SPCA New Zealand

‘Appalling neglect’: Pair sentenced for leaving starving dog chained to metal pole for months

06 November 2023

A dog that was left chained to a metal pole in an Auckland backyard and starved for weeks to months, was so emaciated when SPCA Inspectors found her that a veterinarian stated she wouldn’t have survived beyond a few more weeks.

‘Appalling neglect’: Pair sentenced for leaving starving dog chained to metal pole for months

The dog’s owners, a man and a woman, were both charged with reckless ill-treatment of an animal. The woman was today sentenced at Manukau District Court to 150 hours community work and disqualified from owning companion animals for 10 years. The man was sentenced to 140 hours community work and disqualified from owning companion animals for five years.

On a winter’s day in June 2020, an SPCA Inspector was called to a Papakura address to find Snow, a white mixed-breed dog, lying on the floor of a children’s outdoor playhouse with a heavy, twisted chain attached to her collar, restricting her movements to barely a metre.

Snow was unable to bear weight on her left front leg and was so weak that she wobbled as she walked. The grass around her was worn down to bare earth, her living conditions were wet, cold and dirty and she was so thin that her bones were protruding from her body.

Snow was riddled with fleas and had two foul smelling, gaping wounds on the back of both thighs. The wounds extended deep into the muscle layers, and one of them penetrated to the hip bone. Both were severely infected.

Snow was immediately surrendered into SPCA’s care and taken for an emergency veterinary assessment, where it was determined the wounds were likely caused by lying on a hard surface for long periods of time, exacerbated by her lack of body fat. Snow’s blood tests revealed anaemia due to the severe flea infestation and emaciation. A parasite infection, which could have easily been treated with over-the-counter medication, was also a contributing factor to Snow’s extremely poor condition.

The vet later concluded that Snow was starving, and said she suffered “unreasonable and unnecessary long-term severe pain and distress”. The vet estimated her condition would have occurred progressively over a period of at least three to six months.

SPCA Chief Executive Todd Westwood says this is one of the most severe cases of neglect against a dog that the charity has seen in recent years.

“The condition that Snow was found in was not only shocking, but it was absolutely sickening and appalling to see how she’d been treated,” says Mr Westwood. “You can see the defeat in Snow’s eyes in the photo our Inspector took of her the day she was found, and it’s gut-wrenching to know she was let down so poorly by those who were meant to care for her.”

The defendants told SPCA’s Inspector they had been out of town for four weeks and had asked a family member to mind the house, but didn’t specifically ask if they could look after Snow. There was no contact while they were away, and the defendants said they got caught up in other things and forgot about her. When they returned, the female defendant said she noticed that Snow “looked a bit sick and that her skin was pink instead of white”.

The male defendant told the Inspector that he’d left two dog rolls in the fridge, but no money for the family member to buy more and assumed he’d feed Snow scraps. He said he was unable to take Snow to the vet as he had no money to pay and was unable to drive.

The female defendant said Snow looked worse within the next few weeks, but she didn’t pay too much attention as she “was focused on other things”. She said her co-defendant had told her that Snow “had no bum cheeks” and that it looked “like she’s eaten them... because she’s hungry”. She said he’d asked her to take Snow to the vet about three times, but she hadn’t. She admitted Snow looked “horrific”.

“There is no excuse for Snow’s neglect and for failing to seek veterinary care, when she so clearly needed it,” says Mr Westwood. “Snow was chained to a pole for weeks on end without food and little access to water. Not only did she suffer severe physical pain, but the psychological distress this would have caused is extreme.

"SPCA’s been advocating for a long time for a change in legislation to put an end to the life-chaining of dogs, which has both physical and mental impacts on these helpless animals.

“Snow’s story shows just how pressing this issue is, and following our ‘Break the Chain’ campaign, we really hope to see some progress from the Government soon, so we can step in to help other chained dogs before they reach this state of neglect.”

After spending time recovering in SPCA’s care, Snow was nursed back to health and adopted by family where she is receiving the love and care she’s always deserved.

The defendants were also ordered to pay $350 towards legal costs.

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