1 Feb 2010

Increased penalties 'not enough' to stop animal cruelty

10:00 pm on 1 February 2010

Advocates for animal rights say increasing the maximum penalties available for wilful cruelty will not do enough to curb the problem.

On Tuesday, the National Party caucus will look at fast-tracking a members' bill by National MP Simon Bridges which aims to increase the maximum prison sentence from three to five years' jail.

Prime Minister John Key says that would send a clear message to the judiciary that this crime is to be taken seriously.

Last Monday, a man admitted in a Gisborne court to throwing five kittens to a pitbull terrier to kill them. The following day, 33 dogs were killed at a rural property in Wellsford, north of Auckland. Police and SPCA are investigating the incident and charges may be laid.

Most parties in Parliament say they support the idea of fast-tracking legislation to increase the penalty for animal cruelty. Labour, ACT and the Greens say they support a change in principle, but have yet to consider the bill.

The Veterinary Association says effective maximum penalties already exist in the current law, but are hardly ever used. It believes education is the most effective way of reducing the number of cruelty cases.

The Green Party says education about respect for animals should be part of sentences for offenders and included in the school curriculum.

The SPCA supports that, but also wants higher penalties to reflect the close link animal cruelty has with serious crimes such as domestic violence. It says an effective approach would also involve more government funds, so it could further enforce the law.

However, an Australian lawyer specialising in animal law says the system set up to enforce the rules in New Zealand is a mess run by amateurs.

Malcolm Caulfield believes fast-tracking legislation to increase prison sentences will not help and says a large part of the problem in Australia and New Zealand is that enforcement is mostly left to organisations such as the SPCA.

"Putting it bluntly, they're amateurs - they're not police officers. They are funded by voluntary donations, in many cases, and consequently they neither have the resources nor the expertise to properly enforce the law."

The SPCA says its inspectors are experts who know how to collect forensic evidence relevant to animal cruelty law - something it says police have no training in.