We hope you enjoy this insightful interview, which looks at a ‘day in the life’ of our Chief Inspector Jaco Pieterse.
What motivated you to work for the SPCA?
When growing up, I always had a deep love for animals. I had many animals growing up and had a special love for farm animals.
“My parents were very strict when it came to owning pets – we had to make sure the animals were properly taken care of, fed, watered and their living conditions cleaned daily. This was non-negotiable.”
Before I started volunteering at the SPCA, I would find myself walking to the local nursery (more than a 5km walk!) to go and see the animals in their petting farm.
This happened weekly. I would spend my last bit of pocket money to buy packets of food to feed the animals. I could spend hours just sitting outside the enclosures and admiring the animals. Little did I know at the time that keeping animals in enclosures at petting farms came with its own welfare concerns.
One day I told my mother I wanted to help animals and that I wanted to volunteer at my local SPCA. I started volunteering at the Vereeniging SPCA when I was still in school, spending all my free time at the SPCA, including after school during the week, every weekend and on school holidays. I lived and breathed SPCA. The rest is history.
How long have you been working as an Inspector?
I first qualified as an Inspector in 2009. I was the youngest person to become a qualified Inspector in the country. I started my process of becoming an Inspector when I was in matric – the first ever to do this. Three years later I qualified as a Senior Inspector, also the youngest to become a Senior Inspector. This was a very proud moment for me as I worked very hard to achieve this. In 2019 I joined the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, and in 2020 I became the Chief Inspector.
“This year I celebrated 17 years with the SPCA movement.”
What is a typical day like in your role?
One can never plan your day. When you plan, something will always happen and push you in a different direction. I am responsible for three different departments: the Inspectorate, the Horse Care & Farmyard and the Wildlife departments.
I have a total of 32 staff members reporting to me.
First thing in the morning the Inspectors will come and discuss cases with me that they need to investigate during the course of the day, especially complicated cases. I have regular meetings with the supervisors of the different departments that report to me. I make sure all the staff in the different departments reporting to me are performing at an optimal level and that all animals are attended to accordingly.
When severe cases happen, for example, dog fighting, then I join my team of Inspectors in the field to assist them with the investigation and removal of the animals.
I also assist the Inspectors with cases where the owners are difficult, and we anticipate resistance when we want to execute court orders to remove animals.
I always make sure I am there to back the Inspectors when they feel unsure or require extra assistance. On top of all of this, I also need to deal with public complaints, interact with governmental authorities, ensure the departments reporting to me are operating within the allocated budget, manage staff issues and ensure the Inspectors are trained regularly to uplift their skills and knowledge and attend MANY meetings! A rather big task and a lot of responsibility.
What do you like most about working for the SPCA?
The fact that I am able to rescue abused and neglected animals and make sure justice is served for the voiceless.
In what ways is your role rewarding?
“I am able to make a difference in the lives of animals.”
In what ways is your role challenging?
Sadly, many people do not understand that the SPCA has to work within the parameters of the law and our statutory powers. Many people think the SPCA is responsible for all animal-related matters and get upset because we cannot always assist. The SPCA can only take action when animals are being abused, and there are contraventions of the Animals Protection Act. We also cannot simply walk into someone’s property and remove animals – there is a process that needs to be followed.
Dogs barking, attacking or biting people do not fall within the mandate of the SPCA – this is a By-Law issue which the SPCA has no jurisdiction over. Only Law Enforcement can take action in terms of the By-Laws. People do not understand this and will then get upset with the SPCA because we cannot assist them in these instances.
What’s your most memorable experience/memory from your time with the SPCA?
Some years ago, I came across a case of frogs being abused. Yes, frogs! The frogs were being squashed into plastic bottles and being sold next to the road as “live bait” for fishing. The frogs had evident injuries from being squashed into the plastic bottles. At the end of the day, the frogs that were not sold were dumped next to the road – left to die in the bottles with no way of escaping.
I just felt that this could not be left and that someone had to speak up for these abused frogs.
I was told by many that I was wasting my time and that we would never win a case for animal cruelty. I was persistent, and I laid animal cruelty charges. The same day a suspect was arrested and charged by the police for animal cruelty.
It was not an easy journey and involved many arguments in making sure the case gets prosecuted. A few months later, we won the case! This was a very proud moment for me – I stood my ground and made sure that justice was served for these frogs. The story made international news.
This was also the first case for the SPCA whereby a guilty verdict was reached for amphibians.
Is there any aspect of your role that people might be surprised to learn?
We have many challenges. Our work is not always sunshine and roses. We see terrible cases of animal cruelty – some unimaginable things being done to animals. We do not always get the support we need from the police because some of the officers feel they have “more serious” cases to deal with or some of them do not regard animal cruelty as serious or important.
In some cases, we are threatened with our lives and sometimes assaulted. We are obstructed from performing our duties because some people do not believe the SPCA Inspectors have any powers – which couldn’t be further from the truth.
“SPCA Inspectors have the right to confiscate animals in certain instances and the right to arrest people when the ends of justice are being defeated – not many people know this.”
Do you have a favourite animal/breed?
All animals are my favourite. I believe all animals are deserving of equal protection – regardless of their species or breed.
What do you hope for the future in your role?
My hope for the future is that other authorities like the police, prosecutors and magistrates take animal cruelty cases more seriously.
“Research proves that animal cruelty is the start of matters escalating to more serious crimes like domestic violence, gender-based violence, assault, rape and murder.”
Some of the world’s most famous serial killers started off abusing animals. The sooner we can instil kindness and compassion towards animals, the better for both animals and people.