The chairman of the SPCA has called for tougher sentences for those convicted of animal cruelty.

Dr Andrew Madeiros believes there should be a mandatory minimum punishment of a five-year ban on keeping animals.

He spoke out in reaction to what he described as a “disappointing, slap on the wrist” sentence handed to a man who starved and neglected an elderly dog to the brink of death.

Former prison officer Craig Clarke admitted causing or permitting Sapphire the rottweiler to suffer unnecessarily when he appeared at Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday. He was given a conditional discharge and 12-month ban on keeping animals by Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner.

Before imposing the sentence, Mr Warner saw pictures of the emaciated dog and heard how she was starving and riddled with fleas, worms and tumours when rescued by the SPCA in May. She was around 12 to 13 years old and eventually had to be put to sleep due to her tumours and advanced age.

Clarke told the court: “I fed the dog every day. The dog was dying. It made no sense to take the dog to a vet. The dog was old and I thought I would let the dog die naturally.”

However, Mr Warner heard that the dog gained weight under the care of the SPCA when given adequate food.

News of Clarke’s sentence caused an outcry. A total of 34 people commented on the story on our website by lunchtime yesterday, with many expressing concern over the outcome of the case.

Several readers expressed the view that Clarke should have received a longer ban from keeping animals with some saying this should have been for life.

Asked for his reaction, Dr Madeiros said: “I was very excited that the case was won. It’s difficult getting such cases to court and the SPCA struggle with that. He (Clarke) pleaded guilty and we didn’t have to fight it any longer.”

However, he added: “I have to say the sentencing was very disappointing. What we are interested in is sending out a message that it’s a serious offence, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. Giving someone a conditional discharge is pretty much a slap on the wrist and saying you can’t have a dog for a year is a joke.

“He shouldn’t have been able to have animals under his care for longer. I think if there’s some specific reason why a judge feels a person shouldn’t be fined heavily or incarcerated, there should at least be a minimum of a five-year to ten-year ban.”

At present, the maximum punishment available under the Care and Protection of Animals Act 1975 is a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, a lifetime ban on keeping animals, or a combination of those punishments. There is no mandatory minimum punishment.

Mr Warner did not outline the reasons behind his decision to hand Clarke a conditional discharge and 12 month ban.

Dr Madeiros said: “For someone to be unable to properly care for an animal then a year later to be able to go back and get another one? This sends the wrong message.”

The Royal Gazette contacted the spokeswoman for Minister of the Environment, Marc Bean, to ask if there are any plans to increase punishments for animal cruelty. However, no comment had been provided by press time.

By The Royal Gazette