Animal Welfare Act 1999 Review

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 underwent a review in 2014 for the first time in over a decade. SPCAs around the country made submissions about the changes we believe are needed to improve the lives of animals in New Zealand. 

Below is a short summary of the SPCA's views on what changes are needed to the Animal Welfare Act 1999. Our submission focused on the areas of greatest and immediate need, which is not to say other areas aren’t equally as important.

We have been working directly with the government to ensure our submission is considered. The review process has been a lengthy one and we may need your voice of support over the coming months on particular issues. We will update you on when we need your help to support our amendments and ensure positive change for the animals of New Zealand.


1. Prohibit animal testing for psychoactive substances

SPCA is strongly opposed to animal testing for psychoactive substances, considering it to be both morally and ethically wrong. We have been successful in achieving a policy change in New Zealand to stop the testing of psychoactive substances on animals unless there is absolutely no alternative.  

2. Prohibit the docking of dogs’ tails and the shortening of cows' tails

The tail-docking of dogs should be prohibited for any purpose, including for cosmetic reasons. On ethical grounds alone there is no benefit to dogs from this mutilation. The significant surgical procedure robs dogs of an organ of balance and communication with other dogs and humans. 

SPCA experiences first-hand the severe complications, including death, which have occurred to animals as a result of amateur tail-docking or shortening procedures, some of which have been the subject of prosecution proceedings.

3. Prohibit the public sale and use of electronic shock collars for dogs

Electronic training devices are punishment systems for unwanted behaviour. There is currently no control over their availability, making them freely attainable, and there are no regulations for their use. The danger of electric shock collars to dogs, and the adverse effect they have on their welfare, means they should not be available to the public.

4. Prohibit the public sale and use of gin traps and leg-hold devices
Leg-hold traps inflict horrific pain and suffering on the animals trapped by them. They are non-discriminatory in their targets, often trapping companion animals and native wildlife. They are truly horrific devices and should not be available for sale or use by the public.

5. Reduce the time animals are held at the SPCA during prosecution cases 

SPCA Inspectors must legally retain and care for any animals they have seized during a prosecution. Taking a prosecution through the court system can be a lengthy process and as a result animals are often in our custody for not just months, but in many cases, years. 

This is not good for the animals and is a large financial burden on the SPCA. We are proposing that an ‘owner election’ scheme be investigated where owners would either forfeit the animal to the SPCA so they can find a new home or else pay weekly fees to cover the cost of their care.

6. Sentencing guidelines should be developed for judges to ensure tougher penalties are enforced under the Animal Welfare Act 1999

Animal abuse or neglect is a serious community matter. Together we fought for tougher penalties for offenders who harmed animals. However, the SPCA has often been disappointed when an individual has been found guilty of a crime but receives little punishment compared to the seriousness of the crime. Stronger guidelines need to be provided to judges to ensure tougher penalties apply.

7. Make it mandatory for judges to consider disqualification when sentencing offenders and allow immediate seizure of any animals held by disqualified persons

The current Animal Welfare Act 1999 has no provisions for offenders who repeatedly harm animals. They must be treated in the same way as first-time offenders. At present there is no mechanism that allows immediate action when disqualified persons are in possession of animals. The Act should allow immediate seizure of any animals in the possession of such people.

It should be mandatory for judges to impose a lifetime ban on repeat offenders, ensuring they have no opportunity to harm animals in the future.

8. Phase out all forms of intensive farming on or before 1 January 2020

The existing Animal Welfare Act 1999 condones the cruel practice of factory and battery farming. The Act continues to legalise the ongoing confinement of hens in battery cages and pigs in farrowing crates and sow stalls. Some consider this clause exists to allow industries a period of time to phase certain unacceptable practices out during a transitional period. However, there is little evidence to support this and no clear timeframes have been given. These ‘exceptions’ condemn animals to miserable lives under cruel intensive farming practices.

A definitive timeframe is required to ensure all such practices are phased out. The extent of the cruelty inflicted on the animals affected cannot be ignored.

9. Make desexing and microchipping mandatory for companion animals obtained from pounds, shelters and retailers including electronic media trading sources

All pounds, animal welfare shelters, pet shop retailers and electronic media trading sources (e.g. TradeMe) must ensure that animals are desexed and microchipped prior to sale / adoption and they are registered on an appropriate animal register. Non-desexed animals should only be sold by those holding breeders’ permits or who are registered breeders.

Many animal welfare problems are the result of too many animals being born through indiscriminate and irresponsible breeding. The SPCA is trying to change attitudes by educating and working with the community, as well as providing low cost desexing initiatives. However, stronger measures are required to make a significant and sustainable impact on the problem. Requiring mandatory desexing by pounds, shelters, retailers and electronic retailing outlets will help to address this issue.


There are some important structural and ethical changes required in the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to ensure the welfare of animals. These structural changes are fundamental to improving the rights of animals.

1. Include a declaration in the Animal Welfare Act 1999 that animals are sentient beings capable of feeling

'Animals as sentient beings' means that animals have feelings and can feel pain. Currently animals are legally regarded as property that can be possessed by humans. This denies animals a fundamental constitutional right compared to humans. A Declaration of Sentience is required because most New Zealand law treats animals as things or objects, rather than as living creatures. 

2. Replace the references to ‘owners’ of animals in the Act with the word ‘guardians’

"All sentient beings, human or non-human, have one right: the basic right not to be treated as the property of others" (Gary Francoine)

The word ‘guardian’ describes a responsibility and firmly establishes a more definitive legal duty of care than ‘ownership’. This elevates animals from being things, objects or chattels that are ‘owned’ to a more compassionate relationship with those who are responsible for them.

3. Create a Commissioner for Animals as an independent Crown entity representing the welfare needs of animals

Animal welfare in New Zealand is governed by laws enacted through the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI). The SPCA is concerned that animal welfare remains solely in the hands of a Ministry whose primary objectives are economic outputs and industry protection, rather than animal welfare. This means many welfare decisions are currently tainted by economic considerations and can compromise the welfare of animals. An independent Commissioner for Animals would provide an independent voice for the welfare of animals.

4. Animal welfare enforcement (SPCA Inspectors) should be fully, or partially, funded by the government

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 creates the legal powers that enable organisations such as the New Zealand Police, MPI and the SPCA to enforce the Act. Funding for this work is provided to both the Police and MPI, but not to SPCA Inspectors (although some assistance is provided towards their training). In 2014 when this review commenced, 96 SPCA inspectors were employed by 47 SPCA centres throughout New Zealand.  

In the 2014/2015 financial year, these 96 SPCA Inspectors attended 13,577 animal welfare complaints throughout New Zealand. The real cost of these services is estimated to be from $7,500,000 to $9,000,000 per annum and these costs are met entirely through public donations.  

We believe that this vital work should be recognised by the government and either fully or partially funded.

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