rare that she will know its background.
"We get neglected, underweight dogs. Malnutrition is easy to see so we know it's been mistreated, but it's a case by case situation. We look at what the animal needs at present," she said.
"Some dogs exhibit fearful behaviour that that's not always because of abuse, it's hard to know."
Currently, Ms Adams has 84 cats and 18 dogs she is looking to rehome across the region. Though on occasion she has also adopted rabbits, goats and other uncommon household pets.
"The kitten problem is much bigger than the puppy problem generally," she said.
"It's kitten breeding season at the moment, and we get things like the 'community cat'. That's the cat that people don't take ownership over, that keeps coming around to various people's houses and getting fed but who no-one has gotten desexed.
"Then it will turn up with a litter of kittens and someone will call us to say they've got all these kittens on their front lawn that need homes."