Hunt down the abusers, says cruelty report

Putting animal abusers behind bars for longer won't be enough to stem the tide of cruelty cases, according to the government committee looking at animal welfare law reform.

For real change, it says New Zealand instead needs to be spending more money hunting down and prosecuting those who abuse animals, as there are currently just five fulltime Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Maf) inspectors.

Those are the conclusions of a report into the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill, released last week by the Primary Production Select Committee, headed by National MP Shane Ardern.

The findings of the committee appear to go directly against the main aims of the government bill, which are to increase the prosecutions and penalties for animal cruelty, including the length of jail sentences.

Despite the select committee's scepticism about how effective it would be to boost penalties, it still recommended moving the bill to the next stage, with some minor amendments, sparking accusations that the negative comments were politically motivated.

Supporters of the bill, including the SPCA, disagree strongly with the select committee's comments, and believe harsher penalties must be brought in.

Moves to amend the Animal Welfare Act 1999 were put forward in a private members' bill by National's Tauranga MP Simon Bridges. The aim is to lift the existing maximum jail term from three years to five, and increase fines to up to $500,000. It also adds a new offence of reckless ill- treatment, with penalties of three years' jail or up to $350,000 in fines.

The bill has since been adopted by the government and had its first reading in parliament in February. It is expected to have its second reading in the next month.

It has won broad public support in the wake of a recent rash of animal cruelty cases, including the mass shooting of dozens of dogs in Wellsford, and the jailing of a man found guilty of feeding live kittens to his pitbull terrier.

The bill comes at the same time as the unrelated "Paw Justice" campaign has set out to collect a million signatures for a petition calling for similar toughening of current animal cruelty laws.

Bridges disagreed that lengthier sentences would not reduce animal cruelty. "I think it would have a strong deterrent effect."

The minister now in charge of the bill, Agriculture Minister David Carter, told the Sunday Star-Times that he accepted that "by itself" longer sentences would not be enough, but the public was calling for harsher sentences, and that is what they would get.

Carter agreed that five Maf inspectors was not enough and said he planned to make an announcement "in the next month" about increasing resources for, and the number of, Maf inspectors.

Carter said the critical comments were simply sniping by opposition members on the committee.

On the committee there were four National MPs, including Ardern, three Labour MPs, the Greens' Sue Kedgley and Jim Anderton from Progressive.

Maf director of enforcement Jockey Jensen said any additional resources would be a good thing. Maf currently had to rely on the SPCA or police in areas where they did not have enough staff.

Jensen said Maf did between 700 and 1000 annual inspections and investigations were getting more complex. They ranged from simple investigations, such as a goat tethered by the side of the road that had no water, to those like the Crafar farms investigations, where dozens of cows starved to death.

SPCA Auckland chief executive Bob Kerridge told the Star-Times he "vehemently disagreed" with the comment that longer sentences would not deter offenders.

"The main thrust of our support comes from the fact that there is a confirmed link between animal cruelty and human cruelty. Surely if we are going to stamp out violence we need start there."

Sunday Star Times