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Channel 7 Today Tonight - Moorook Animal Shelter v RSPCA

Channel 7 SA segment on Today/Tonight about the Moorook Animal Shelter drama where the RSPCA have charged Lola McLachlan (the owner/operator) with cruelty because she took in several old and abandoned...

Moorook Animal shelter has been officially operating for around 14 years, it was originally approved by the local council to hold 27 dogs, at the same time limits were put on the shelter to only keep the animals for a maximum of 2 months, in other words the local councils tried applying a time limit to how long the animals were allowed to live, a standard at the time that applied to all animal shelters.  

"Lola must have not noticed this, because she adopted a non kill status."

Over the first few years 3 Riverland councils used this privately run no kill shelter to drop of stray, sick and abused animals, without offering any financial support, in fact they were collecting money of Lola for registrations and leaving the owner Lola to cover all the running costs, maintenance, training, feed, veterinarian costs, de-sexing and micro chipping where appropriate and all construction on the property.

The Shelter grew to cover the huge increase in animals dumped there, in the last few years dogs alone exceeded 100 at times, and with all the odds stacked against Lola, they maintained one of the lowest kill rates and re-homed in a short time over 1800 dogs alone, and many other animals.

In or about July of 2012 the Loxton/Waikerie council started talking with the RSPCA about opening a shelter in the Riverland, notes from their own minutes at the time show they acknowledged they had never supported Moorook other than dropping of animals in need of care and a home.

Council documents no longer allow public scrutiny when the topic is discussed at meetings, a situation that raise more questions than it answers.

The RSPCA regularly dropped in to see Lola and have a look around, right up to and including late in 2012 without any issues of compliance, animal health or general conditions of the shelter, with Lola now a trained vet nurse and many of the local volunteers either vet nurses or experienced in handling and rehabilitation of companion animals.

In or around the 7 of March 2013, the RSPCA and Council officials raided Moorook shelter, using a warrant obtained through a magistrate in Adelaide, details of the application to the courts is being sort, as Lola had at no time denied the RSPCA entry.

They demanded to take 9 animals during this visit, and told the shelters owner if the animals were not signed over to them, that the owner Lola, would be responsible for any costs incurred, which over the months of an investigation could cost tens of thousands of dollars, which could bankrupt the shelter, so they were reluctantly signed over under duress.

The RSPCA actions from my point of view were simply lazy policing at the very least, where else would you easily find animals with behavioral issues and health concerns, than the very place they are taken for support and rehabilitation

Of the nine animals taken, one was a kitten than had arrived the night before and was earmarked for a trip to Lolas vet, it was put down that day by the RSPCA, 3 elderly dogs were also taken, and immediately put down by the RSPCA also, all 3 were described as elderly but in good spirits by the professionals and the experienced workers at Moorook.

WOMBLES was one of the animals taken from the safety of his compound and put down by the RSPCA, “this photos is from a week or so earlier” he had arrived at Moorook with damage to an eye and an ear, and had been vet treated and looked after by the staff at Moorook.

The other 2 dogs taken and killed were also suffering from age related issues, one had eye sight issues but was safe and happy in its enclosure the other had arthritis but again was accessed by Moorook professionals as happy and still enjoying their lives

The other 5 dogs were taken under the heading of “Behavioural issues” all were in perfect health and undergoing rehabilitation, if left at Moorook they would have been rehabilitated and re-homed, under the RSPCA’s success rate, they have less than 60% chance at life by their own figures and even less if one knows the REAL FACTS

One of the dogs taken had an interesting story, Brandy had been run over by its owner, while being exercised by being led alongside a vehicle driven by the owner, calls to the RSPCA to rescue the injured animal fell on deaf ears, so Moorook stepped in raised thousands of dollars to have the damaged leg removed on vet advice and were in the process of rehabilitation, the animal was doing well and was enjoying perfect health, she was taken because it appears the RSPCA believed he would be hard to home, even though a volunteer offered to give him a home on the spot.

When this was exposed, several people applied to adopt him and even pay the RSPCA the adoption fees, yet they have been turned away?    

The RSPCA are empowered by the Animal welfare Act of 1985, which states;

I'm a paragraph. Click once to begin entering your own content. You can change my font, size, line height, colour 31A—Special powers relating to animals (1) An inspector may examine an animal and its living conditions and, if the inspector suspects on reasonable grounds that the animal is suffering or may if urgent action is not taken suffer unnecessary harm, do 

1 or more of the following: (a) provide treatment and care for the animal; (b) cause the living conditions of the animal to be modified; (c) seize and retain the animal for treatment and care. and more by highlighting part of me and selecting the options from the toolbar.

The animals taken were not in harm’s way, in fact they were receiving excellent treatment, where needed all were vet treated, de-sexed, immunized and undergoing behavioral training where needed, the 5 dogs taken under the heading of behavioural issues, should not have been taken, under any section of the Animal welfare Act, and coincidentally the number taken were the maximum that could be taken in the vehicles on site.

The RSPCA say these animals are now theirs and need not answer to anyone as to their current condition.  

I returned from Canberra and headed up early in the morning to the Riverland to be on premises for the inspection, interestingly enough as with the first visit, the RSPCA did not appear to have a trained vet on hand, (which the Animal welfare Act demands) and after reading Lola the shelters owner her rights, they seemed reluctant to answer any of my questions, other than they confirmed they could go anywhere and take any animals they chose hmmmmm.

The media were also on site as I had contacted them from Canberra and explained the situation as were many local supporters of Moorook, which appeared to be the basis of a fairer inspection, more so than based on the first visit and the heavy handed approached used at the time.

I accompanied the RSPCA inspector and her friend as they again toured the shelter and its animals, as expected they could not find fault with the health of any of the animals, questioning only one dogs condition, the animal in question had arrived only a week or so earlier in very poor condition and Lola had taken him to a vet, and it was so flea infested it had to have some sections of its fur shaved, and topical treatment was being applied.

On the RSPCA’s first visit the same dog’s condition had been questioned, and Lola was ordered to take it to Adelaide to her vet as the RSPCA could not fit it in their vehicles, even though herself and the other vet nurse on hand had explained this had already been done. Lola complied and took the animal back to the vet, which resulted in the vet asking why the animal was back there.

The officer questioning the animal’s loss of fur had been at Moorook during the first raid, yet still seemed unable to understand the issue, which clearly showed a serious lack of understanding of shelter practices, the fact no veterinarian was on hand and noted, no animals were taken and the RSPCA handed Lola and myself some documentation.

An abused or injured animal does not heal over night, this sad situation is akin to the health department going into a hospital and blaming the Hospital for any sick people they find :(

This included a note pad page with the name of the vet that supposedly accompanied them on the first visit, and 3 Animal welfare orders, interestingly the name they gave as the vet on hand on the first visit, was the officer with us on the day, who it appeared was not a vet, nor had a very good understanding of how shelters work, and the laws she was there to Act under.

The 3 orders given were;

0532 (1) All dogs are to be housed in kennels /pens with concrete flooring, sloped to drain outside the kennel/pen, and must be cleaned on a daily basis, exercise yards are not required to have concrete, (2) All dogs are to be provided with a raised area to allow the dog to get of the floor & have clean bedding, to be complied with by the 25 April 2013.

0533 (1) All dogs and cats on the property that are housed in kennels pens or cages must be in safe enclosures with no sharp protrusions ie best tin, loose wire ect.

0534 (1) All dogs to be exercised for at least 30 minutes per day, this may include placing the dogs in an exercise yard.

Order 0532 appeared outside the Animal welfare Act, and more so ideals preferred by the RSPCA.

(3) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1) or (2),

a person ill treats an animal if the person— (a) intentionally, unreasonably or recklessly causes the animal unnecessary harm; or (b) being the owner of the animal— (i) fails to provide it with appropriate, and adequate, food, water, living conditions (whether temporary or permanent) or exercise; or (ii) fails to take reasonable steps to mitigate harm suffered by the animal; or (iii) abandons the animal; or (iv) neglects the animal so as to cause it harm   

Moorook cannot be accused of any breaches of the animal welfare act.

On top of these orders, the local council have demanded a complete re-development plan for the property and a total spotless clean up, again providing a comprehensive list of tasks to be completed within a very short time limit.

The development plan have to be lodged by an experienced development officer, and will have to include building inspections, seemingly even those already approved, drainage, water pits and a general clean up of the entire property in areas that do not relate to the shelter.

We also must now apply for an increase in animals numbers allowed on the property and fight for non kill ideals, which exclude time limits on the lives of animals.

Many supporters immediately stepped in and started the clean up and renovations, and a huge working bee was planned for the 6 and 7 of April, with hundreds of local and Adelaide residents pledging both financial and onsite support and services and cash donations.

By now my public exposure of the RSPCA actions, resulted in hundreds of email complaints from all over the state about recent actions of the RSPCA, including personal calls from veterinarians, ex RSPCA workers and inspectors, and other shelter owners.    

"A very disturbing fact also became apparent when some local companies stepped up to support Moorook financially only to have pressure placed on them to with draw it" in one case the RSPCA were confirmed as putting pressure on a company who went public in financial support of Moorook.

Lola and I met with the local council and sorted out the way forward and the council helped with the services of a truck to remove excess materials.

I also wrote to the RSPCA and explained the plans to comply, with what we had done, the details of the working bee, and explained the possible need for extensions of time in relation to the concrete works, as the council told us we could not continue any major works without a development plan.

Previous council development plans for the original approval of the shelter took over 3 years according to local media articles at the time, so I am hoping to apply as much pressure as I can to ensure the whole process is handled in a timely manner this time.    

The original approvals from the council for Lola to operate all those years ago, included sections that limited the numbers of animals kept on the property and time limits on how long they could reside at the shelter, based on rules established for what we now describe as Kill Shelters, like the RSPCA and the Animal welfare league.

After approval of the shelter and due to masses of complaints from local people relating to the actions of the local dog catcher, 3 local councils started using Lola as the local pound; with up to 20 dogs a week being dropped of there, so local Adelaide animal lovers started assisting Moorook with the re-homing process. (Over 1800 animals in just a few years).

Just prior to the big clean up day’s (6/7 of April), I received a phone call from Lola that the RSPCA were at her gates, she handed the phone to them and I questioned why they were there, because we had been given until the 25 April to comply, and under the Animal welfare Act, they had no right to return un-announced, I advised Lola not to let them in until I arrived, so they left.

10 minutes later they returned with the police saying they had been threatened, interestingly enough, only Lola and I were aware, I was on the way in my car, and no one knew the RSPCA officers private phone numbers.

They ignored Lola’s will and entered the property, again without a vet, or in any case with our showing their credentials, it was as they knew the working bee was days away and started earmarking dogs and enclosures, with locals spotting their dog seizure trucks around the corner, so their intention appeared to be all about taking more animals.

by now I was nearly there and so were channel 7 in their helicopter, when they knew this they fled from the property in haste, again without taking any animals.

On the way the RSPCA solicitors phoned me to explain they had a right to enter the property under section 30 of the Act, having by now memorised the Act, I made it clear they had no right, and that if any person was found on the property without the right to be there, they would be removed.    

The animals that had their enclosures marked by the RSPCA this time were again elderly but very healthy animals, all were in concreted enclosures, they had also passed previous RSPCA visits, so there was no reason to take any animals, and in any case, once again the legislation was being ignored, for what appeared no reasonable excuse.

The dog above was adopted the same day, to avoid seizure and euthanasia by the RSPCA, which appeared again to be based on age, not health or behavioural issues

“Section 30 of the act specifies that in the absence of a warrant, the RSPCA can only enter a property in such a way if they fear for the immediate safety of an animal, and considering they had already visited the shelter twice in as many weeks and found no animals in danger, or should I remind you, no dogs with any genuine health concerns, they had no right under the Act to re-enter the property without notice” this fact is supported by their sudden departure when they knew scrutiny was on the way.

One of the most massive issues facing genuine animal safety is based around "Behavioural Issues" and the policy used by government empowered rescuers, which punish animals based on aggression, fear and jumping or whimpering even cowering is enough to seize and put down an animal, even those in care and undergoing behavioural re-habilitation. None of these can be applied to an organisation who are addressing such concerns, only animal owners who bring about such health issues through abuse and mistreatment.

A few days later the working bee got under-way with over 100 people on both the Saturday and Sunday, with great success, all cages were remodelled where needed, the entire premises was cleaned up, some of the enclosures where allowed. were concreted, and scrap metal collected by Lola to help raise money for food, was collected and taken away.

The RSPCA wrote to both Lola and myself telling us, that I was no longer to speak for or help represent Moorook, as it seems they do not like the way in which I have helped so far, Moorook again wrote back explaining I was their official spokesperson.

I once again drove up to Moorook to meet with the local council for the third time, to show them the progress and sort out what direction they needed from us, to comply with their what I call “Excessive red tape” and they could not offer me any help, other than a map of the area pointing out a carport and shed they believed did not have compliance, an old transportable miles from the shelter area, that was there when Lola brought the property.

They also needed the property cleaned up more in areas away from the shelter, and after we had a chat about drainage, they concluded it was best we hired a developer to assist their development team, so as to ascertain what needed to be done?

A Developer has offered his services.

The council staff member who was dealing with the issue also reminded me of the original terms of the approval which included a time limit of 2 months for animals to be at the shelter?

I came home and published the outcome of my visit on my face book page, as I always do, as acting for the people, is all about transparency, which appeared to upset the council, I explained this is how I do things, out in the open, and I also explained my concern at the idea of time limits on the lives of the animals, for which he said could be addressed in the development application, and confirmed again it was best that we had our development officer meet with theirs.

Lola checked through her paper work and found council compliance documents for one of the sheds and also made me aware that the concreted enclosures already had water catchment areas and associated septics, something the council and I were not aware of.

I then received a legal notice from solicitors acting on behalf of the chief inspector of the RSPCA, with contained the threat of legal action against me for the contents of my Face Book page, both my words and those of others.

As I had written nothing about the man personally, other than my understandable criticism of the actions of the RSPCA, and by publishing their current financials and their shelters kill rates which were all taken from their own website and articles written by them, I refused to publish an apology, which was asked of me on my Face book page and my official website, I also refused to police other peoples comments on social networking.

A final clean up is planned for the 20/21 of April, as one older approved area in Moorook presently unused needs renovations, and we will have to make the whole property spotless to comply with the councils demands.

At this stage we have complied with all of the RSPCA’s orders, with some debate on the ideal of concreted enclosures up to the latest standards, as many were built before the laws were recently changed, compliance with the council is the main issue, as even if we meet with the original demands which are only a small clean up away, where too from there is unknown to any of us.

By the 24 of April the numbers of dogs held at Moorook has been lowered greatly through adoption over the past few weeks, leaving only around 50 dogs or less on the property, which is around what I believe is manageable with the current team of volunteers’.

“This figure clearly shows Moorook was capable at re-homing over 70 dogs in a matter of only 6 weeks.” With a rate of 7 dogs a week, making it one of the best performing shelters in the country!

Moorook have over 60 concreted enclosures that comply with the current ridiculous legislation, with most of those able to hold 2 dogs (not that Moorook would prefer that idea) we have another dozen or so that are part concrete.

These enclosures cover Moorook holding over 100 dogs alone even with the Animal welfare notices if the RSPCA being applied.

We also have a new area being built that will hold another 10 to 12 animals, that will comply to the latest legislation and will have air-conditioning, completion is again reliant on council development approvals

There are also a multitude of runs designed as exercise yards; some are attached directly to the smaller complying holding areas.

If the RSPCA had acted in a way that would be in line with community expectations in the first instance, they could have turned up without the need for a warrant, looked over the shelter as they always have, and offered support where it was needed, or asked Lola to upgrade where needed, in any event no animals should have been taken. If the RSPCA had questions relating to the health of the older dogs, then that should have been left to Lola and her professional veterinarians to decide.

The RSPCA shelters set up as pictured may be ideal for short term housing, but they are not safe for the health of long term residents, the fact that the RSPCA are a kill shelter, does not give them the right to impose their ideals on genuine NON KILL shelters.

On April the 24, 25, 26 27 28 and 29, Lola and myself were on hand to show the RSPCA through the shelter, when they did not show up, and continued to refuse to reply to a variety of emails, we again wrote to them and explained we had been ready for a follow up inspection for some time now. We explained that we could not be on site on the Wednesday and Thursday the 1 and 2 of May, as common-sense dictated that we both be there, myself to show them through and discuss any issues that may remain, and Lola to be on site if the condition of any new arrivals need be questioned, or if any vet notices needed to be produced.

At all times were have made it clear we were happy to show them through and work with them. On Thursday the 2 of May, I was in Adelaide and Lola was to attend an appointment also, but that had been cancelled, so the shelter was locked and Lola was at the rear of the property cleaning cages on her own, the RSPCA attended with police presence and broke into the property expecting no one to be in attendance.

Lola saw them wandering through the property and her private home, she asked what they were doing and they said they had a warrant, but did not allow Lola to see it, by now Lola had refused to deal with them and said I was on the way and to let me know if any issues remained unanswered. Within 10 minutes of the RSPCA breaking in, supporters started arriving as the call was put out on social networks, and they started filming events.

The video clearly shows the RSPCA ignoring safety concerns putting the shelters animals at risk, entering quarantine areas without approval then continuing through the shelter without washing up first, risking spreading disease. 

They also entered the cat enclosures with the same disrespect in relation to safety and quarantine protection, they earmarked this time 2 cats to themselves, but video surveillance showed this, and immediately both cats were taken to the local vet and were back within 1 hours passing health checks, at no stage did the RSPCA bring these concerns to anyone at the shelter, if not for video surveillance, if the animals did have health issues, they could have spread to others in the populations, luckily the RSPCA’s Independent vet, was wrong in her assessment.

The RSPCA since their first visit in early March, have continued to refuse to support, reply or even talk to Moorook shelter, its owner or its spokesperson. They have also refused to answer any of the thousands of supporters, offers to adopt the animals taken from Moorook, or it appears to answer questions asked by local members of parliament.

A break down of success rates and financial details of the RSPCA is on this site and below

Mark Aldridge

"In response to the latest RSPCA article on Moorook, where they say their figures are improving, their own public records for 2012 are now out....they now have around 14 million in accrued savings from public donations, animal operations now receive even less at only 28% of moneys spent, admin is up 6% to 16% and has been cutting into costs, of the 2021 dogs that were not reclaimed in 2012 in SA, 323 sadly were transferred, leaving only 740 finding homes, and 870 put down, at the years end they only housed 27 dogs, most are put down because of cost saving, or as the RSPCA call behavioural issues, and what animal wouldnt have a behavioural issue if they have been abused, starved or dumped...........

Animal cruelty reports were 2648 but only 52 prosecutions were made, attendance figures in relation to complaints made are not recorded in their public record.A massive 42% of money raised is spent on fundraising, which is where inquirys should be made, so for every $100 donated to the RSPCA SA,$14 goes to enforcement of the Act, $42 goes into fundraising/marketing, $16 goes to the admin direct and $28 goes into animal operations.

The RSPCA have raided Moorook 4 times, each time taking several vehicles and have sent me several legal notices threatening me with legal action, in previous cases they have been known to spend tens of thousands trying to prosecute other animal rescuers, and many lost cases costs tens of thousands, so that is where your donated money goes. 

One might ask how much has gone into their latest trip to break into Moorook, when they didn’t even speak to anybody, 3 vehicles and staff, police resources that achieved nothing but the further intimidation of an elderly woman doing her best to save animals from death row.

Moorook all on their own against all odds and no big bank balance are homing dogs at 7 a week, that's 362 a year, over the past few years near 2000 animals all i still dont get the RSPCA releasing media info saying they are trying to help Moorook, not a cent, or any on the ground support other than intimidation, not even the courtesy of a return call or reply, those are the facts"The most pertinent question for the RSPCA, why brag 14 million in accumulated profits at the same time confirming you put down over half the dogs in your shelters (870 or more) in SA alone? I say if you invested even 5% of that amount into Moorook ($700,000) they could have saved them all.

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