A year ago, we put out a rallying cry to animal lovers around the country. SPCA asked the public to raise their voice on the issue of prolonged tethering and confinement of dogs around New Zealand, and more than 20,000 caring people took action.
In July 2022, it was encouraging to see so many come together to implore Government to 'Break the Chain' and change the law.
Law change is the only way we can help the countless dogs who suffer legally at the end of a chain. But a year later, we are yet to see this change and progress has stalled.
The initial response to our collective outcry was promising; proposed regulations to the current inadequate law were drafted, and opened for public consultation in early 2023.
But since closing, there has been no public word from Government, and initial action has slowed to a standstill. With elections on the horizon, SPCA fears that no action will follow.
This is why we're writing an open letter to Government demanding the change they set in motion – but we can’t do this alone. There is strength in numbers, and the more people who add their name in this effort, the better chance we have at achieving real change for dogs.
You can join us in demanding this change.
The victims of inaction
While Government continues to sideline this issue, dogs are still suffering.In the year that has passed while we've been waiting for change, countless dogs have been the victims of this inaction.
One of these dogs was Archie.
We have to precursor his story with a warning - it doesn't have a happy ending.
Despite seeing sad stories like his too often at SPCA, we rarely share these because we know that they are to hear – but Archie’s story deserves telling.
The day our Inspectors rescued Archie was not the first time they had met him. On previous visits, despite being on a chain, he had access to food, water, and adequate shelter - the minimum welfare needs required by law.
The other requirement - being let off the chain one hour a day - was one that his owners told us they fulfilled.
Our Inspectors doubted this, but were forced to take their word.
Both the condition of the ground around his feet, and the chewed side of the house within his reach indicated permanently restricted movement, and severe frustration.
This is why the law needs to change - if the regulations we want to see are introduced, Inspectors could act sooner, based on indicators just like these.
As our Inspectors had no legal tools at their disposal to disprove that Archie was let off the chain for an hour a day, they had to walk away.
But they came back.
On their next visit, they found Archie's condition had worsened. Inspectors described how he "absolutely reeked" due to the compacted faeces on the ground at his feet. His back was visibly covered in flies.
Critically, his water bowl had been knocked over, and he had no other access to water. This is a direct breach of the Animal Welfare Act – which meant our Inspectors finally had what they needed to legally remove him.
They broke Archie's chain that day, and took him back to our Centre. At last, we were able to give this boy the care he desperately needed.
He was immediately assessed by a vet, which revealed the following:
- Callouses over his joints due to lying on hard surfaces
- Weight loss due to a lack of nutrition and some muscle wastage
- Skin lesions likely due to continued fly bites
- His coat was filthy and he had hair loss around his neck and under front legs due to irritation caused by chain
- Long-term trauma to his tail from hitting hard surfaces while wagging
- 'Hopping' gait causing an unnatural curve to his hind legs
This last symptom instantly caused concern, and we did an x-ray to see what was causing it. The result was devastating.
His spinal cord was compressed, and it looked as if the discs in part of his spine had collapsed. The Vet noted they had seen this before in dogs who have been chained for prolonged periods. Often, they spend a lot of time on their hind legs jumping, in order to try and see outside the small area they're restricted to. Our team wasn't giving up on Archie yet though. In addition to all the basic care needs - introducing a healthy diet, exercising him as best we could regularly, cleaning his filthy coat, treating his painful skin lesions - the team started a long journey of trying to help Archie's spine heal.
He was put on medication to manage the pain it was causing him, and anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling. Now, it was a waiting game.
In the months that Archie was with us, we watched this unsure, timid boy come out of his shell. The best moment for our team was when they got to see Archie smile for the first time.
This is the face all dogs deserve to wear – one of joy, and the security in knowing they are loved. It’s one we’re so glad Archie was able to know.
Time revealed a devastating truth. There was no getting better for Archie’s spinal cord injury.
If his injury had been either recent or minor, the medication we had him on would have corrected the problem. Unfortunately, nothing changed.
Where damage is to a limb, that limb can be amputated. With spinal cord injuries… fixes are not so easily found.
For Archie, we tried everything… but he was in pain. Despite his pain, he would have moments of running with his lopsided gait, and in those moments he seemed happy.
But when back in his kennel, it was more than just pain management which was a concern.
Archie would get hugely distressed any time he was left. He wanted to be with humans all the time, and even after four months in our care, he still couldn’t bear to be left alone. This was a symptom of the mental neglect he suffered on his chain.
The mental and physical damage caused by his chaining were both irreversible. The hardest decision had to be made. This decision is never an easy one, and in Archie’s case – it was one we tried everything to avoid. But it was the best option left for him.
We are just so glad he was able to experience love and joy once in his life while he was here with us.
Demand the change
If we had been able to take Archie earlier than the law allowed, could he have been saved? Maybe if we’d been able to take him sooner, his injuries would have been reversible.
We will never know. But it is a question we are sick of asking. Not just for Archie, but for the other countless dogs just like him, who our Inspectors can only rescue when it’s already too late.
Archie deserved better. We couldn’t save him in time… but we need law change now to save others from the same avoidable fate.
Please, join us right now in demanding this change from those in Government with the power to act.