A MAGISTRATE'S decision to not punish a puppy farm operator who kept dogs locked in a shed for years to breed is an outrage, says RSPCA Victoria.
It was also at odds with the government's vow to crack down on dog farms, it said.
Despite Bert Cooke pleading guilty to nine animal cruelty charges involving 49 dogs on his property at Rosedale, 185 kilometres east of Melbourne, magistrate Steven Raleigh did not convict him.
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Maggie with her new owner, Catherine Scullin. Photo: Ken Irwin
The RSPCA has blasted the decision on its Facebook page: ''This is a bitterly disappointing result for the RSPCA. It is also extremely disappointing for all RSPCA staff and volunteers who put so much work into this case and the rehabilitation of these dogs.
''The result certainly does not meet the RSPCA's or the community's expectations, nor does it provide an acceptable outcome for the dogs that experienced such horrible welfare issues.''
When RSPCA officers entered Cooke's property in September last year, they found the 49 dogs suffering serious health problems due to their prolonged captivity. Some were seized and needed significant veterinary care.
In Sale Magistrates Court on November 30, Mr Raleigh gave Cooke a two-year good behaviour bond without conviction, provided he allowed RSPCA inspectors to randomly visit his property.
The maximum penalty for each charge was 12 months' jail, a $14,000 fine and a 10-year ban on owning animals.
Mr Raleigh also refused to order Cooke to pay the RSPCA's costs for any of the dogs seized and treated.
One rescued dog, Maggie, an eight-year-old schnauzer, had never walked on a lead or played with toys and was fearful, having had minimal human contact during her years of neglect at the farm.
She later almost died after giving birth to a litter of six. Maggie's surgery, removal of her cataracts and intensive rehabilitation since being rescued cost the RSPCA more than $10,000.
''When I saw her, I fell in love with her,'' said Maggie's new owner, Catherine Scullin.''She's a really kind soul and really smart and lovely.'' The RSPCA and other animal welfare groups want to know why Cooke was not given a tougher sentence at a time when the state government claims to be cracking down on puppy farms.
RSPCA chief executive Maria Mercurio said: ''It is our hope that with the imminent new legislation announced by our government, and a thorough overhaul and tightening of codes of practice, that magistrates will take a firmer line.''
Oscar's Law president Debra Tranter, who visited Cooke's farm before the property was raided, said Cooke's sentence was inadequate and did not make sense.
Cooke did not return calls from The Sunday Age.
Read more: RSPCA outraged over lenient sentence for cruel puppy farmer