Animal Welfare Act Review

The Animal Welfare Act underwent a review in 2014 for the first time in over a decade. SPCA Auckland made a submission regarding the changes we believe are needed to improve the lives of animals in New Zealand. 

Below is a short summary of SPCA Auckland’s views on what changes are needed. It is important to note we prioritised our submission to focus on the areas of greatest and immediate need, which is not to say other areas are not important.

We will now be working directly with the government to ensure our submission is considered. The review process could be a lengthy one and we may need your voice of support over the coming months on particular issues, so we will keep in touch if/when we need your help to support our amendments and ensure positive change for the animals of New Zealand.

Below is a summary of the key points from our submission.

Animal Welfare Recommendations

1. Prohibit Animal testing for psychoactive substances

SPCA Auckland is strongly opposed to animal testing for psychoactive substances, considering it to be both morally and ethically wrong. 

2. Prohibit the docking of dogs’ tails and the shortening of cows tails

The tail docking of dogs should be prohibited for any purpose, including for cosmetic reasons. On ethical grounds alone there is no benefit to dogs undergoing this mutilation. This significant surgical procedure robs dogs of an organ of balance and communication with other dogs and humans. SPCA Auckland experiences first hand the severe complications, including death, which have occurred to animals as a result of amateur tail docking procedures, some of which have been the subject of prosecution proceedings.

3. Prohibit the public sale and use of electronic shock collars for dogs

Electronic training devices are punishment systems for unwanted behaviour. There is currently no control over their availability, making them freely attainable, and there any no regulations as to their use. The danger of electric shock collars to dogs, and the adverse effect they have on their welfare, means they should not be available to the public.

4. Prohibit the public sale and use of gin traps and leg-hold devices
Leg-hold traps are totally offensive devices that inflict horrific pain and suffering on the animals trapped by them, and in addition are non-discriminatory in their targets, often trapping companion animals and native wildlife. They should not be available for sale or use by the public.

5. Reduce the time animals are held at the SPCA during prosecution cases 

SPCA inspectors must legally retain and care for any animals they have seized during a prosecution. So animals are often in our custody for lengthy periods of time. This is often not just months, but in many cases years, whilst due process is being undertaken in the Court. This is not good for the animals and is a large financial burden on the SPCA. We are proposing an ‘owner election’ scheme be investigated where owners would either forfeit the animal to the SPCA so they can find a new home or else they would pay weekly fees to cover the cost of their care.

6. Sentencing guidelines should be developed for judges to ensure tougher penalties are enforced under the Animal Welfare Act

Animal abuse or neglect is a serious community matter. Together we fought for tougher penalties for offenders who harmed animals. However, SPCA Auckland has often been disappointed when an individual has been found guilty of a crime, but receives little punishment compared to the seriousness of the crime. Stronger guidelines need to be provided to judges to ensure tougher penalties apply.

7. Make it mandatory for judges to consider disqualification when sentencing offences and allow immediate seizure of any animals held by disqualified persons

Currently the act has no provisions for offenders who repeatedly harm animals. They must be treated in the same way as first time offenders. At present there is no mechanism that allows immediate action when disqualified persons are in possession of animals. The Act should allow immediate seizure of any animals in the possession of such people.

It should be mandatory for judges to impose a lifetime ban on repeat offenders ensuring they have no opportunity to harm animals in the future.

8. Phase out all forms of intensive farming on or before 1 January 2020

The existing Animal Welfare Act condones the cruel practise of factory and battery farming. The Act continues to legalise the on-going confinement of hens in battery cages and pigs in farrowing crates and sow stalls. Some consider this clause exists to allow industries a period of time to phase certain unacceptable practices out during a transitional period. However there is little evidence to support that is happening, or if so within a reasonably limited time frame. These ‘exceptions’ condemn animals to miserable lives under cruel intensive farming practices.

A definitive time frame is required to ensure all such practices are phased out. The extent of the cruelty inflicted on the animals affected cannot be ignored.

9. Make desexing and microchipping mandatory for companion animals obtained from pounds, shelters and retailers including electronic media
All pounds, animal welfare shelters, pet shop retailers, and electronic media trading sources (e.g. TradeMe) must ensure that animals are desexed and microchipped prior to sale/ adoption and ensure they are registered on an appropriate animal register. (SPCA Auckland already does this). Entire animals should only be sold by those holding breeders’ permits or who are registered breeders.

Many animal welfare problems are the result of excess animals brought about by indiscriminate breeding, often as a result of irresponsible ‘owners’. The SPCA is constantly endeavouring to change attitudes by working with the community, as well as providing low cost desexing initiatives, however in the overall picture such efforts are a ‘drop in the bucket’. Stronger measures are required to make an impact on this problem. Requiring mandatory desexing by pounds, shelters, retailers, and electronic retailing outlets will help to address this issue.


Structural and Ethical Recommendations

There are some important structural and ethical changes which are required in the Act to ensure the welfare of animals. These structural changes are fundamental to improving the rights of animals under the Act.

1. The Animal Welfare Act should include the declaration that animals are sentient beings capable of feeling

“Animals as Sentient beings” means that animals have feelings and can feel pain. Currently animals are legally regarded as property that can be possessed by humans. This denies them their fundamental constitutional rights as enjoyed by humans. A Declaration of Sentience is required because most New Zealand law treats animals as “things” and “objects,” rather than as living creatures. 

2. The references to ‘owners’ of animals in the Act should be replaced by the word ‘guardian’

‘All sentient beings, humans or nonhuman, have one right: the basic right not to be treated as the property of others’.   (Gary Francoine)

The word ‘guardian’ describes a responsibility and firmly establishes a more definitive legal duty of care than ‘ownership’. This elevates animals from being ‘things’, ‘objects’ or ‘chattels’ that are ‘owned’ to a more compassionate relationship with those who are responsible for them.

3. Create a Commissioner for Animals as an independent Crown Entity representing the welfare needs of animals

Animal welfare in New Zealand is governed by laws enacted through the Ministry of Primary Industries. SPCA Auckland is concerned that animal welfare remains solely in the hands of a Ministry whose primary objectives are economic outputs and industry protection, rather than animal welfare. This means many welfare decisions are currently tainted by economic considerations and can compromise the welfare of animals. An independent Commissioner for Animals would provide an independent voice for animals ensuring their welfare.

4. Animal welfare enforcement (SPCA Inspectors) should be fully, or partially, funded by the government

The Animal Welfare Act creates the legal powers that enable organisations such as New Zealand Police, the Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI), and SPCA to enforce the Act. Funding for this work is provided to both the Police and MPI, but NOT to SPCA Inspectors (although some assistance is provided towards their training). 87 SPCA enforcement officers are employed by 48 SPCA Centres throughout New Zealand.  

In the last financial year, 87 SPCA Inspectors attended 13,823 animal welfare complaints throughout New Zealand. The real cost of these services is estimated at $ 7,500,000 per annum, costs that are met entirely through public donations.  We believe that this vital work should be recognised by the government and either fully or partially funded.