Rescuers shocked 'severely neglected' dog given back to owners by SPCA

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

Animal rescue workers who helped a “severely neglected” dog in Wellington over the new year break say they’re shocked the animal has been handed back to his owner by the SPCA.

Rachel Lyon from Missing K9 Response Wellington says she picked up the six-year-old mastiff cross after a member of the public found him wandering in Upper Hutt on New Year’s Day.

Lyon says the dog was in a “disgusting, confronting” state, with extremely overgrown nails and infected skin all over his body that was weeping.

“A lot of the hair was missing. He was covered in a thick crust of built-up skin. He smelt of infection, his ears were thick with infection and you couldn’t get close to them because the smell was so overwhelming you would gag.

“If the toenails were left any longer they would have grown back into his feet. Where he’d been scratching, he was bleeding and weeping. His collar was stuck on him, it needed to be peeled off.”

Lyon says she took the dog to an after-hours vet clinic but was told the dog wasn’t in a serious enough condition to be seen that day. She says she then contacted the SPCA but was told no one was available to take the dog and that it should be taken to the pound.

“I wasn’t going to take it to the pound,” Lyon said. “He looked like he could have been infected with sarcoptic mange which is the very, very infectious kind of mange. You can’t take that dog into a pound coz [sic] it will infect everything.”

Lyon says she then contacted animal rescue service HUHANZ, who picked the dog up that night.

HUHANZ veterinarian Dr Jo Lonergan says the dog’s nails were “one of the worst cases I’ve seen”.

“Often the nails will grow under and into the pad. His nails had grown round into the side… if this dog was never walked and house-bound it could have taken eight months to a year for the nails to grow that long, maybe longer if he was walked, but it didn’t look like he’d been walked. His skin would have been left for months as well.”

Dr Lonergan says HUHANZ reported the dog to the SPCA and offered to “hold him and treat him” but the SPCA wanted to take over the case. The SPCA came to pick the dog up on January 3. On January 10 the organisation returned the dog to its owner.

SPCA Wellington Inspectorate Team Leader Ben Lakomy apologised for not helping when first contacted and told 1News the return of the dog was due to “significant extenuating circumstances”.

“I think it was the best thing for the dog. There is a very clear bond between the dog and the owner in this particular case.”

Lakomy says the dog, nicknamed G, is suffering from an allergy, and although the cause hasn’t been found, he’s on the mend. He says the dog will be desexed and monitored closely.

“There were some significant personal issues the owner has been dealing with… which means his ability to care for the dog by himself has been hindered of late. That’s why we've had to put in a comprehensive plan with him and his carers going forward.”

Animal lawyer Ian Robertson says the SPCA is one of just three agencies, along with MPI and the NZ Police, with the power to seize or intervene with an animal.

“The procedurally correct way to intervene and to help is to contact one of those three bodies.

“The other thing to remember is that animals are classified by the law as property, that means owners have responsibilities, but they also have entitlements.”

Those involved with the rescue say they’re surprised he was returned so quickly.

“I was pretty shocked, pretty surprised… the time frame he was given back in, we wouldn’t know if any treatment he’d been given was even working,” Dr Lonergan says.

“You’d need two weeks minimum to see if the infection is under control, what the owner’s situation is and how you’re going to manage that going forward.”

Lyon says she’s worried about the dog’s welfare.

“The SPCA is there to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. It’s supposed to protect animals, not people.

“To be confronted with something that extreme was completely overwhelming. I’ve lost sleep over it. It’s absolutely heart-breaking.”

The SPCA says the case is still under investigation but won’t be prosecuted.

“We're confident having engaged with the owner that there'll be no wilful neglect moving forward that would see the dog get into state it was in,” Lakomy says.

Tension between agencies

The case comes at a time of increasing tension between independent animal rescues and the SPCA. 1News has spoken to 10 animal charities who believe the SPCA isn't properly dealing with animals that are brought in or reported to them.

SPCA chief executive Andrea Midgen says some groups jump to conclusions about cases without knowing the full story.

“We have many wonderful and valuable relationships with rescue groups and work closely with them to improve the welfare of animals around New Zealand, sadly, there are a few that are quick to jump to conclusions about cases they have little or no involvement in.”

“It’s easy for someone to go on social media and share their opinions, but our experience shows this is often done without the full story or facts, which those outside of SPCA are not privy to. Some also don’t have a full understanding of the Animal Welfare Act, which is the legal framework that SPCA must work within.

Midgen says the SPCA does it’s best, but cannot care for all animals that need help.

“Animal welfare is a huge problem in New Zealand that cannot be solved by SPCA alone. Our charity cares for almost 35,000 animals each year, but the reality is there are plenty more out there that we, and other rescue organisations, simply don’t have the capacity or resources to take on.”