Work of the SPCA

What is the SPCA?

SPCA stands for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is a charitiable organisation which, through its district branches, provides help to animals and owners 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - although the public should expect only genuine emergencies to be dealt with outside normal working hours.

How is the SPCA funded?

We receive a small amount of funding from the Government towards welfare investigations, but no financial help from Whangarei District Council, the Northland Regional Council and are not eligible for Lotteries Grants 

The SPCA is purely a charitable organisation and we rely on donations, bequests and fundraising for all of our income.

How the workload is shared

The Society operates at two levels - national and district. The function of the National Office is to co-ordinate district activities, handle inspector training, arrange national programmes and fund raising, represent the society on government committees, handle major prosecutions and approaches to government for new and amended animal welfare legislation and liaise with other welfare groups. At district level SPCAs investigate complaints, uphold animal welfare laws and prosecute when necessary, give sanctuary to animals in distress, re-house suitable animals where possible, ensure that animals which cannot be kept alive for whatever reason are humanely euthanised, assist with public education and promote responsible pet ownership.


The SPCA began in England last century at a time of great animal use - and abuse. Animals were used to provide motive power (eg pit ponies and transport) and blood sports such as bull-baiting and cockfighting were common. The first law to protect animals was passed in 1822 after a long struggle by several people, including William Wilberforce and Richard Martin (aka ‘Humanity Dick’). In 1824 Rev Arthur Broome formed the SPCA in London. These three men, with others, proceeded to make many prosecutions for breaches of the new Act. The Society received royal patronage in 1840.

New Zealand Origins

Along with other things British the early setters brought with them the laws of England and the English Protection of Animals Act 1835 became part of our law. This was replaced in 1878 by the first New Zealand Act protecting animals. In 1882 the first SPCA was formed in Dunedin, quickly followed by the other main centres. In 1933 the separate societies decided to amalgamate as a federation and from this has grown the national organisation known as the Royal New Zealand SPCA.

New Zealand Structure

The SPCA governing is the National Council, elected at the AGM by representatives from the districts. Each of the 54 local SPCAs incorporates in its title the name of the district in which it operates. For example - the ‘Waikato Branch SPCA'. A small number of local SPCAs are member societies, some the original ones from last century. Every local SPCA runs its own affairs and handles its own finances. A voluntary committee controls the activities. The larger SPCAs have some paid staff, but most rely on unpaid personnel. Most branches has one or more warranted inspectors, paid or unpaid, to investigate complaints of cruelty and to enforce the Animal Welfare Act 1999.


Facilities vary throughout New Zealand from large complexes to a few cages in someone's backyard. Even where large complexes exist, much reliance is placed on the help of voluntary workers.

What is the law relating to animal welfare?

This is the Animal Welfare Act 1999. It is a very wide-ranging Act and deals with offences in the handling and management of animals (including birds) in this country.

What are the more common offences?

• Failing to provide an animal with adequate food, water and shelter.
• Deliberate acts of cruelty towards an animal.
• Failing to seek necessary veterinary advice.