Walking in the shoes of an RSPCA inspector

RSPCA inspector Sharon Morgan begins her day’s work. www.communitypix.com.au d406130
RSPCA inspector Sharon Morgan begins her day’s work. www.communitypix.com.au d406130

While the stark realities of the job eventually led me down a different path, for Sharon Morgan (48), the desire to make a difference in animals’ lives not only brought her to the role, but lured her back after a short stint working for WA Police.

She alternates her holidays between volunteering and adventure trekking, the most memorable including a three-week stint working with the International Anti Poaching Foundation in Zimbabwe and a visit to Chiang Mai in Thailand to work at rescue and rehabilitation organisation Elephant Nature Park.

Today we’re shadowing Ms Morgan for two local jobs to see exactly what WA’s 13 inspectors get up to.

As soon as we are in the car Ms Morgan’s phone and iPad beep in unison. The car operates as her office because inspectors are on the road 80 to 90 per cent of the time.

The job isn’t urgent ” sheep that a resident says look unkempt ” so she’ll head past the paddock after this morning’s checks.

‘Urgent jobs involve animals that are trapped, animals that are dead and dying, or animals on a property with no-one tending to them, that have no food or water, essentially life-threatening incidents,’ she said.

Most of the RSPCA’s jobs are reported by members of the public via 1300 CRUELTY (1300 278 3589) ” many are false alarms, but it’s better to be safe.

‘Sometimes we’ll get a call that there’s a cow lying in a paddock that hasn’t moved for an hour, you have to rush out there in case, you beep the horn and it jumps straight up and walks off,’ she said laughing.

‘But we encourage people to report anyway as you don’t know if it’s a false alarm or not. We don’t mind driving out there, that’s what we’re here for.

‘Some days we might get one or two jobs come through, other days as many as 10.’

We drive to a Parmelia home where a person has reported an abundance of very skinny cats.

As the heavens open we rush to the front door (along with at least seven felines) to get out of the rain.

Ms Morgan inspects a grey cat, which has one half-closed eye that doesn’t appear to be infected. It’s not under-fed and the animal’s bowls have recently been filled.

But the smell of cat urine is noticeable and a mother cat and at least three tiny kittens huddle under an outdoor chair.

School-aged children answer the door ” their mum isn’t home ” and Ms Morgan leaves her card.

The older children tell her many of the cats are strays, some of whom they tried to take to Cat Haven, but the refuge was full.

If Ms Morgan doesn’t hear from their mum in the next few days, she’ll come back for a follow-up inspection to offer advice.

Not sterilising cats and dogs |creates big problems, according to Ms Morgan, who said the majority of her work related to education around neutering, correct feeding amounts, worming and vet treatment.

She makes a note of the conditions and a detailed description of the visit in her notepad, which is a legal document, before we head to our second job in Anketell.

A disagreement over a puppy has led to a complaint about a skinny mother dog and pups at a rural property.

On arrival, it becomes clear that kelpie-border collie cross Molly, whose pups have all gone to new homes, is healthy and may have been slightly underweight due to feeding her babies.

Her mate is in excellent condition.

Her owners are welcoming, also showing off their well-looked after collection of pet snakes.

Ms Morgan chats to them about care of the property’s two dogs and gives them a large bag of food, worming tablets and flea collars as a gesture of goodwill.

False and vindictive complaints, unfortunately, do occur.

Despite this, the family involved are grateful and welcoming.

‘Most of the people are pretty good, sometimes they’re a bit defensive at first,’ Ms Morgan said.

‘There are occasions where it does get nasty ” at those times it’s often wise to back off and call for back-up.’

In those occasions, her preinspector roles working for Customs and experience as a police officer come in handy.

‘You’ve got to have a love of animals to do this job, but a lot of people think it’s all roses and sunshine and it’s actually quite hard,’ she said.

‘You’re out there by yourself and you see some really sad, horrible things and you’ve got to have tough skin, you also need to be able to talk to people and be able to cope in stressful situations,’ she said.

Inspectors have the power to seize animals that are suffering, but it’s a last resort. Education is key.

But some people are beyond education, and while serious cruelty issues are not common, most inspectors are working on several prosecutions at one time.

‘(The worst I’ve seen was) a few years ago when I had a battery hen farm to inspect ” there were thousands of chickens in appalling conditions,’ Ms Morgan said.

‘The sheds hadn’t been cleaned in years, the smell of ammonia was really strong, the chickens actually
had eggs stuck inside them, most had no feathers as they’d been plucked out by other chickens, lots of dead ones had been left in cages. The farm was shut down,’ she said.

‘The hardest part of the job is when you see animals that have been tortured or starved,’ she said.

‘You’ll go to places where dogs are really emaciated and the owner says they can’t afford to feed, them but they have lots of food fot style=”font-size: 8pt;”>While deliberate abuse of animals is the ‘extreme’ they deal with, unfortunately it does happen.

‘The good part of this job is you can do something about it,’ she said.

‘I like to think I give a voice to these animals who are being mistreated, because they can’t speak for themselves.’