76% of animal abusers also abuse a family member

Animal Abuse

What is animal cruelty?

Animal abuse is a serious crime and can result in severe penalties. All animals deserve to be properly taken care of whether it’s a dog or a chicken. When you adopt an animal you have made a commitment to them and it’s your responsibility to honour that.

Animal cruelty defines a range of different behaviours that are harmful to animals. These behaviours range from neglect to malicious killing. Most cruelty reports are investigated by humane officers who can educate owners about unintentional neglect. Intentional cruelty or abuse is knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialisation and/or veterinary care or maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating, or killing an animal.

Why is it a concern?

Just as it is illegal and morally wrong to hurt another human, it’s also wrong to hurt animals. They depend on us to take care of them and we depend on them for many things as well. Animal cruelty can be one of the earliest and most dramatic indicators that an individual is developing a pattern of seeking power and control by inflicting suffering on others. Is there any evidence of a connection between animal cruelty and human violence? Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology over the last 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognised this connection since the l970’s when bureau analysis of the life histories of imprisoned serial killers suggested that most as children had killed or tortured animals. Other research has shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse and spousal abuse.

Why would anyone abuse animals?

There can be many reasons. Animal cruelty, like any other form of violence, is often committed by a person who feels powerless, unnoticed, and under the control of others. The motive may be to shock, threaten, intimidate, or offend others or to demonstrate rejection of society’s rules. Some who are cruel to animals copy things they have seen or that have been done to them. Others see harming an animal as a safe way to get revenge on someone who cares about that animal. In some cases, animal abuse is associated with deviant arousal.

Focusing on at-risk communities

Animal cruelty has been closely linked to family violence and child abuse. 76% of animal abusers also abuse a family member. Many young children unintentionally harm animals and it only takes one adult to teach them kindness and respect for the animals they meet. Yet, a child who repeatedly hurts an animal requires the support of their parents or caregivers and an experienced professional. There are several reasons that cause children to abuse animals, including learning difficulties, problems understanding how others feel or think, anxiety, bullying, copying adult behaviours and family violence. So, it is important that the nature of the animal cruelty and the possible cause is identified early to support child development and safety.

The SPCA is working with the Ministry for Children, the New Zealand Police and Women’s Refuge to develop interagency strategies that aim to keep children safe and reduce family harm. The SPCA has developed resources for professionals to support the identification of animal cruelty as an early sign of family violence and to support children who witness animal cruelty or who may act with cruelty to animals.


Dogfighting is a horrific form of animal abuse. Dogs are forced to fight to the death and rip each other apart for human entertainment. Family pets get stolen and used as bait dogs, given to fighting dogs to practice on. Stolen pets are often starved and have their mouths taped shut to prevent them from harming the fighting dog - allowing it to build confidence and hone killing skills. Dogfighting is a terrible crime in New Zealand run mostly by gangs. It creates a place for other criminal activities to proliferate, such as illegal betting and bad breeding practices. There are ways everyone can help to reduce this crime in New Zealand.

Why do people get involved in dogfighting?

There are many reasons people are drawn to dogfighting, the most common is greed. There can be a lot of money in dogfighting through gambling, stud fees, and the sale of pups from promising bloodlines. For others, the attraction lies in using the animals as an extension of themselves to fight their battles for them and to demonstrate their strength and prowess. However, when a dog loses, this can cause the owner of the dog to lose not only money, but status, and may lead to brutal actions against the dog. For others, the appeal simply seems to come from the sadistic enjoyment of a brutal spectacle.

How are dogfighting victims raised and trained?

Dogs used for fighting must be kept isolated from other dogs, so they spend most of their lives on short, heavy chains, often just out of reach of other dogs. They are usually unsocialized to other dogs and to most people. However, many professional fighters invest much time and money in conditioning their animals. They are often given quality nutrition and basic veterinary care. The dogs are exercised under controlled conditions, such as on a treadmill.

The conditioning of dogfighting victims may also make use of a variety of legal and illegal drugs, including anabolic steroids to enhance muscle mass and encourage aggressiveness. Narcotic drugs may also be used to increase the dogs’ aggression, increase reactivity and mask pain or fear during a fight. Dogfighting victims used by all types of fighters may have their ears cropped and tails docked close to their bodies. This serves two purposes: First, it limits the areas of the body that another dog can grab onto in a fight, and second, it makes it more difficult for other dogs to read the animal’s mood and intentions through normal body language cues. Fighters usually perform this cropping/docking themselves using crude and inhumane techniques. This can lead to additional criminal charges related to animal cruelty and/or the illegal practice of veterinary medicine.

What happens in a dogfight?

Fights can take place in a variety of locations and at any time. They may be impromptu street fights in a back alley, or carefully planned and staged enterprises in a location specifically designed and maintained for the purpose. The fight usually takes place in a pit that is between 14 and 20 feet square, with sides that may be made of plywood, hay bales, chain link or anything else that can contain the animals. The flooring may be dirt, wood, carpet or sawdust.

In a more organized fight, the dogs will be weighed to make sure they are approximately the same weight. Handlers will often wash and examine the opponent’s dog to remove any toxic substances that may have been placed on the fur in an attempt to deter or harm the opposing dog. At the start of a fight, the dogs are released from opposite corners and usually meet in the middle, wrestling to get a hold on the opponent. If they do, the dogs grab and shake to inflict maximum damage. Handlers are not permitted to touch the dogs except when told to do so by the referee.

Fights can last just a few minutes or several hours. Both animals may suffer injuries, including puncture wounds, lacerations, blood loss, crushing injuries and broken bones. Although fights are not usually to the death, many dogs succumb to their injuries later.

Unless they have had a good history of past performance or come from valuable bloodlines, losing dogs are often discarded, killed or simply left with their injuries untreated. If the losing dog is perceived to be a particular embarrassment to the reputation or status of its owner, it may be executed in a particularly brutal fashion as part of the “entertainment”.

What you can do to help?

  • If you suspect that dogfighting is happening in your neighbourhood, please contact the Police; 111 if it is happening now or 105 to report it.
  • Paw Justice offers rewards for assistance on certain animal abuse cases.
  • Since dogfighters typically keep their dogs chained, you can help deter dogfighters by pushing for anti-chaining rules at your local council.

You can also keep an eye out for:

  • Dogs on heavy chains, tethered to a tire axle or dog house/barrel.
  • Pit bull-mix-type dogs weighing approximately 40-50 pounds as these are the most common fighting dogs.
  • Dogs with multiple scars, possibly with lips or ears ripped off.
  • A dirt ring around the dog in the yard.
  • Dogs chained inches apart from one another.
  • Dogs chained or penned in a secluded area intentionally kept out of the public’s view.

Keep your dogs safe by ensuring your property is well fenced and all gates are securely locked. If you do not already have locks on your gates, install them now and make sure they’re locked every time you leave the house.

Do dog thieves really use secret marks?

Nick Barnett from Stuff contacted a spokesperson from New Zealand Police who confirmed there is no foundation for the hoax. Here's what the Police told Barnett:

"Circulating messages about a string of dog thefts linked to painted or marked letterboxes is a long-running urban myth or hoax.

The hoax has previously been reported circulating throughout New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The hoax suggests letterboxes are 'marked' with paint or chalk to indicate the presence of dogs at the property, which are later targeted by thieves.

Dog owners should not be alarmed by these messages as there is no foundation to the hoax.

Police recommend ignoring any messages of this nature. However, any suspicious activity in your neighbourhood should be reported to local police."

The animal welfare act

The Act sets out obligations upon the owners or persons in charge of animals to care for those animals properly. They have to meet an animal’s physical, health and behavioural needs, and must alleviate pain or distress.

The Act defines ill-treatment of an animal as: ‘causing the animal to suffer, by any act or omission, pain or distress that in its kind or degree, or in its object, or in the circumstances in which it is inflicted, is unreasonable or unnecessary’. This just means causing the animal to suffer either by neglect or abuse that is unreasonable.

More specifically, they define ‘physical, health, and behavioural needs’ as:

  • Proper and sufficient food
  • Proper and sufficient water
  • Adequate shelter
  • The opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
  • Physical handling in a manner which minimises the likelihood of unreasonable and unnecessary pain or distress
  • Protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, injury and disease.

Failure to do this is a crime, which is also defined in the Act. The Act regulates the use of traps and devices that have the potential to cause pain or distress to animals. The SPCA investigates alleged breaches of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 in relation to these obligations and/or conduct. Read the full Animal Welfare Act here.

Codes of welfare

The Animal Welfare Act does not provide detailed requirements – instead, these are contained in regulations and Codes of Welfare. Codes are issued under the Act and contain minimum standards and recommended best practice. Codes are issued by the Minister for Primary Industries and have important roles in helping set high standards of animal care.

The Codes outline minimum standards for the care and handling of animals. These standards have legal effect in two ways:

  • Inspectors can use evidence of someone failing to meet a minimum standard to support a prosecution for an offence under the Act.
  • A person who is charged with an offence against the Act can defend themselves by showing that they have met or exceeded minimum standards.

Also included in the Codes are recommended best practices. These encourage everyone to not just achieve minimum standards as required by the law, but to aim to improve the welfare of their animals by adopting best practice.

What codes are available?

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has put together 16 Codes of Welfare that include minimum standards, guidance information and recommended best practices for animal welfare. These Codes cover animals from dogs to dairy cattle, and situations such as animal rodeos and painful husbandry procedures. You can find the full list (with amendments) on the Ministry for Primary Industries website.

What if you suspect a breach of the act or a code of welfare?

If you believe the Animal Welfare Act or a minimum standard of care in any of these Codes of Welfare is being breached by a person or an organisation and you would like to make a report, please call your local SPCA Centre or the Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 00 83 33.

If you have concerns about an animal being neglected or treated with cruelty, contact the SPCA immediately. You can then talk about your concerns and see if a visit by an Animal Welfare Inspector is necessary. All reports are treated in confidence.

Some great resources and topics for teachers and parents.

Find out more about the Regulations such as; exporting live animals and animals in research, testing, and teaching.


  1. http://legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1999/0142/62.0/DLM49664.html
  2. https://www.spca.nz/advice-and-welfare/category?cat=what-to-do-when
  3. https://www.spca.nz/what-we-do/prevent-cruelty-and-educate/animals-voice-magazine
  4. https://www.spca.nz/what-we-do/seek-justice/animal-welfare-act
  5. http://pawjustice.co.nz/
  6. https://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/dogfighting
  7. https://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/dogfighting/closer-look-dogfighting
  8. http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/blogs/11166470/Do-dog-thieves-really-use-secret-marks