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Animal Law, Animal Welfare, Animal Welfare Act 1999

Ummm… What’s There to Think About?

Depressing images from this morning’s New Zealand herald.  The lead story on the internet version of the paper is entitled ‘33 dogs massacred in ‘rifle-killing frenzy‘.

I’ll let you look over the depressing facts yourself.   I’m interested in the legal aspects of the case.  Consider the following facts set out in the Herald – keeping in mind that the Herald ‘facts’ are not necessarily actual ‘facts’:

Yesterday, holding back tears, [the owner] described the sounds of his dogs being shot – sounds that echoed off the quarry walls for 20 minutes.

“They were screaming, making sounds dogs just don’t make. When one was gone, the others knew they’d be next, but they had nowhere to go.”

In all, 23 pups and young dogs, which slept in the owner’s truck, were shot, as were a male and female dog living in a van wreck and eight adult dogs housed in a kennel. They were shot through the grating.

Four pups hiding under their mother in the van survived, as did two other dogs the shooters didn’t see.

These six were taken to the owner’s workshop in Wellsford, but one later died. None of the dogs had been registered.

Pretty despicable stuff, all arising out of a dispute between neighbours over actions taken by the dog.

Almost is frightening is the last paragraph of the story:

SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said two investigators had visited the property and would determine whether the dogs suffered before they died. A decision would then be made on whether to charge the gunmen. Wilful ill-treatment carries a penalty of up to three years’ jail.

Ummm… Bob, what’s to think about?  Although it’s too early to tell for sure, comments like this make me worried the SPCA will approach the case  too conservatively.  Keep in mind that it is not illegal to kill animals in New Zealand, so the shootings themselves were not necessarily unlawful.  Nor is there any proscribed way in which such killing has to occur.  So long as there is no pain or suffering, you can shoot your dogs.  It’s happened before, and charges brought against owners who do it have been unsuccessful.

Thus, it’s possible to look at this killing spree and focus on each dog.  With so many bodies on the property, and so many gunshots, it may prove difficult to separate which dog died at what time, and with the burden of proof on the prosecution, the evidence required to prove that any individual animal physically suffered may be lacking.    My worry is that the SPCA will lob this case in the ‘too-hard’ basket, in that proof of physical suffering might prove too tough – or too expensive – to litigate.  Or they may prosecute one charge if they find animals that were clearly shot multiple times, suffering in the process.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the wrong way to go.  Focus on the physical suffering is beside the point here.  We’re talking about a large number of animals shut up in a kennel being shot to death over a prolonged period of time.  They watched the other animals being shot, one by one, and according to the available evidence – not surprisingly – they screamed in the process.  There is nothing in the Animal Welfare Act 1999 that precludes consideration of emotional harm, and there is every reason for harm of this sort to be measured.  This was not a ‘humane’ action, and not how any animal should be killed.  Even if it’s impossible to prove that any animal suffered while dying – all of the animals (especially the remaining victims) had to have suffered greatly during the entire ordeal.

This case will be one to watch.  Let’s hope the SPCA does the right thing here.

Oh, and by the way, while they’re laying charges, how about a few for the ‘victim’ of the piece – the owner (Mr Hargreaves), who thought it was a good idea to breed animals on his property and keep dozens of them in close proximity to each other – all unregistered.  Seems like his actions played a pretty big role in this debacle as well.  I think he deserves  several charges under the Dog Control Act for possessing unlicensed animals and I’d toss a few Animal Welfare Act charges his way too, given what I’d guess about the state of the animals when they were killed, and his part in the whole thing.

As for his tears over the deaths, well, at the time of the incident, Mr Hargreaves had apparently realized he had too many dogs, as he:

…had recently arranged to drop several off to the SPCA to be housed elsewhere.

Asked why he had had so many dogs, Mr Hargreaves said they were “my family”.

One thing’s for sure.  I’m glad we’re not related.  I’d hate to be treated like a member of his family.


4 thoughts on “Ummm… What’s There to Think About?

  1. I know nothing about evidence or criminal procedure, but it seems to me to be the most obvious thing in the world that individual dogs suffered, based on the facts. I understood humane killing to be something like a bolt to the head or a slit throat, where animals presumably lost consciousness within seconds. A bullet to any other part of the body would necessarily involve suffering, until death ensued. What would the law see as individual pain and suffering?

    Posted by Daniel | 28 January 2010, 1:52 pm
  2. The problem is that the law needs to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard burden of proof in these cases. There’s a High Court case where a dog was shot in a vital area, and the Court was unwilling to infer that the dog suffered without any proof of such. Thus, it’s not enough that the method looked problematic, or is obviously problematic. There needs to be some proof, and in cases like this, a court “could” be worried – and the SPCA often shies away from cases that might be tough to prosecute. In any event, as I suggested in the blog, I don’t think physical pain and suffering should be the main focus – although the evidence might reveal clear indicators of such – but rather the stronger case is emotional suffering, which can be inferred from the screams and the dogs running to hide, etc.

    Posted by Peter Sankoff | 28 January 2010, 6:09 pm
  3. UPDATE: Looks like charges will be laid after all – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10622842

    Posted by Peter Sankoff | 28 January 2010, 6:11 pm


  1. Pingback: A few more thoughts on the Wellsford Massacre… « The Solution - 29 January 2010

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