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Cruelty Sentences A Sick Joke

3 September 2002

Cruelty Sentences A Sick Joke

The Royal New Zealand SPCA wants pressure put on judges to take a tougher line in animal cruelty cases.

The organisation's Chief Executive Officer, Peter Blomkamp, has written to the Justice Minister, the Hon. Phil Goff, complaining about a tendency for courts to impose lenient sentences where animals are neglected or treated badly.

As an example, Mr Blomkamp cites a case concerning a neglected and starving dog tried in the Nelson District Court in January this year.

"Our inspector discovered the dog tied to a kennel in a pitiful condition. It was severely emaciated and suffering from maggots, open sores and skin infections. Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done to restore this poor creature to health and it had to be humanely euthanased," says Mr Blomkamp

"In cases such as this, the 1999 Animal Welfare Act allows for sentences of up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of $25,000. However, the Nelson District Court merely fined the dog's owner $123.60, sentenced him to 75 hours Community Service and banned him from owning a dog for a period of twelve months.

"This absurdly light sentence is part of a pervasive pattern of leniency in dealing with people who are cruel or callous to defenceless animals. We want Mr Goff to tell the Judiciary to impose sentences that fit the crime in cases such as this. If he can't do that, we want him to tell us what steps we can take to ensure the law is applied with a reasonable degree of rigour," he says.

The veterinary surgeon who inspected the dog prior to euthanasia says extensive skin infections, maggots and skin ulcers would have ensured that it was in pain whether standing or lying down.

"This was one of the worst cases of neglect and starvation I have seen in 25 years of working alongside the SPCA. The dog must have endured unremitting pain for some time before we got to him. It's hard to imagine how it could have been left day after day in that condition," says Noeline Inglis.

"It's also truly incredible that the owner has received so light a sentence and will be free to own as many dogs as he likes after just twelve months," she adds.

Peter Blomkamp points out that this is not the first blatant example of over-lenient sentencing that the Royal New Zealand SPCA has needed to bring to the minister's attention.

"Last year, we were impelled to write to Mr Goff when the Oamaru District Court fined the owner of a farm donkey just $250 or one percent of the permitted maximum. This was despite the fact that neglect of the animal's hooves would have caused it months or even years of severe pain. One of the hooves had fallen off leaving a raw, infected stump whilst another was 25 centimetres long and curling upwards.

"It's very regrettable that, yet again, we have needed to raise a case of chronic neglect with the minister. However, it remains difficult to see the sentences handed out in all too many animal cruelty cases as anything other than a sick joke," says Mr Blomkamp.

"Whether they intend it or not, some judges are giving out the message that animal cruelty doesn't really matter. But if we fail to care about these innocent, voiceless creatures, we will also end up caring less about other human beings, including children. Do we really want to live in a society where cruelty and callousness are acceptable?" he asks.


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