An animal health and welfare official says changes to the Animal Welfare Act will enable inspectors to better deal with low-level acts of cruelty.
Chris Rodwell, director of animal health and welfare for the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) said serious offences will still be dealt with by prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act but "low level" offenders can be fined.
Changes to the Animal Welfare Act announced by Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor mean that SPCA and MPI animal welfare inspectors can now issue fines to pet and livestock owners.
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"They enable us to more effectively deal with low level offending by issuing infringement notices for fines ranging from $300 to $500," said Rodwell.
"Up until the introduction of the animal welfare care and procedures regulations, if a minor offence was detected and didn't involve significant harm to an animal, the most common approach was to provide education and a written warning.
"In some instances, it may have been preferable to issue a financial penalty and the new regulations issued on October 1 will allow us to do this."
Rodwell said while education and written warnings have often been effective in achieving compliance, there are some cases where warnings have not achieved the desired change in behaviour.
SPCA communications manager Jessie Gilchrist said the new regulations are another way for inspectors to enforce the law and they are not a replacement for anything.
"The fines will be issued by SPCA inspectors in cases where there has been a breach of the Animal Welfare Act, but the severity means a prosecution is not appropriate."
She said an example of where a fine might be appropriate is when a person leaves their dog in the car on a hot summer day.
"If the dog died as a result, or suffered terribly - this would likely lead to a prosecution.
"But if someone left their dog in a car and it had minor heat stroke - issuing a fine could be an appropriate action to take."
Whanganui kennel owner and former council dog ranger Kelly Jordan believes financial penalties may unfairly target some owners.
"Government should be placing the taxpayers' money to educate not discriminate," she said.
Jordan said there are owners who love their dogs and might have them in the car because the dog becomes anxious when left home alone.
She believes that community animal care courses that may be run by local governments or SPCA are the key to changing behaviours.
O'Connor said the new regulations have been developed over the past three years, in consultation with industry and advocacy groups, and target lower-end offending.
"Whether you are a farmer or live on a lifestyle block, own a pet or petting zoo, transport livestock or ride a horse, the regulations will apply to you."
Animal owners issued with an infringement notice have options to pay the fee in full, request a waiver if there are grounds or request a defended or non-defended court hearing.