Cases of animal abuse on the rise in Canterbury

HELP NEEDED: SPCA Canterbury senior inspector Sam Cairns is hoping someone will adopt two-year-old George, who was abused daily by his previous owner.

SPCA Canterbury is investigating a video shared on social media of what appears to be a cat being tortured and killed by teenagers. Sophie Cornish spoke to SPCA staff about how its investigations work.

Emaciated animals, dogs being beaten and stabbed, illegal trapping and a lack of vet treatment for serious health issues.

These are the common issues faced by five SPCA Canterbury inspectors on a daily basis.

They cover an area that includes the city, North Canterbury to the Hurunui River, as well as Hanmer Springs across to the West Coast and as far south as Ashburton and the Rangitata River.

There are currently 20 active investigations and “the cases are piling up,” says SPCA southern region general manager Barry Helem.

One case was reported in The Star earlier this month,in which two youths were accused of torturing and killing a cat. Videos of the incident were put on social media then sent to SPCA Canterbury.

While it may not have been a deliberate act, SPCA Canterbury is investigating and it could take three months or more for an outcome to be decided.

Mr Helem believes post-traumatic stress disorder after the earthquakes and other mental health issues has resulted in an increase in calls to the SPCA. A spike in animal welfare complaints about three years after the earthquakes also correlated with what police and domestic violence groups like Women’s Refuge New Zealand experienced.

“It’s about the three-year mark where we see these social concerns really come out in the community,” said Mr Helem.

However, the number continues to increase. From 2016-2017, there was a 20 per cent increase in both the number of calls and the animals cared for at SPCA Canterbury.

Its senior inspector Sam Cairnssaid “mental health hoarding” is a growing problem.

“It’s not unusual for people to have 200 rabbits in their backyard, it’s very common and very problematic . . . it’s really difficult because the people are suffering as well.”

An investigation will usually begin with a phone call from a member of the public, which is then screened and vetted.

Often staff will attend straight away and the unpredictability of the situation can be “quite full-on” for investigators, said Miss Cairns.

“Initially, it’s like an ambulance scene. We will deal with the suffering first . . . we take care of the animal and its needs and mitigate all those problems.”

Miss Cairns and other inspectors will then collate information to form a case. This may include interviewing witnesses, vet reports, lab and autopsy results and compiling photos. The file will then go through an internal review system before a course of action can be taken.

“Because we are using charity money, we don’t want to go to prosecution and not win it because it costs a lot,” said Mr Helem.

“It’s pretty robust what we are putting forward. We have to be confident it is going to be a successful prosecution at the end of that,” said Miss Cairns.

Both the SPCA and police can prosecute under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, and often work together, especially with violent offenders.

“Often we will turn up and it is the same sort of clientele that the police deal with. We might do a background check or know from the caller that the person is violent. Sometimes we have no idea, it depends on a case-by-case basis,” said Miss Cairns.

For the most part, Mr Helem says a large number of complaints result in verbal advice. Often education letters will be sent out, which include the Codes of Welfare under the Act.

In more serious cases, a formal warning can be issued – a legal document that will appear on an offenders file and can be used to build a prosecution case.

Only a small amount of cases will go to prosecution through the courts. Out of 1420 calls last year, 13 charges were laid by SPCA Canterbury and 39 formal warnings were issued.

Mr Helem is calling on people to support the animals cared for by the SPCA. Volunteers, donations and new owners are needed to help with the increasing workload.

“We are really trying to build our foster parent programme . . . a sheltered environment is not safe for animals when their stress levels are up, their immune systems are compromised and they get sick easily. The more we get them into homes, the better.”

“It’s pretty robust what we are putting forward. We have to be confident it is going to be a successful prosecution at the end of that,” said Miss Cairns.

Both the SPCA and police can prosecute under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, and often work together, especially with violent offenders.

“Often we will turn up and it is the same sort of clientele that the police deal with. We might do a background check or know from the caller that the person is violent. Sometimes we have no idea, it depends on a case-by-case basis,” said Miss Cairns.

For the most part, Mr Helem says a large number of complaints result in verbal advice. Often education letters will be sent out, which include the Codes of Welfare under the Act.

In more serious cases, a formal warning can be issued – a legal document that will appear on an offenders file and can be used to build a prosecution case.

Only a small amount of cases will go to prosecution through the courts. Out of 1420 calls last year, 13 charges were laid by SPCA Canterbury and 39 formal warnings were issued.

Mr Helem is calling on people to support the animals cared for by the SPCA. Volunteers, donations and new owners are needed to help with the increasing workload.

“We are really trying to build our foster parent programme
. . . a sheltered environment is not safe for animals when their stress levels are up, their immune systems are compromised and they get sick easily. The more we get them into homes, the better.”

“Often we will turn up and it is the same sort of clientele that the police deal with. We might do a background check or know from the caller that the person is violent. Sometimes we have no idea, it depends on a case-by-case basis,” said Miss Cairns.

For the most part, Mr Helem says a large number of complaints result in verbal advice.

Often education letters will be sent out, which include the Codes of Welfare under the Act.

In more serious cases, a formal warning can be issued – a legal document that will appear on an offenders file and can be used to build a prosecution case.

Only a small amount of cases will go to prosecution through the courts. Out of 1420 calls last year, 13 charges were laid by SPCA Canterbury and 39 formal warnings were issued. Mr Helem is calling on people to support the animals cared for by the SPCA.

Volunteers, donations and new owners are needed to help with the increasing workload.

“We are really trying to build our foster parent programme . . . a sheltered environment is not safe for animals when their stress levels are up, their immune systems are compromised and they get sick easily. The more we get them into homes, the better.”

Give George a better life

For more than 17 months George has been waiting for a new family.

Previously, he lived a life of abuse.

George was kicked, punched, beaten with weapons, strangled and shot at with a BB gun.

SPCA Canterbury senior inspector Sam Cairns said the abuse was “daily.”

His owner Jade Noanoa pleaded guilty to one charge of ill-treating an animal in the district court in June.

He was sentenced to three months community detention and was ordered to pay reparations of about $3100.

SPCA inspectors rescued George, took him to safety and gave him veterinary treatment.

Now he is waiting to be adopted by a new family.

Miss Cairns describes him as a “very sweet boy who loves to share food and tummy rubs.

“He likes to assist in daily recycling like shredding paper, and loves to be warm and wrapped up in blankets,” she said.

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