New Zealand in 'a little bit of a crisis around animal welfare', rescue group says

Animal welfare is bad and getting worse in New Zealand due in part to few prosecutions, a prominent animal welfare groups say.

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HUHA president Carolyn Press-McKenzie discussed the group’s concerns. Source: Breakfast

Two months ago, TVNZ1's Breakfast spoke to animal advocacy group Helping You Help Animals, otherwise known as HUHA, which has described the state of animal welfare in New Zealand as "dire". The group also critiised the SPCA for its "defeatist attitude" towards enforcement and called its response to abuse and neglect callouts "poor".

"I think that New Zealand's having a little bit of a crisis around animal welfare," HUHA president Carolyn Press-McKenzie said today as she returned to the programme. 

"There are going to be thousands of animals out in [cold] weather. There's going to be dogs on chains with insufficient shelter, there'll be cats - probably pregnant females - buried under bushes trying to make do. Tthese animals have no one who's looking out for them."

It comes as HUHA's indictment of New Zealand animal welfare has been bolstered by a recently released, scathing University of Otago report saying the current enforcement regime isn't working to protect animals.

When Ms Press-McKenzie’s concerns were raised on the show in May, SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen argued that the animal shelter was underfunded.

Ms Press-McKenzie said while she believes the Government "needs to take more accountability", the SPCA has also received "$40-odd million that has been given to the SPCA from community, from grant sponsors, from requests".

"When they say they're under-funded by the Government, that is correct, but are they underfunded by New Zealand and do they have the money to get the job done?" she said today.

"I would say they do have the money to get the job done. I'm not quite sure where the money goes or how it's spent, but there needs to be an overhaul. There needs to be an overhaul at Government level, and for the enforcement as well."

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MPI Minister Damien O’Connor discussed criticism over their handling of animal welfare concerns. Source: Breakfast

MPI Minister Damien O’Connor, who made a seperate appearance on Breakfast today, countered that "lots of systems throughout our country are not up to speed" and "are unfortunate realities that we have in our country".

"It's a very subjective area, animal welfare, and we have to respect the rights of the people who love their animals," he said. "Sometimes, they don’t know what's right, so there’s a strong component of education."

In 2018, the Ministry for Primary Industries received 1190 complaints, 26 of which were prosecuted. The SPCA received 15,584 complaints, 62 of which were formally prosecuted.

Ms Press-McKenzie said that prosecuting people who abuse animals is telling "New Zealand that it's not OK and that things need to change".

"We're also looking at not uplifting these animals, not taking them away from the situation," she said. "Even if you can’t prosecute, surely you can get that animal away from the pain and suffering. Surely, you can take that animal into the care of a shelter and then rehabilitate it and then re-home it.

"We're not just seeing no prosecutions, we're not actually seeing a lot of uplifts – we're not seeing these animals being taken away from these situations."

She said HUHA receives "thousands of calls of people seeing animals on chains in their backyards".

"We'll go and have a look – there’s nothing legally we can do – so we need to negotiate with owners, sometimes we buy the animal off them … Often, these people – it's generational. This is how they've always kept a dog, this is always how they’ve always kept a cat. You can't tell them how to do what they think they already know."

Ms Press-McKenzie said accepting the unacceptable "is happening at government level; I think that's happening with the SPCA".

"These grassroots charities … we're in there getting dirty, we're bleeding with these animals, but we’re not seeing this same dedication, effort or results from the agencies who actually have the power to enforce.

"It doesn't make sense that a Minister of Primary Industries would be in charge of welfare for animals … It seems a contradiction, so I think we do need to open the discussion over whether there needs to be an independent commissioner for animals.

"Animals need someone who's looking out for them, not for the profit they can give the country."

However, Mr O’Connor said the country "won't have a farming system unless we have the highest levels of animal welfare".

He added there "would not be one forum that I speak at that I don't highlight that to farmers, proper environmental management, proper animal welfare, proper labour management – these are crucial components of a food production system".

"We won't be perfect, but we strive to be one of the best in the world," he said. 

Mr O'Connor pointed to the increase in budget – from $400,000 to $2 million per year from Government - to help fund the SPCA's efforts, but said that it would be unrealistic to expect complete oversight.

"Ultimately, we can't knock on the door of every animal owner and check that what they’re doing is up to the standards that we expect, and those standards vary because, as I say, it is a subjective assessment.

"I don't think locking cats inside is normal – I'm used to cats being able to run in and out – but some people say that's the best thing for them."