Concern at 'extreme' animal rights website

High-profile supporters are backing away from an animal rights website amid concerns about extreme content and calls for vigilante justice.

Paw Justice is New Zealand's fourth-largest Facebook group, with more than 56,000 fans. It was set up to "help deal with the problems of animal abuse and neglect".

TV advertisements that promote the group, featuring Shortland Street and Outrageous Fortune actors, direct audiences to the Paw Justice website, which has a link to the Facebook group.

The Outrageous Fortune actors include Siobhan Marshall (Pascalle), Antonia Prebble (Loretta) and Grant Bowler (Wolf).

Comments found on the page include calls to shoot, castrate and rape animal abusers and feed them to the animals.

National MP Simon Bridges, whose private bill to increase animal cruelty sentences is before a select committee, is a former "friend" of the Facebook group. He has labelled the material "extreme" and distanced himself from it.

"I de-friended them because I wasn't comfortable with what was going on," he said. "I saw comments that seemed to be akin to vigilantism and, as a former criminal lawyer who believes strongly in the criminal justice process, I didn't want to be part of that."

Paw Justice's website claims to have SPCA, TV3 and Maori Television among its sponsors. TV3 and C4 are considering asking the group to remove station logos from the Paw Justice website.

One former fan has laid complaints with police, Facebook, Netsafe, the Charities Commission, TV3 and the SPCA. "It just seems off the wall that nobody seems to realise that these comments are out of hand," the complainant said.

The Facebook comments are moderated, or edited, but the complainant said the Paw Justice moderators had no moral compass, and "not only allow [abuse] but they seem to encourage it".

"At what point does a charitable organisation become accountable for a situation like this? They are inciting violence."

But Paw Justice, set up by stuntmen Craig Dunn and Shaughan Campbell, says its campaign aims to promote good pet ownership. "You're going to get extreme people from time to time who just want to mouth off," Mr Dunn said.

He had deleted abusive or inflammatory comments and emailed a "handful of people" who used profane language, banning one person from the website.

Mr Dunn said fear had to be instilled in people to stop them harming animals.

"If you hurt an animal, you should be afraid, and why not? People's pets are their children and people want their eye for an eye. This country's very lenient on animal abusers."

Mr Bridges said that, though he had seen Paw Justice comments claiming involvement with his bill, they had no part in its writing. "[Initially] their goal seemed very much aligned, but it wasn't long at all before I realised it was all a bit extreme."

SPCA national boss Robyn Kippenberger said she would be talking to Paw Justice about the inflammatory comments, if they were substantiated. "It's not the SPCA's view ... What we want is justice and not revenge."

TV3 and C4 spokesman Roger Beaumont said the stations had no "formal sponsorship arrangement" with Paw Justice.

The actors from Outrageous Fortune and Shortland Street could not be reached for comment, but South Pacific Pictures spokeswoman Tamar Munch said the studio, which represented them, would recommend Paw Justice "re-evaluate its approach".

The Dominion Post