A long legal battle has proven animal protection laws do have teeth, although they sometimes take a while for their bite to be felt.
The SPCA was recently granted custody of two dogs saved from suffering due to maltreatment by their owner on two different occasions.
Pene Lemon of Hikurangi was convicted in May for the incidents, one dating back 18 months. A custody ruling involved another hearing and took until August 1. Until then Lemon legally owned the dogs although they had been in SPCA care and then in foster homes since being removed from his property.
"It's been a real legal battle," SPCA manager and chief inspector Francine Shields said. The organisation would have preferred a sentence heavier than the 50 hours community service dealt out to the owner, she said. Charges laid by the SPCA under the Animal Welfare Act were combined and in May Lemon was convicted on one count of failing to provide adequate care and another of failing to seek veterinary treatment.
The case has cost the SPCA an estimated $12,000 in veterinary care and other expenses, excluding legal bills.
But the organisation can now sanction the dogs' adoption by two families who have been fostering them. "It's a relief to have it finalised and the best part is knowing these dogs can have a happy future," Ms Shields said.
The SPCA seized the first dog, an adult male bull terrier, in February last year. The dog was so emaciated it could hardly stand, weighing 13.2kg instead of the breed's normal 25kg. It was covered in sores and was so weak an SPCA officer had to carry it from the property.
"But he had a beautiful nature and although he had nearly starved to death we felt he was recoverable," Ms Shields said. Within a month the dog was in good health and weighed 21kg. At that point he was fostered out to the people who will now keep him.
During the course of that first legal action, SPCA staff needed to return to the Hikurangi address where they found another dog, a four-month-old female cross-breed. The animal was also emaciated but its main problem was mange, leaving much of its body hairless and covered in lesions, Ms Shields said. While the dog's condition was serious, it was treatable, she said.
"We see animals like this on a regular basis. Unfortunately not many cases get to court," she said. But the public was becoming less tolerant of animal cruelty and neglect, and was reporting cases to the SPCA more frequently.
Last month a Takahue man who left his pet bulldog in extreme suffering for eight weeks after it broke its back was sentenced to four months' prison.
David Simpkin, 40, had earlier admitted a charge of wilfully ill-treating the dog between March 26 and May 21 this year.
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