SPCA New Zealand

A group effort: tackling animal cruelty in New Zealand

15 June 2023

Witnessing animal cruelty or neglect is often overwhelming and always heartbreaking. Unlike rescue groups, SPCA is a law enforcement agency, and as such, our approach to this challenging rescue work differs from other groups around the country. We break down and explain some of these key differences, and consider how we need to work together to help the animals.

A group effort: tackling animal cruelty in New Zealand

Let us get straight to it: the scale of suffering of companion animals in New Zealand is heartbreaking, and can often be overwhelming.

Despite inexhaustible amounts of hard work and passion from those working in this space, there are days when it feels like the suffering is never-ending. There are so many factors at play which may feed into this, from a lack of education or rising costs of living, to extensive difficulties in peoples’ lives – whether that’s financial, health-related, or criminal involvement.

Animals can end up suffering due to all sorts of circumstances, but none of them make the reality we see in this work any easier to face. It is something teams at SPCA and rescues alike navigate every day.

To any compassionate or animal-loving member of our communities, it can be hard to stomach. Suffering is something no one wants to accept. Often, bearing witness to animal suffering understandably incites anger, and people look for an outlet to direct that.

Unfortunately, sometimes this anger is vented towards SPCA, who are accused of failing animals who are suffering and not doing enough to tackle cruelty.

While the same heart and compassion drives SPCA’s work, the organisation is markedly different than other rescue groups around New Zealand, in that it is strongly bound by the law as to what it can and can’t do. This leads many members of the public to misunderstand and be misled when reading out of context content online – particularly content that hasn’t passed journalistic investigation and reporting scrutiny.

Unlike rescues, SPCA is a law enforcement agency

SPCA is many things, and is an organisation with numerous arms. From our advocacy arm working with government, to our education arm working in classrooms; from our operational arm which cares for animals in shelters to our certification arm, which improves welfare behind commercial animal farming businesses.

Our Inspectorate arm is just one of the many that make up SPCA. Under this part of our organisation, 58 Inspectors nationwide are qualified and entrusted to enforce the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

It is important to understand that as a law enforcement agency, in order to launch legal investigations (something which we have legal authority to do, while other rescues do not) we need cruelty to be actively reported to us by members of communities.

Unlike rescue groups, as a law enforcement agency, we have to abide by the law in all scenarios or we would lose our ability to do our job. Other organisations choose to take a different path.

Why you don’t see investigative work on social media

Every single day sees our Inspectors on the road attending cruelty complaint call-outs, processing legal paperwork for cases, or in court prosecuting abusers, yet you will rarely get glimpses into this daily reality of SPCA on social media or anywhere else.

As a law enforcement agency, if we shared this work, it would be akin to the police posting about things they are investigating on social media. Not only would this break privacy laws, but it would compromise potential court action, as once things are shared publicly they are unlikely to be used as evidence in court, as it is seen as influencing the final judgment before the case even gets to the courtroom.

Earlier this year, through TV show SPCA Rescue on TVNZ1, we were able to take New Zealanders behind the scenes of our Inspectorate work and provide greater insight into this part of our organisation. These programmes can be watched online here for a limited time.

SPCA and rescue groups

Because of the legal requirements, SPCA has as an entrusted law enforcement agency, what the public see of our rescue work varies greatly from that which they see from other rescue groups, who in moments of heartbreak or frustration can sometimes take to social media to share upsetting insight into the reality we all face every day.

We are all working towards the same goals: improved animal welfare outcomes in New Zealand, and reduced cruelty. Anyone who loves animals can appreciate no one would do this challenging and at times heartbreaking work if not out of an excess of care about the animals we aim to help.

SPCA has collaborative working relationships with a great number of wonderful rescue groups up and down the country. There are many ways we may support animal rescues, including:

  • Providing food, flea and worm treatments, or other required items
  • Offering the SPCA Desexing Grant run through Companion Animals NZ Trust, which is specifically for rescue groups to undertake vital desexing work. This is currently open for all rescue groups to apply for
  • On occasion, covering vet bills of animals rescued by other rescue groups, and taking animals into our SPCA care
  • Providing food packages to rescue groups, together with educational support
  • Working alongside rescue groups on advocacy issues to convey united voices for the animals on topics important to us all

Some people disagree with SPCA’s approach, and don’t recognise that as a law enforcement agency we are legally unable to deal with cruelty in our communities in way they would like us to.

When criticisms are made towards SPCA on social media, often with misleading information, the damage can be extensive. These posts can:

  • -Seed distrust amongst communities which encourage people not to raise animal welfare concerns with us as the legal entity needed to intervene, while also directing blame our way for not taking action on cases we have not been made aware of.
  • Incite anger towards SPCA which poses a safety risk to our Inspectors on the road. Some have experienced physical attacks with threats to Inspector safety having doubled this year.
  • Be hurtful to our teams who care deeply about animals and work unbelievably hard every single day to help them, while having people accusing them online, in person, and on the phones of neither caring nor helping.
  • This criticism also has an impact on public feeling towards the SPCA, and makes our crucial fundraising more difficult – 92% of the funds we need to operate come from our own fundraising and therefore the public, not from the government.

We welcome open dialogue online, however false claims about inaction are in no way serving the animals and in fact can hinder the very actions designed to protect them.

Law enforcement versus law change

We know how frustrating it can be to see the law itself failing animals in need, and this is where a lot of the frustration and misunderstanding comes from around our Inspectorate work.

One of the separate SPCA arms we mentioned before is our advocacy arm, which tackles this very issue head on. SPCA’s advocacy team works hard behind the scenes and publicly to advance and change laws which would in turn enable our Inspectors to do more.

One example of this was our Break the Chain campaign that saw 20,000 New Zealanders add their voice to our call on government to change the laws around prolonged tethering, so Inspectors would be able to step in much earlier to help dogs who otherwise go on to suffer badly before we can currently able to intervene under law. This is progressing well and we anticipate being able to share news from the Government around this in coming months.

Animal cruelty in New Zealand is not a problem for SPCA to solve alone, but one that we together as a community of animal welfare organisations, rescue groups, government, and compassionate members of society need to tackle together.

If you're interested in our advocacy work and how you can get involved, you can read more about this at www.spca.nz/advocacy.

Our hope is that rescue groups embrace collaboration with the SPCA, understanding that animal welfare is a societal issue that demands collective action. By working together, we can amplify our impact and advocate for the voiceless.

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