Tougher penalties against those who harm animals look certain to be fast-tracked after Prime Minister John Key last night said his government would consider the controversial issue at Tuesday's caucus meeting.
A spokesman for Key said: "The prime minister has been appalled by the recent animal cruelty cases."
Key's intervention means the government is likely to adopt National MP Simon Bridges' private member's bill, which proposes increasing the maximum jail term for animal cruelty from three years to five. If the government fails to act, Bridges' bill could be debated in parliament only if it is drawn, lottery-style, from a ballot.
Key's spokesman indicated the government would move quickly. "The government supports ensuring we have appropriate measures to deal with these issues. The Simon Bridges member's bill will be considered for adoption as a government bill at an upcoming caucus."
The public mood to get tough is strong after a spate of atrocious acts of animal abuse, culminating last week in the shooting of more than 30 dogs on a Wellsford farm after a dispute between neighbours, and a Gisborne man's guilty plea to feeding five kittens to his pitbull.
The SPCA and Paw Justice campaigners – an animal rights group aiming to collect a million signatures on a petition to increase jail terms for abusers – are calling on Key and his colleagues to take the initiative.
Paw Justice co-founder Craig Dunn said: "John Key's got a cat – I'm sure he's an animal lover like everyone else."
Bridges, MP for Tauranga, said yesterday that parliament had a "duty" to protect all living beings from acts of cruelty and planned to write to all MPs seeking their support to ensure any bill would be given smooth passage through parliament.
"The research makes it very clear that this type of offending is a strong indicator of family and other violence and also a strong indicator of the worst type of psychopathic offending," Bridges said.
"The events of this week, and a raft of recent cases, show how harrowing animal cruelty can be and how strongly the public feel about it.
"The judiciary requires a strong message from parliament about sentencing levels. Going to five years is the least we can do.
"The thing about this type of crime... if it happened to humans, people would be scandalised for months. It is so sadistic and cruel and murderous that if it occurred with humans it [the penalty] would be life imprisonment."
Labour leader Phil Goff yesterday said the opposition would support Bridges' bill to the committee stage, where it can be debated, and amended if necessary.
"I'm the owner of two dogs and have had pets all my life. There is a human obligation to treat animals humanely and we need to do everything we can to stop these appalling acts.
"We know that there is a link, that people who are capable of committing acts of cruelty against animals [are also capable of behaving] in a similar manner against human beings."
On the issue of the 33 dogs killed at Wellsford, Goff said: "You cannot justify people going in on a shooting spree like cowboys."
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei had signed the Paw Justice petition and is likely to support Bridges' private member's bill, and Act leader Rodney Hide supported tougher penalties because "the next step after cruelty to animals was cruelty to humans".
SPCA chief executive Bob Kerridge said Kiwis should flood their local MPs with requests to support Bridges' bill.
But he would like to see penalties for cruelty to animals tougher still. Bridges' bill aims to increase the sentence for wilful ill treatment of an animal from a maximum of three years' jail to five.
"Cruelty to animals is a very serious offence," said Kerrridge. "I have to confess, I would like to see such a sentence [five years] for any cruelty, not just wilful. And being an ardent animal person, I would not mind seeing sentences higher than that.
"If we want to reduce violence in society in general... we have to stop animal cruelty."
Additional reporting, Leigh van der Stoep, Tim Hume
- Sunday Star Times