29 Jan 2010

MP seeks longer jail term for animal cruelty offences

9:44 pm on 29 January 2010

A National MP seeking to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty says such violence is not being treated as a truly criminal offence by the courts.

Calls for tougher penalties for animal cruelty have been renewed after 33 dogs were killed in what a witness described as a frenzied shooting near Wellsford, north of Auckland.

Police and the SPCA are investigating the killings, which occurred at a rural property on Tuesday evening. The SPCA says it is hoped wilful cruelty charges can be laid, with a maximum penalty of three years' jail.

On Friday, police seized a number of firearms from a rural property involved in the incident. A shotgun was confiscated from two men believed responsible for the killings on Thursday.

Police say all parties are co-operating and they are not ruling out the possibility of laying charges.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges hopes to increase the maximum jail term from to five years through a private members' bill.

He told Morning Report that research suggests animal cruelty is often a precursor to family violence and psychopathic behaviour, and can also lead to animals being violent towards humans.

Mr Bridges says his bill would send a message from society and parliament that the offence of animal cruelty needs to be taken much more seriously by the courts.

Lawyer and animal welfare campaigner Catriona MacLennan says getting the evidence to prove wilful cruelty can be tough, because it would need to be shown that the dogs suffered before they died.

She says judges rarely apply the full force of the law in animal cruelty cases, and harsher penalties are needed.

No immediate council action against owner

Rodney District Council says it has no immediate plans to take action against the man whose dogs were shot dead.

Rodney District Council communications manager David Anderson says its officers received a complaint about the number of dogs at the Rowan Hargreaves' property and whether they were registered.

Considering the circumstances, he says, the council will not take action over the dogs' registration and will discuss issues over any surviving dogs until police and SPCA investigations are completed.

Mr Anderson says the council received a complaint in 2006 about a menacing dog at another address belonging to Mr Hargreaves but there have been no issues since.