SPCA inspectors have removed the partially-charred body of a pet dog being cooked in a backyard barbecue.
But they cannot prosecute anyone over its death because it had been killed "humanely".
Frustrated SPCA Auckland chief executive Garth Halliday revealed it isn't illegal to kill and then eat a dog in New Zealand if the animal is slaughtered in a swift and painless manner.
Halliday said shocked inspectors had evidence that backyard dog barbecues were becoming more common.
Paea Taufa, found roasting the pitbull terrier-cross in an umu at his Mangere home, said dog was a Tongan culinary delicacy.
"If we eat heaps of... pig you get a (sore) stomach. But when we eat ... dog, it doesn't matter how much you eat, nothing is wrong with the tummy," Taufa told Sunday News. Mary Lyn Fonua, managing editor of the Nuku'alofa-based Matangi Tonga news website, said dogs were eaten in Tonga but usually by desperately poor people.
"People do eat dog. But you can't go to the market and buy dog meat," Fonua said.
"It is because they have no other choice. If you have no money to buy other meat, you will go and eat a dog.
"It is generally associated with a level of poverty. It is the last resort."
Halliday slammed the practice. "Although we appreciate the difference of cultures that exist in a place like New Zealand, the SPCA finds this sort of treatment of any animal to be totally unacceptable," he said.
"Even though the law says you can humanely kill an animal, you should not be treating any animal like this."
But Halliday said the Animal Welfare Act didn't prohibit it.
He added: "What is acceptable to one person isn't acceptable to another person. But the law says that you can humanely kill an animal." SPCA Auckland team leader Sue Baudet said that the Mangere case was not an isolated one.
"After we had finished the formal interview (over the pitbull-cross's death and preparation for the barbecue) I was just curious to know how prevalent it is," Baudet said. "And it is quite prevalent by the sounds of it."
SPCA inspectors were informed about the umu at Taufa's home in February by firefighters called out after reports of heavy smoke at the property.
"I was pretty shocked. I have heard stories about it but I didn't think it happened," said Baudet, who went to the house.
"Once they would have charred the dog enough for the skin to dry, they would have taken him off the heat, removed the skin and fur, gutted him and then cooked him," she added.
Taufa was "surprised" when the Fire Service and the SPCA closed down his backyard roast.
He said the dog had originally belonged to a family member, but he took over ownership as it was "too skinny". The decision to cook it was made after it became unruly.
"My wife did not like that dog, it was too messy and sometimes he tried to bite some people that came home," Taufa said.
"I didn't know I couldn't cook the dog. In Tonga, anytime there I cook the dog and it is okay. Dog is good food." Inspector Derek Haddy, who headed the SPCA's investigation, said: "It was his (Taufa's) cousin's dog so he adopted the dog and looked after it.
"His wife gave him some hassle about the dog's noise and mess and he decided he would get rid of the dog by killing it.
"He killed it by striking it to the head which is a lawful way, or a humane way, of stunning an animal in order to then slit its throat and then bleed it... that is within the law."
Baudet added: "One of the main ingredients we have to prove is pain and suffering. Because (the pitbull-cross) was rendered unconscious prior to being stabbed...we can't prove pain and suffering."
Taufa said he wouldn't put another dog in the umu pit.
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