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'Horror at the haven'

SPCA’s national body has denied there were acute problems at the Gisborne haven over summer despite The Herald being told about and shown video footage and photographs of sick and dead animals, poor hygiene and overcrowded cages. This story by Gisborne Herald staff reporters features various allegations and the SPCA’s response.

Volunteers and staff are still deeply affected by what they saw at the Gisborne SPCA last summer.

The Gisborne Herald spoke to more than six people and was shown photos and videos of what was described as “horror at the haven”.

Dozens of animals died or suffered unnecessarily because of “no management of the intake”, The Herald was told.

No volunteers or staff could talk on record to the media.

However, long-time SPCA supporter Anne Bauld spoke about what she called “a heartbreaking situation” for the community and animals.

Mrs Bauld said she was told that instead of managing the intake, all animals were accepted over the summer period of around November to March.

“Sick animals were taken in, all put together in overcrowded cages and most never got better.”

Volunteers regularly arrived to dead animals in cages and appalling hygiene, she said.

In response, an SPCA communications person said since 2017 there had been a 60 percent increase in incoming animals at the Gisborne centre and last summer was a particularly busy kitten season.

“In the past 12 months there have been over 1000 animals come through our doors and SPCA inspectors have responded to 336 animal welfare complaints.

“Due to the high number of animals at Gisborne, we have transferred record-breaking numbers of animals to other SPCA centres to be adopted.

“Since January, over 200 Gisborne animals have found new homes all over the country. There are even Gisborne puppies now living with new families in Invercargill.”

The spokeswoman said she could not verify any reports of volunteers arriving to the sight of dead animals.

“It is ‘normal’ for an SPCA centre to be caring for and treating sick animals. Our animal numbers are typically much higher in summer due to kitten season and Gisborne is an area of high need, so yes, there would have been many sick cats needing SPCA’s help.”

The SPCA is not supposed to adopt out sick animals, however, two people told The Herald they had been given “very ill” kittens.

One said she took her kitten to the vet and had to have it euthanised. The vet said there was no way the animal had developed its problems over the two weeks in the new owner’s care.

The spokeswoman said the SPCA did not adopt out sick animals. All animals had a veterinary examination before they were adopted.

Historical complaints result of ‘incredibly busy summer’: SPCA

The Herald asked for numbers of dead and sick animals in the Gisborne haven over the months of February, March and April 2019, and numbers over the same period the year before.

The SPCA spokeswoman said she did not have those.

“We don’t record data in this way. The very purpose of SPCA is to protect sick, injured and vulnerable animals so most — if not all — animals in our care have either been unwell or are currently unwell and receiving veterinary treatment.”

The Animal Welfare Act 1999, section 141, says an approved organisation must record everything that happens to every animal.

A volunteer confirmed to The Herald records were kept of every animal that was taken into the haven.

Mrs Bauld said the haven, in the end, lost several staff and volunteers. One staff member was given no choice to mediate the issues and had to accept a payment for confidentiality and resign.

The Herald was told two animal inspectors who tried to do an inspection of the haven were stopped by a regional manager. The inspectors were told to leave and given an office in town.

The SPCA spokeswoman confirmed two animal welfare inspectors resigned from the Gisborne centre. Two animal welfare inspector interns took up roles under the SPCA’s inspector internship programme introduced in 2018.

When asked about 15 to 20 volunteers who did not come back over the summer of 2018-2019, the spokeswoman said volunteers were transient. Nationwide there was a trend of people volunteering during the year, then taking time off during summer for holidays or to spend time with family.

In response to a photo shown to The Herald of 18 kittens “free-ranging” in the “hospital area”, the SPCA spokeswoman said the manager had no knowledge of this and it could not be verified.

The haven was closed for a “deep clean” at the end of February.

The spokeswoman said in the past six months “we have been working very hard in the Gisborne centre and can report the facilities are very clean and tidy”.

“We have created new quarantine and isolation facilities for cats, improved the dog housing area, increased staff hours, and done a lot of work on improved procedures.

An in-house veterinarian had been providing SPCA animals the medical treatment needed, with a team dedicated to ensuring the best outcome possible for every animal, she said.

Funding for a new centre had been approved by SPCA’s board and they were working on getting architectural plans drawn.

The SPCA hoped to give the Gisborne community a purpose-built centre with state-of-the-art facilities to give animals the best possible outcome.

Mrs Bauld said she hoped there would be some effort from the SPCA to gain community support again.

“Hopefully we will have a buzzing, happy organisation once more.

“I do feel a loss has been sustained by Gisborne as the goodwill that has always been evident is no longer there.

“It is good to hear that Lachie (Hulme-Moir) the vet is back. That can only benefit the animals.”

The SPCA spokeswoman said the regional general manager said nothing at the Gisborne centre breached any “code of welfare”.

“The historical complaints are the result of an incredibly busy summer season and don’t reflect the amazing work the current team is doing.

“Right now the centre is at full capacity for volunteers and they are very happy and engaged with the centre management.

“We will be looking for more help in the upcoming months to assist with kitten season and this recruitment will start again soon.”

CAGED KITTENS: This picture supplied to The Herald shows a sick kitten among multiple kittens in a cage at the Gisborne SPCA animal haven. The picture was taken last summer, which the SPCA says was a particularly busy time. The SPCA says no “code of welfare” was breached and centre staff had been working hard over the past six months to produce clean and tidy facilities.