SPCA New Zealand

Our history

In 2022, SPCA (Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) commemorates 150 years of advancing animal welfare in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Our history

Over the decades, we’ve been known as many things, such as the ‘Police Force of the animal world’ or the ‘guardian of sentient creatures’ and many of these descriptions still stand true. But it is safe to say our biggest shift over the years has been from expanding the scope of our work from safeguarding animals, to preventing animal abuse before it happens.

Our 150th anniversary is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come as an organisation and the many challenges and successes we’ve seen. SPCA continues to advocate for better animal welfare and care for many thousands of New Zealand’s companion animals. Over the past 150 years, we have seen many positive changes in the animal welfare space, but there is still a way to go to get major legislative change to give our Inspectors greater powers under the law, and increased financial support from Government.

SPCA’s work with communities and Government to teach people about animal welfare and improve animal welfare laws is where we see real change taking place that we hope will see all animals treated with compassion and respect in the next 150 years.

Richard Farrow after donating to the SPCA copper trail.
Richard Farrow after donating to the SPCA copper trail.

The Beginnings

The very first animal law was passed to protect animals in the United Kingdom in 1822. Two years later, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in a London coffee shop in 1824.

It would take 48 years before the first recorded meeting took place in the South Island, just 32 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

The first SPCA was formed in Canterbury in 1872, and was quickly followed by Otago, Auckland and Wellington. The first national law protecting animals in New Zealand was passed in 1878. Against the backdrop of war and human rights issues in the early 1900s, SPCA had a hard road to elevate the issues of animal cruelty to the forefront of societal conversation, and assert their right as living – and sentient – creatures.

Improving the conditions for working animals was a large part of the focus in the early days, with cruelty to horses particularly common. Then, looking at the treatment of bobby calves and the transportation of farm animals were other significant issues highlighted for reform. SPCA was putting in the hard yards since its beginning to shape the public perception of how animals should be treated.

In 1933, the various separate Societies decided to amalgamate as a Federation. Out of this grew the national organisation, SPCA New Zealand. But it wasn’t until SPCA delegates voted to form one national organisation on 17 June 2017 from its independent Centres that a new unified and future-focused national entity was created, with the change coming into effect on 1 November 2017. Since then, we have been one SPCA in New Zealand.

An historic SPCA Inspector hat from the oldest SPCA branch in Canterbury
An historic SPCA Inspector hat from the oldest SPCA branch in Canterbury

SPCA Timeline in Aotearoa New Zealand

It was back in 1872 that the first registered society was formed in Canterbury, with the first recorded meeting taking place on 17 June, 150 years ago.

Six years later the first act protecting New Zealand’s animals was passed. It took ten years from inception for SPCA to expand in the South Island, with SPCA Otago becoming official in 1882, and a year later, Auckland SPCA was formed.

In the late 1880s SPCA Inspectors were given legal recognition – something which has not changed to this day... and the expansion of SPCA continued nationwide with Wellington, Manawatu, Nelson, Christchurch, and Hawke’s Bay also forming.

Fast-forward to 1933 and the Federation of SPCA’s formed to provide the link between all of the separate societies and to have a stronger voice when approaching the Government and Government departments.

Our very first Federation conference featured representation from; Whangarei, Waikato, Taranaki, Whanganui, Feilding, Palmerston North, Gisborne, Napier, Wellington, Nelson, Buller, South Canterbury, North Otago and Southland.

The iconic SPCA Blue Cross symbol was adopted in 1937, the same year the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was drawn up. The Act did not pass until 1960.

Throughout the years, many different towns and regions across Aotearoa formed SPCA societies, and it was in 1968 that New Zealand’s Governor General, Sir Arthur Porrit - agreed to be named Patron of SPCA.

In 1969, Inspector warrants were issued to females after first having been opposed by the Minister saying that being an animal Inspector was dangerous work for a woman. We have certainly come a long way since 1969!

By the 1980’s the Royal Federation of SPCAs was restructured to become the Royal New Zealand Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals Incorporated. From that time on, any newly formed SPCA’s were incorporated as branches of the RNZSPCA.

By 1993, SPCA featured 37 Centre’s in the North Island and 12 in the South Island.

One of the biggest changes in SPCA’s history came almost five years ago, with the joining together of all SPCA entities into one national organisation in 2017. It was a significant change for everyone at SPCA as we merged into one, with merge allowing us to introduce new national policies and procedures allowing for consistency from Centre to Centre.

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