AN ANIMAL rights advocate courageously intervened last night to save a dog caged in squalor in Melbourne's west, after authorities failed to seize more than 20 dogs from a man whose property was raided on reports that he was slaughtering them for human consumption.
Debra Tranter, the founder of Oscar's Law campaign against puppy farms, last night drove to the Rockbank property and managed to wrangle one of the dogs from the owner, Peter Avraam, who has been charged with offences relating to handling stolen goods and drugs.
The female dog had been kept in a cage so small she could hardly stand, had a wound on her back and was so starved her spine and ribcage showed clearly through her skin.
Twenty-three dogs remain at the Leakes Road property, according to RSPCA reports, because even after authorities seized allegedly stolen goods, shotguns, drugs and animal meat on Wednesday, they left most of the animals. No dog meat was found on the premises in the raid.
''[The dogs] were licking my fingers through the wire,'' Ms Tranter said. ''It is the most evil place I have ever been.''
The state government passed laws last year which strengthened the penalties against animal abuse. But Ms Tranter said she had pleaded since March to police, Melton Shire Council, and the RSPCA to investigate, and it was only late last year she found a policewoman who would investigate.
Authorities have confirmed that they received reports from multiple and reliable sources that dogs were being illegally slaughtered for meat.
One witness told police they had seen a dog butchered and a blowtorch used to remove its hair before its carcass was hung on a hook.
The witness said dogs were found through ''free to good home'' advertisements. The RSPCA was told of the allegations last year, but left 24 dogs in Avraam's custody, with about 10 sheep and 100 goats.
Two restricted-breed pit bulls were seized by the council.
Ms Tranter said she spent yesterday asking the RSPCA to rescue the dogs but to no avail. A source close to the investigation said the number of agencies involved and difficulties in determining the jurisdiction of the allegations had delayed the raids.
RSPCA senior inspector Daniel Bode confirmed they had received complaints over the past year ''that we have attended to each time and we have investigated. We have worked with the owner on small little issues but nothing that warrants any offences under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.''
He said after this week's raids, which were attended at the request of police, the RSPCA had issued a directive asking Avraam to improve the dogs' housing conditions and provide clean water.
He said the RSPCA was investigating whether charges would now be laid and it was ''possible'' the animals would be seized if Avraam did not comply. ''We are now working with the owner to ensure animal welfare is made number one priority.''
A senior investigator at the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Samantha Moore, said Avraam had no wildlife licence.
All wildlife on the property, including 45 exotic animals, had been seized except for one emu. ''We haven't actually seized it yet given that they are not easy to catch,'' she said.
More charges are expected to be laid over acquisition of wildlife and unregistered dogs.
The chief executive of the state government authority responsible for meat safety, PrimeSafe, Brian Casey, said they found no evidence of dogs being killed on the property.
Avraam, 41, of Rockbank, was bailed after being charged with cultivation of cannabis, handling of stolen goods and ammunition offences. He is understood to have told police he was an animal lover.
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