Saturday, January 02, 2010

Time to crack down on animal cruelty

The Herald reports that National MP Simon Bridges has drafted a member's bill to increase penalties for cruelty to animals. Good. Currently these penalties are appallingly light, with the result that those who torture animals for fun get token sentences. Increasing the maximum sentence will push judges to impose more severe penalties, which might see animal torturers properly punished.

At the same time, this misses the real problem: enforcement. While the law criminalises animal cruelty, the police aren't interested in it (like electoral offences, they don't see it as a "real crime"). MAF has only a handful of inspectors, who focus on farms and are more interested in looking the other way than enforcing the law. Day-to-day enforcement is left to the SPCA, who while granted legal powers to bring cases, are not given any money to do so. And so they have to grovel to the public for donations to pay for it - and at $10 - 15,000 per prosecution. In this context, simply increasing the penalties seems to be a purely symbolic move - after all, who cares about penalties if they can never practically be enforced?

This is not good enough. The government should not be leaving law enforcement to be funded by private donations - that's what we pay taxes for! If it is serious about animal cruelty being a crime, it should fully fund investigations and prosecutions. Otherwise, the law isn't worth the paper it is written on.

(If you'd like to fund a vital government service the government can't be bothered paying for, you can donate to the Auckland SPCA here)

Update: And if you'd like to support the SPCA nationwide, you can do it here. You can donate specifically towards the animal defence fund / inspectorate.