Caring for animals is a moral obligation for us all, or is it? Whether you are responsible for a farm full of animals or have a family pet, you have legal responsibilities towards them.

Animal welfare is protected by our Animal Welfare Act 1999. This legislation provides that the owner or person in charge of an animal is responsible for:

  • Its physical health and behavioural needs
  • Treating or humanely putting down sick or injured animals
  • Ensuring animals are not kept in pain or distress or sold in this condition, unless the
  • sale is for the purpose of the animal being put down
  • Not deserting an animal without making provision for its needs
  • Not ill-treating or killing an animal such that it feels pain or distress, and
  • Ensuring that animals are fit to be transported.

Codes of Welfare

Administered by the newly established Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), the Act provides for Codes of Welfare to be developed which provide minimum standards of care and also provide recommendations for best practice. These Codes include guidelines for the care of animals for circuses, zoos, companion animals such as cats and dogs, through to sheep and beef cattle, dairy cows and pigs. You can find out more about the Codes on the MPI’s website,

Farm animal welfare is administered primarily by the MPI’s animal welfare Inspectors; companion and domestic animals in urban areas are covered primarily by the SPCA.

Vets also have some obligations under the Veterinary Council of New Zealand Code of Professional Conduct and therefore vets are very active in promoting and monitoring animal welfare. Often vets will deal directly with the animals’ owners when they are confronted with situations they may find in the course of their practice, with very successful outcomes1.

Animal welfare inspectors have the ability to:

  • Enter land, premises and vehicles to inspect animals
  • Stop vehicles and seize animals, and
  • Take steps to prevent or mitigate suffering of animals, including the right to destroy
  • animals that are injured and/or sick.

If you’re concerned about any aspects of animal welfare get in touch with the MPI or your local vet clinic enabling those who are statutorily responsible for animal welfare to address these issues.

Dealing with complaints

Currently once complaints are assessed, the animal’s welfare may warrant inspection either immediately or in the next couple of days to assess the actual situation and to decide if a formal action plan needs to be put in place to secure the affected animals’ welfare. Welfare issues may underlie serious and ongoing issues in relation to animal ownership. Early identification of any concerns, however, will ensure that the situation can be readily addressed with minimal suffering for those animals.

Worst case outcomes can result in the destruction of animals and criminal charges being laid. The penalties under the Animal Welfare Amendment Act 2012 are “in the case of an individual, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding $50,000 or to both; or in the case of a body corporate to a fine not exceeding $250,000.”2

It’s important to remember that ‘animals are sentient – they can feel pain and distress – and as a humane society we have responsibilities to ensure our animals’ needs are met.”3