New fund, law change to ease cost burdens of neglect cases on SPCA

Law-booksA new legal fighting fund and a 2012 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act should collectively reduce the chances of New Zealand’s SPCA racking up the kinds of costs it faced in the long-running Williamson horse neglect case.

Brothers John Blackwood Williamson and Douglas John Williamson were each jailed on Wednesday for 16 months when they appeared for sentence on horse neglect charges arising from an SPCA welfare operation involving 34 horses dating back nearly five years.

It was revealed during the sentencing in the Christchurch District Court that the SPCA’s costs for feeding, transport, grazing, worming, and veterinary care during the case amounted to $93,000.

The total costs would have been higher had it not been for the support of those who fostered many of the animals.

Judge Farish, in sentencing the pair, ordered each to pay $3500 to the SPCA by instalments following their release from prison.

Alan Wilson, national manager of the SPCA’s inspectorate and head of Centre Support, said the cost of the seizure operation alone probably amounted to $30,000 to $40,000 of the overall costs.

The charity, he said, had just launched the SPCA Fight Fund, designed to financially assist branches in investigating animal neglect and bringing prosecutions.

The SPCA had mailed supporters about the fund and the response to date had been fantastic, he said.

Wilson said smaller branches, in particular, would not have had the resources to bring a prosecution in the likes of the Williamson case.

The prosecution side has received a further boost through an arrangement made through the law office of Ben Vanderkolk, which undertakes Crown law work in the Palmerston North region.

The memorandum of understanding provides the SPCA with Crown Law expertise and access to Crown prosecution services around the country, co-ordinated through Vanderkolk’s office.

Wilson said Canterbury had joined the legal scheme in the last 12 months, with 27 of the SPCA’s 47 centres around the country now involved.

“It’s a great idea that is really starting to grow,” he said.

He noted there had been a 52 percent increase in the number of prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act in the last year. He said he liked to think that was a result of inspectors getting more support.

Wilson said without such legal and financial support being available, it was unlikely that smaller branches would contemplate prosecutions for a range of reasons – perhaps due to the complexity of the case or limits to staff resources or expertise.

Wilson said a 2012 amendment to the Animal Welfare Act was designed to cover precisely the scenario faced by the SPCA in the Williamson case – the ongoing substantial costs of caring for a large number of animals while legal proceedings ran their course.

The charity was now able to apply to the courts for an order that, if granted, would enable it to resolve the fate of seized animals, even though the legal case remained unresolved.

Wilson said the $93,000 in costs from the Williamson operation was met out of the national coffers. It had, he said, been a case of national significance, given its size, scale, and severity.

Of the 34 horses in the Williamson case, six were euthanized. The rest were placed in agistment or under foster care.

Officers with the Canterbury SPCA first visited the horses in Halswell in October 2009. The Williamsons were given a statutory notice outlining what they were required to do to improve the lot of the horses.

Other visits followed, culminating in the seizure of the horses in March 2010 and the subsequent prosecution.

You can donate to the New Zealand SPCA here. To donate to the Fight Fund, choose “SPCA Fight Fund” in the campaign pulldown.

Report on sentencing.


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