There’s a lot to be angry about these days. Ever since a couple of lunatics decided to commit the ‘Wellsford Massacre’, by emptying their shotguns into a shed full of puppies, the media has been alight with stories about animal welfare. In one sense, that’s good. We certainly need to be paying more attention to what is, sadly, a prevalent problem. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to get angry about from the media coverage as well. I’m not sure whether it’s the media, the killers up in Wellsford, some lady calling me a dick-head, or a combination of all these things, but I’m feeling pretty steamed. Rather than attempt a coherent blog in this state, I’ll throw out a few points on the ‘things that are making me mad’, and hope it makes some degree of sense in the end.
Before doing so, a disclaimer. I worry some times that people read parts of my comments rather than the whole. So let me state this loud and clear: I am not against punishing people who commit cruelty against animals. Far from it. I’ve done as much to try and get sentences fairly applied as anyone, and have written legal articles, drafted submissions to Parliament and worked with prosecutors to bolster sentences for animal abusers. It is, to be sure, a component of what needs to happen in order to have a country that treats animals better than it currently does. Nonetheless, as you’ll see from my comments below, I have serious reservations about the way this has suddenly become ‘the answer’ to our problems.
My Talk with Simon Bridges, MP
A few weeks before he introduced his new Bill to raise the maximum penalty for wilful ill-treatment to animals causing death from three to five years, Simon Bridges called me to see what I thought. I told him I thought it would do absolutely nothing for animals, and might even set back the cause. I think he was taken aback, as my position seemed both counter-intuitive and contrary to the ‘animal lover’ position. So I explained. The problem, as I see it, is not the maximum sentence for the single most serious crime relating to animals. A three year maximum, believe it or not, is fairly high by New Zealand standards. Sure, judges rarely impose the maximum, but that’s true for all crimes. Nonetheless, the three year maximum is not out-of-whack with other jurisdictions, and gives plenty of room to get jail time for those who commit horrid acts. Continue reading
As more details emerge from what happened in Wellsford two days ago, the whole picture gets a great deal grimmer. In New Zealand terms, this was a huge story, splashed all over the front page of the Herald, and it has garnered considerable attention. Sadly, it says a lot about our view towards animals, and highlights some of the weaknesses of the existing animal welfare system. Incidentally, if you haven’t done so, it’s probably worth reading what I had to say on this yesterday, as I don’t plan on repeating any details of the case that I talked about then. But here are six additional things to think about:
First, the horrors of the incident should not be underestimated. When SPCA inspectors, who see plenty of awful things done to animals every day, are left speechless – it’s pretty bad news. The perpetrator of the act deserves the condemnation he’s getting now, and hopefully the jail time he deserves. Let’s be honest. That’s one pretty sick guy. Continue reading
Depressing images from this morning’s New Zealand herald. The lead story on the internet version of the paper is entitled ‘33 dogs massacred in ‘rifle-killing frenzy‘.
I’ll let you look over the depressing facts yourself. I’m interested in the legal aspects of the case. Consider the following facts set out in the Herald – keeping in mind that the Herald ‘facts’ are not necessarily actual ‘facts’:
Yesterday, holding back tears, [the owner] described the sounds of his dogs being shot – sounds that echoed off the quarry walls for 20 minutes.
“They were screaming, making sounds dogs just don’t make. When one was gone, the others knew they’d be next, but they had nowhere to go.”
In all, 23 pups and young dogs, which slept in the owner’s truck, were shot, as were a male and female dog living in a van wreck and eight adult dogs housed in a kennel. They were shot through the grating.
Four pups hiding under their mother in the van survived, as did two other dogs the shooters didn’t see.
These six were taken to the owner’s workshop in Wellsford, but one later died. None of the dogs had been registered.
Pretty despicable stuff, all arising out of a dispute between neighbours over actions taken by the dog.
Almost is frightening is the last paragraph of the story:
SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said two investigators had visited the property and would determine whether the dogs suffered before they died. A decision would then be made on whether to charge the gunmen. Wilful ill-treatment carries a penalty of up to three years’ jail.
Ummm… Bob, what’s to think about? Continue reading
Late last year, I posted on the euphemistically-named ‘cubicle’ farming of dairy cows proposed in the South Island’s pristine McKenzie Basin.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has today recommended that Environment Minister, Nick Smith use his call-in powers under the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA) to make a decision on the consents. The Act states:
Section 141B – Minister’s power to call in matters that are or are part of proposals of national significance
In deciding whether a matter is or is part of a proposal of national significance, the Minister may have regard to any relevant factor, including whether the matter—
(a) has aroused widespread public concern or interest regarding its actual or likely effect on the environment
Why is this of interest in a blog about animal law?
Well, although about 75% of the large number of submissions received by the Canterbury Regional Council mentioned deleterious effects on the cows, the question has been raised as to whether animal welfare issues can be legitimately considered as an ‘effect’ of dairy farming for the purposes of resource management consents.
The Council has received legal advice that they can not, nor can they provide grounds for a ministerial call-in.
The Council’s Chief Executive, Dr Bryan Jenkins, has said that the animal welfare issue is more appropriately dealt with under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the AWA). He also suggested that a stronger argument can be made for damage to New Zealand’s reputation in international dairy markets being an ‘effect’.
This is all the more incredible if we look at the statutory definition of “environment” in the RMA: Continue reading
Just last week, we posted about the SPCA’s difficulties in pursuing prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the AWA). An article in the Herald on Monday (‘Hundreds of Cases of Livestock Mistreatment Reported’) highlights just how little the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), is doing by way of prosecutions. But, as the Police generally do not prosecute animal welfare offences, MAF is the other main body, along with the SPCA, that is empowered to prosecute under the AWA.
In the year to November 2009, MAF received 689 complaints about the mistreatment of animals, and investigated 615. They brought two prosecutions.
In 2008, there were 948 complaints in total, of which 824 were investigated. No prosecutions were brought.
So, out of 1439 investigations in two years, only two resulted in prosecutions. This is a rate of less than 0.4%.
Curiously, the story was re-spun the next day with the title: ‘Big Fines for Farmers Who Let Their Livestock Starve’ moving the sentences imposed to the head of the article and the fact that there were only two prosecutions in two years to the second half of the piece. Continue reading
National Party MP, Simon Bridges, has drafted a private member’s bill to increase the maximum penalty for wilful ill treatment of animals from three years imprisonment to five years.
As always in public discourse, the primary justification for this increase of the sanction is that abuse of animals leads to – or is at least an early indicator of – violence against humans.
It is encouraging to see these issues raised in Parliament and the mainstream media but this call for tougher penalties highlights a number of the shortcomings of the law around animal cruelty. Namely: That sentences are so far short of the current maximum that an increase will be largely academic; the fact that the sanction is criminal actually militates against its implementation; and, the real problem is with a distinct lack of enforcement and prosecutions. Continue reading
A new Game Hunting Council is to be formed to regulate the hunting of New Zealand’s many introduced animals; particularly deer, tahr, chamois and wild pigs. Most of these animals were introduced specifically to be hunted; it is telling that until 1990, the district bodies regulating hunting were known as ‘Acclimatisation Societies’. Some background on the Council:
In 2007 a Ministerial panel looked into future options for managing game animals and recommended the formation of a Big Game Hunting Council. The new Council is being established to represent the interests of hunters and game animal managers, and to manage and regulate the game animal resource, while having regard to the environmental effects of deer, tahr, chamois and wild pigs. It will carry out a range of functions relating to the hunting, farming and management of those animals. “In carrying out its functions, the proposed Council will recognise both the value these animals have to recreational hunters, commercial hunters, farmers and the public in general and that their numbers need to be controlled for conservation reasons,” said Garry Ottmann, chairperson of the Establishment Committee.
Hunting is exempted from the cruelty standards of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 by s175.
Last week, Crafar Farms skulked back into the news. And so did cattle rustling, a phenomenon most of us last encountered in a Spaghetti Western. However, Sunday last week, the Herald reported the theft of 1,000 to 2,000 cows. To quote:
Michael Stiassny is missing a few cows – more than 1000. Stiassny was appointed receiver of the Crafarms group in October after the family-owned company collapsed under heavy debts and multiple prosecutions for effluent discharge.
The stolen cows have a commercial value in excess of one million dollars. So what is Crafar’s receiver to do? Call the police, of course:
Stiassny … said he would be approaching police.
This is probably no surprise. After all, cattle are property. Stealing cattle is theft. Theft is a crime. When a crime is committed, you call the police. Simple. But a different logic applied in September, when Crafar was outed for gross violations of the most basic welfare standards. Breaches of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the Act) are crimes, but no one called the police on Crafar. Why not?