MP sees challenges facing Otago SPCA

Simon Bridges
Simon Bridges
The North Island MP pushing for harsher penalties for animal cruelty says he has a better understanding of the challenges facing Otago SPCA following a visit to Dunedin on Thursday.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges introduced a private members' Bill to the house which would increase the maximum jail term for ill-treating an animal from three to five years, and double the fines to $100,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a company.

The Animal Welfare Amendment Bill has been taken over by the Government to ensure it has high priority, and it passed its first reading last week with unanimous support from Parliament.

Mr Bridges said he now had a greater appreciation of the territory covered by Otago SPCA, which extended to Haast.

He also appreciated Otago did not have the population to support an infrastructure that might be found in other more populated regions.

One issue facing all SPCAs was legal bills for taking animal cruelty cases to court.

One positive move in the North Island, which he hoped could be replicated in the South, was an initiative for lawyers to take animal cruelty cases pro bono.

This had already started to happen in Auckland, and Mr Bridges was setting up a similar scheme in Tauranga.

Last year, the longest animal cruelty sentence in New Zealand's history was handed down in Dunedin to Jeffrey Hurring, who was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for killing an 18-month-old Jack Russell terrier dog.

He admitted killing the dog by first attempting to strangle it with a chain, his hands, and feet.

When the dog did not die after 30 minutes, he poured petrol down its throat, stuffed a pillowcase down its throat and finally hit the dog on the head with a spade.

The impact broke the dog's back and jaw, killing it.

On appeal, Justice Fogarty reduced the sentence to 10 months, calling the original sentence "manifestly excessive".

Mr Bridges said he could not comment on the case, but he believed sentencing was too light in New Zealand for animal cruelty.

It was significant that fewer than 10 people had ever been sent to jail for animal cruelty.

Otago SPCA executive officer Phil Soper said meeting Mr Bridges was useful for SPCA staff and supporters.

While stiffer sentences in themselves would not stop animal cruelty, making jail more likely might make people think twice, as these days it seemed offenders had few qualms about racking up fines, he said.

He was interested in the pro bono scheme, because legal fees for each prosecution ranged from $5000 to $8000.


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