Forefront in an inspectors mind is the law. Animals are protected in New Zealand under a piece of legislation called the Animal Welfare Act 1999. Inside this Act are offences that can be committed against animals, as well as the powers that inspectors have to investigate complaints and mitigate suffering. The Act is supported by tertiary legislation known as the Codes of Welfare.
The act gives inspectors the power to enter onto property or stationary vehicles (including aircraft and ships) to inspect animals. They can enter onto land even if the gate is locked or there is a ‘no trespassing’ sign. An inspector cannot, however, enter a house or Marae without a search warrant issued by the court. Entering a home is a major invasion of privacy and as such, requires judicial approval to do so.
There are three possible outcomes for an animal that has been taken by the inspector:
- The owner signs the animal over to the SPCA
- The owner is taken to court and the judge awards custody of the animal to the SPCA
- The animal is returned to the owner
It is an unfortunate fact that sometimes, if we cannot gather enough evidence to win a court case, the animal has to go back.
If an Inspector Finds an Issue
If there is an issue with an animal found on a property, the inspector has a range of tools and strategies to improve or remedy the situation. For minor breaches, owner education may be appropriate. In many instances, people in charge of animals may not realise there is an issue, and will be open to you giving advice on the subject. In other cases, a 130 notice may be issued. This is a set of written instructions that the owner or person in charge of the animal is legally required to do. Whether educational advice or a 130 notice is given, a re-visit will be done to make sure the issues have been sorted.
If there is a serious issue, and we feel it is unsafe to leave the animal where it is, an inspector can take possession of that animal, and remove it from the property, by force if necessary. The allowance for ‘by force’ is important; this gives us the legal right to break vehicle windows to remove animals locked in hot cars. Animals can also be removed if they need urgent veterinary treatment, or its basic needs are not being met.
There are lots of offences outlined in the Animal Welfare Act 1999, but some of the most commonly used are the Section 12 offences. These offences are as follows:
- Section 12(a) – failure to meet the animals physical, health or behavioural needs
- Section 12(b) – failure to seek vet treatment for an animal that is ill or injured
The other common charge is a Section 29(a) offence called ‘ill-treatment’. This is a broad charge that covers any act or omission causing unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress. All of these offences have a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment and/or a $50,000 fine.
We have the tools needed to help
If you are concerned please contact us
It is important to realise that while sometimes our hands are tied, in most instances the law has provided us with the tools to be able to deal effectively with the situation. So please, never hesitate to call the shelter if you have an animal welfare concern – we are always happy to follow up and make sure our animals are safe.