Are you too busy caring for your children to properly care for your animals? Too busy making arrangements shifting house to make arrangements for the cat? Are you unsure what to do about neighbours who go away on holiday leaving their animal tied up without water or food? Being unaware of your obligations as an owner or a person in charge of an animal, or failing to meet your obligations under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (“Act”) can have dire consequences. Among other things, the Act: 1. sets out the obligations of owners (or persons in charge) in respect of caring for their animals; 2. creates offences for failing to meet these obligations; and 3. sets out the maximum penalties for those who are convicted of failing to meet their obligations. It also creates offences and imposes penalties for any person who wilfully ill-treats animals. Statutory obligation Under the Act, owners or persons in charge of animals have a statutory obligation to ensure the physical, health and behavioural needs of animals are met in a manner that is in accordance with good practice and scientific knowledge. Owners and those in charge of ill or injured animals must, where practicable, ensure that animals receive treatment that eases unnecessary or unreasonable pain or distress. This obligation, however, does not require a person to keep an animal alive when it is suffering unreasonable or unnecessary pain. Failing to care appropriately It is an offence under the Act for owners or persons in charge of animals to fail to meet these standards of care. It is also an offence to kill an animal in a manner that causes the animal to suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress. Further offences include abandoning an animal in circumstances where no provision has been made to meet the animal’s physical, health, and behavioural needs. In order to be found guilty of failing to care for animals appropriately, it is not necessary for someone to actually intend to commit this offence. Individuals who are found to have committed an offence under the Act face maximum penalties of a 6 month prison sentence, a fine of $25,000, or both. Wilful ill-treatment of animals It is an offence under the Act for any person (owner or otherwise) to wilfully ill-treat an animal in a way that causes the animal permanent disability, death, or pain or distress to such an extent that it is necessary to destroy the animal to end its suffering. Individuals convicted of wilfully ill-treating animals face maximum penalties of 3 years imprisonment, a fine of $50,000.00, or both. SPCA Bay of Islands v Jonson & Jonson In April 2005, the Jonson’s were convicted of failing to properly care for their cattle. The conviction arose from their failure to move the cattle from a low lying flood-prone run-off before a predictable flood left the cattle (including a number of calves) swimming for their lives. The couple were fined a total of $4,000.00 and costs of $1,915.00 for SPCA’s expenses for what the Judge considered an entirely foreseeable event. When you know an animal is being neglected and/or ill-treated When you know an animal is being neglected or illtreated you have a number of options depending on how serious the case is. Contact the Police in serious cases that involve danger or damage to persons or property. For less serious cases, contact your local SPCA or your local City Council Dog Rangers who together are responsible for laying prosecutions against offenders.