The Animal Welfare Act 1999
The Animal Welfare Act 1999 addresses many, but not all, of the concerns raised by advocates for animals. It covers most animals, and stresses the owners’ obligation to care for animals adequately. It places further controls on the export of live animals, performance of surgery, and the use of some types of traps. However, under certain conditions it allows animals to be used in research, testing and teaching, and in risky work such as police operations. The hunting of some wild animals and the killing of pest animals is permitted.
Administration of the act
Two committees advise the minister of agriculture: the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) and the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee. Inspectors, who include Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) officials, police and people from approved organisations – usually the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RNZSPCA) – have the power to enter premises, seize animals, and alleviate their suffering, including by destroying them if necessary. In 2008 the RNZSPCA carried out around 90% of the enforcement work.
Animals and abuse
There are disturbing links between cruelty to animals and human violence. American studies show that up to 75% of violent offenders were cruel to animals as children. Other research has revealed that children who witness domestic violence often imitate what they see by abusing animals. In New Zealand, SPCA programmes attempt to intervene by teaching school children to respect animals.
Codes of welfare
The act puts positive obligations on people who own or care for animals. One of its innovations is that it allows for codes of welfare to be issued on the recommendation of NAWAC. These contain details of how animals are to be treated in particular situations, with explanatory information that could not be included in a piece of legislation. Codes of welfare provide legal standards that can be referred to in animal welfare court cases.
So far, codes of welfare have been issued that cover companion cats, circuses, zoos, animal slaughter, transport of animals, and a range of farmed animals.
The RNZSPCA provides shelters and finds new homes for abandoned animals. Smaller groups that provide shelters include the Cats Protection League (in Wellington, Waikato and Canterbury), Lonely Miaow Association, Auckland Cat Rescue, Cavy Creek Guinea Pig Refuge, the Donkey and Mule Protection Trust and the International League for the Protection of Horses.
A major aim of many animal welfare organisations is advocating humane treatment of all animals.
The RNZSPCA is the best-known. It relies on subscriptions and donations to carry out its education, care and inspection work. The Humane Society of New Zealand provides a pet care advisory service and promotes animal welfare legislation. SAFE (Save Animals from Exploitation) campaigns against cruel farming methods and the use of animals in experiments.
The Companion Animal Council, founded in 1990, is a forum for organisations and individuals concerned with animal welfare. It aims to increase public understanding of the place of animals in the community, and drafts codes of welfare for species, required under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.