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The ill-treatment of animals - what should you do?

animal welfareMost of us are responsible animal owners.  We take good care of our animals, and we encourage our friends and family to do the same. But what if you see someone else's animal suffering and you are reasonably sure it is the result of neglect or ill-treatment?  What should you do?

You can report your concerns to animal welfare inspectors in the SPCA or MAF.  First though, it pays to ask yourself three questions.

Is this a genuine case of neglect or ill-treatment of animals?

Sometimes what can seem like suffering is not as bad as it seems.  For example, very old much loved and pampered horses are often lean in spite of the best of attention, and it is easy to mistake the leanness of old age with that of under-feeding.  A dog left in a run with no water may be there only a few minutes, although if you see it as you pass by you may have real concerns about its welfare.  All stock in drought-affected areas are likely to be affected to some extent and their body condition may be less than ideal, in spite of the farmer's best efforts to care for them well.  In these cases there may be no significant animal welfare concern.  The animals the inspectors are interested in are those which suffer needlessly because of their owner's neglect, ignorance or deliberate ill-treatment.

Can I help?

It's a sad fact that very often the people who ill-treat animals just can't cope.  They may have personal problems that mean they find it difficult to manage their own lives, let alone those of their animals.  In other words, their ill-treatment of animals may be because they are unable to look after them properly.  Money problems, ill-health, psychiatric problems, alcohol and drugs underlie a lot of cases of animal ill-treatment.  This doesn't justify the ill-treatment of course, but it does help explain a lot of cases..

  • Maybe in a discreet way you could get help for both owner and animals from a kindly relative or friend of the owner, or from an appropriate community agency.  Sometimes this sort of support is all the owner needs to tide them over a bad patch.
  • Ill-treatment can also result from lack of knowledge.  In such cases tactful advice from an experienced person may solve the problem with no ill-feeling.

However there's a fine line between neighbourly help and unwelcome interference, and it's always best to refer difficult cases to an Inspector.

Who can help?

SPCA and MAF Inspectors investigate all complaints from the public about instances of apparent cruelty or ill-treatment of animals.  These Inspectors enforce the Animal Welfare Act.

If the problem is in a town or city or in the suburbs, it would be best to report your concern to your local SPCA.  Their phone number is in the phone book on on-line

In rural areas, it is best to report to MAF.  There are a number of MAF Animal Welfare Enforcement Officers dedicated to the investigation of complaints about animal welfare, and their contact number is 0800 008333.

The SPCA and MAF cooperate in investigations of ill-treatment of animals.

Some people are reluctant to report animal welfare incidents because the animal's owner may be a neighbour or even a friend.  They turn a blind eye because they don't want to cause any ill-feeling.  However this shouldn't be a deterrent, because the SPCA and MAF deal with all complaints in confidence.

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