An Auckland woman who says she “rescued” a malnourished dog says she acted in the best interest of the pet claiming it was near death - but the dog’s owner says she is a thief.
Ciara Rhodes, alongside friend Chanelle Whittaker, said she removed the dog from a Cockle Bay address last month after being shocked by its condition.
Now that the dog is on the mend he faces being sent back to the home - and the women are concerned they may face being charged.
But police say they have spoken to everyone involved and no charges have been laid.
The SPCA says the women’s actions effectively ended their own inquiries into the dog and have issued a warning against similar vigilante action.
The dog’s owner denies that the animal was neglected and says she wants him home.
Rhodes told the Herald she and Whittaker visited the property on May 21 after seeing a photo shared to social media that showed a puppy tied up outside to a wire, sitting in the rain.
Upon arriving they were greeted by a different, older, dog that was skinny and “looking like it was about to die”.
Rhodes told the Herald that they called police after they became concerned about the welfare of a child at the home they could hear crying.
The women put the skinny dog, known to his owners as Waka, in their car while they waited for police to arrive and, after police had confirmed the child was safe, claim that a man from the address came out and verbally surrendered the dog to them.
Waka’s owner denied that the man, another tenant at the property, had verbally surrendered the dog and also denied that there was ever a child welfare issue, saying it was the women’s “perverted” actions in looking into the windows of her home that had scared her children.
The police confirmed they were notified of an incident involving an animal at a property on Sale St, Howick, on Sunday.
Rhodes, who is a medical practitioner, said she was used to seeing human patients in a distressing condition but was “disgusted” to see the state of the dog that night.
Rhodes told the Herald she and Whittaker later began receiving harassment via social media from the original owners of the dog.
She said that police told her last week that the SPCA would not pursue a case against the owners, citing the dog’s current improved health, and suggested that they return him.
The women say they do not want him returned.
The animal is now under the care of a rescue organisation in Northland, the Herald understands, and an online petition has been launched, pleading for Waka not to be given back to his owners.
She said neighbours had also shared distressing stories with her about how the residents treated dogs on the property.
“It just feels so wrong to put this dog back in the hands of the people who have let him, you know, basically almost die,” Rhodes told the Herald.
“We’ve given him all this love and attention,” she added, saying she feared the dog would be “starved” again.
“It doesn’t make sense to give a dog back to them when they’ve mistreated it so badly,” Rhodes said.
‘Broke my heart’
Waka’s owner denied he was mistreated and said she wants him home, telling the Herald that he had only been back in her care for two days when he was taken and she had been trying to get vet help for him.
She claimed that Waka had been in someone else’s care since October while she dealt with a family situation.
She said she was also at a loss to explain his condition and said it “broke my heart” because he had always been a healthy eater who the family had dubbed the “gobble monster”.
The owner told the Herald that she called an emergency vet service the night he arrived back with her and the SPCA had offered her vet vouchers when they visited on May 20, adding she had been feeding and hydrating him non-stop since he was back at home.
But she says the two women removed him before she had a chance to seek treatment.
She wants her dog back and the women charged with theft, saying his absence has “broken” the family and left her children distraught.
She also said the women’s visit to her home had left her children fearful and on edge.
“My heart is torn,” she told the Herald.
“I loved my boy all his life...he’s an amazing soft dog. He doesn’t deserve to be a charity case for others.”
‘We must operate within the boundaries of the law’
The SPCA told the Herald that they too had visited the home after receiving a call of concern about the puppy restrained by wire.
A spokesperson said the staff found three dogs on the property but only had concerns about Waka, who they described as being in a “thin condition”.
They said they could not remove the dog without a warrant and planned to return the next day.
“However, the dog was removed from the property before SPCA could return. We understand the dog owner lodged a theft report with NZ Police.”
A police spokesperson told the Herald that they were notified of the incident and have spoken to those involved. No charges have been laid.
SPCA Inspectorate Team Leader Lori Davis told the Herald that even well-meaning actions from animal lovers could compromise their own investigations.
“Whilst we understand that actions of members of the public can be driven by compassion, it can make SPCA investigation particularly difficult when individuals take matters into their own hands. The removal of this dog in essence put a halt to our inquiries,” Davis said.
“SPCA has not seen the dog since our initial visit and the matter is currently sitting with NZ Police. Police are also inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act.”
The SPCA also denied claims made by the would-be rescuers online that they had commented on the health of the dog, saying that had made no such statements.
“We must operate within the boundaries of the law and within a compliance framework which aims to effectively change people’s behaviour and to achieve the right outcomes for owners and animals for a sustainable and lasting change,” Davis added.
She also took aim at those criticising the agency for its work in responding to cases of cruelty and neglect.
“Publicly attacking the SPCA and sharing the full names of our staff online, based on incomplete information or personal frustrations, can impede our ability to carry out our vital work effectively.
“It also puts our employees in a very unfair position. Our teams are deeply committed to the welfare and protection of all animals. Every day, our dedicated staff work tirelessly to respond to over 13,000 reports of animal cruelty and neglect a year.”
Chris Marriner is an Auckland-based journalist covering trending news and social media. He joined the Herald in 2003 and previously worked in the Herald’s visual team.