Animal cruelty is up there on my list of least favourite things, along with child neglect and dodgy rest homes. Despite its very unpleasantness, I feel there is a certain obligation for all of us to speak up if we find ourselves faced with a vulnerable animal being mistreated. Personal involvement need only be minimal, with a confidential phone call to the SPCA who will address the situation on the animal's behalf.
Animals are protected by law under the Animal Welfare Act which allows for prosecution when basic requirements are not met. The Act is underpinned by the 'Five Freedoms' which are essentially the rights of animals.
The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare:
• Freedom from hunger and thirst
• Freedom from discomfort (adequate shelter)
• Freedom from pain, injury and disease
• Freedom to express normal behavior (space, exercise and suitable environment)
• Freedom from fear and distress
These requirements apply to all companion animals, horses and livestock, with the unfortunate exception of intensively farmed pigs and chickens.
So what should you do if you become aware of a case of animal neglect or abuse?
The SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is a national organisation that exists to promote the humane treatment of animals and prevent cruelty towards them. They should be your first point of contact if you are concerned about an animal, and will be happy to discuss the situation and send an inspector out as necessary. You may remain anonymous if you wish. Where possible you will be informed of the outcome of an Inspector visit.
Gather information for the inspector such as a clear description of the animal and its exact location plus dates and times of incidents and how long any ill treatment has been going on.
Animal control officers, although dealing mainly with nuisance issues, also play a role in animal welfare and usually work closely with the SPCA, so are a good contact also.
Bronwyn Gibson, communications manager at the RNZSPCA is quick to point out that the first approach of the SPCA is to help pet owners look after their animals better, providing education and assistance rather than simply taking them away.
"Sometimes people are unable to provide adequate care for their animals for all sorts of reasons and just need some help" Bronwyn says.
It may be tempting, but angrily confronting an animal owner is unlikely to result in a successful outcome. Animal welfare inspectors are trained to deal with difficult situations, and will act according to established protocols that won't compromise a potential prosecution further down the track. It is also unwise to post your concerns on the SPCA facebook page.
In some cases there is not sufficient cause for action, even when the care of an animal is less than ideal. The most common example of this is tethered dogs. If this happens to be your neighbour, you may like to tactfully ask if you can take their dog on your own daily walk or offer assistance with re-homing. On one occasion I donated a dog bed to the SPCA to deliver to a neighbour and was very pleased to see the dog sleeping comfortably off the concrete soon after with no awkward conversations with next door.
Other ways to help others care for their animals is to offer transport to a vet or (again tactfully) gifting de-sexing vouchers.
We all have a part to play in keeping animals safe. If you are at all concerned about the welfare of any animal, phone your local SPCA and speak up.