Talk to the Animals

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Talk to the Animals: Enforcing animal welfare - whose job is it?

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Organisations like the SPCA help animals that have been mistreated. Photo / Thinkstock
Organisations like the SPCA help animals that have been mistreated. Photo / Thinkstock

There are three approved organizations in NZ that can act on animal welfare complaints: the police, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Royal NZ Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA).

Police
Senior Sergeant Pete Pedersen from the NZ Police says that although minor animal welfare concerns are generally referred to local council - mainly things to do with Animal Control - or the SPCA, those more serious cases of aggravated cruelty are immediately acted on by police. Unlike other organizations, the police have the power to arrest as well as bring a prosecution.

MPI
MPI have verification staff, who focus on production farm inspections. Food safety requirements, hygiene and production standards are monitored, and as these individuals are also warranted animal welfare inspectors they look for any welfare breaches. Most recent information shows around six hundred complaints per year being investigated, some resulting in prosecutions.

The welfare requirements surrounding live animal exports are also a responsibility of MPI inspectors who issue certificates of compliance and follow up complaints.

SPCA
Investigating complaints and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act as it relates to companion animals is predominantly the responsibility of the RNZSPCA and its forty seven member SPCA's throughout the country. Each year around fourteen thousand animal welfare complaints are investigated.

Ric Odom, CEO of the RNZSPCA says that there is an annual cost of $7.5 million to run the inspectorate service, with less than one percent coming from government funding (which is designated for rural areas only). The remainder of the funding comes from donations, bequests and fundraising. Odom says that as the RNZSPCA carries out an enforcement service, it should ideally be fully funded by the Government or at least significantly more so.

Upholding the Animal Welfare Act is an expensive business. Odom describes the recent prosecution of the Williamson brothers for mistreating thirty four horses as an example.

"The cost of the prosecution was $93,000 plus fostering costs for the surviving horses. The court awarded the SPCA with seven thousand dollars to be paid over several years".


Upholding the Animal Welfare Act is an expensive business. Photo / Thinkstock

If the government were to fund the enforcement work the RNZSPCA does, Odom believes this would allow more to be achieved through education and advocacy around animal welfare, rather than just being the 'animal police'.

A comparable organization to the SPCA is the St John Ambulance Service, a charity that exists to help people in need. Through ACC, the Government covers most of the cost of ambulance call outs. The fact that animals in need don't receive any significant Government assistance, leaving a charity to fund what is a vital role in the community is wrong in my opinion. Odom cites the link between animal cruelty and subsequent violence towards people, making it seem a good use of Government funds to contribute towards enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

This would free up the time and resources of the SPCA, allowing them to increase their efforts in the community to provide positive education around animal welfare.

Do you think it's right that the majority of animal welfare enforcement is done by a charity with virtually no government funding?

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