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The 5 Freedoms

Five Freedoms

The 5 freedoms are a set of internationally-recognised animal welfare standards. They outline what we as animal owners and carers must provide. They are not just things we want to do for our animals, but also things we must do in order to be responsible owners.

The 5 freedoms are:

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst (food and water)

All animals deserve access to clean water and a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Freedom from hunger and thirst provides for animals most basic needs by allowing that animal to remain in good health and full of vitality.

2. Freedom from discomfort (shelter)

All animals should live in an appropriate environment. The conditions and surroundings given to an animal contribute to its overall well-being. By providing an animal with shelter and a comfortable resting area, you are ensuring that the animal remains healthy and happy.

3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease (medical care)

All animals should be entitled to immediate veterinary attention when sick or injured to avoid unnecessary suffering. In certain cases, unneccesary pain and injury can be prevented through regular visits to a vet.

4. Freedom to express normal behaviour (exercise)

All animals should be allowed to express normal behaviours. A normal behaviour is the way an animal acts in its natural environment. Enough space, proper shelter and housing as well as adequate exercise, opportunity to play and the company of the animal's own kind encourages the expression of normal behaviours.

5. Freedom from fear and distress (love and understanding)

All animals deserve to be happy. Ensuring conditions that avoid unnecessary anxiety and stress will help to provide freedom from mental suffering. While favourable physical conditions are essential, appropriate mental conditions are also important to good animal welfare.

Of course, no freedom is enough in isolation and as such we must provide our animals with the 5 freedoms all the time, so they can live happy and healthy lives.


Animal Welfare Act 1999

The 5 freedoms are also an important part of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 which is enforced by SPCA Inspectors in the community. They are often the first things our Inspectors look for when they visit a property after receiving an animal welfare complaint. If they find that the animals are not receiving these needs, they will try and work with the owners to help them understand their obligations, and help improve the lives of the animals.

If the situation is very serious they may need to remove the animals from the property, and in cases of abuse proceed with a prosecution.

Animal Welfare Act 1999

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The SPCA is the only charity with the legal powers to help animals in need, and bring animal offenders to justice. Our Inspectors are authorised under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to protect all animals from abuse, neglect and abandonment.

SPCA Inspectors work on the front line seven days a week, 365 days a year, acting as law enforcers to ensure the safety of New Zealand's vulnerable animals. If there has been a deliberate act of violence or neglect, our Inspectors seek justice through the courts, acting as the voice for animals.

The most common complaints our Inspectors investigate are in relation to the failure to provide adequate food, water, veterinary treatment or shelter.


Education and Advice

In many cases our Inspectors are able to work with the community to ensure the right outcome for an animal. Education and advice is our first preference as through education we improve the care of animals long term in the community.


Compliance Orders and Written Warnings

Sometimes we need to provide more support with specific guidance or support materials to help people meet their obligations. Other cases require a formal approach with specific directions and instructions to comply.


Animal Welfare Act Review

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 has been under review and we have been working hard to achieve real change through improved welfare standards, which will ultimately improve the lives of animals across New Zealand. We have made detailed submissions to parliament and will continue to represent animals during both the review of the act and its implementation.


Our History



The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals originated in England at a time of great animal use – and abuse. Animals were used in many situations to provide motive power (e.g. pit ponies and transport). Blood sports such as bull-baiting and cockfighting were commonplace, providing savage forms of crude ‘entertainment’.

The first law to protect animals was passed in 1822 after a long struggle by several people, in particular William Wilberforce of anti-slavery fame, and Richard Martin, otherwise known as ‘Humanity Dick’. Two years later, in 1824, the Rev Arthur Broome formed the SPCA in London. These three men, with others, proceeded to take many prosecutions for breaches of the new Act. The Society received royal patronage in 1840.

The SPCA in New Zealand

Along with other things British, the early settlers brought with them the laws of England, and thus the English Protection of Animals Act 1835 became part of our law. The first SPCA was formed in Canterbury in 1872, quickly followed by Otago, Auckland and Wellington. The first national law protecting animals was passed in 1878.

In 1933, the various separate Societies decided to amalgamate as a Federation. Out of this has grown the national organisation, SPCA New Zealand. Gradually, smaller communities have established their own branches, resulting in 39 SPCA centres throughout the country.

On 17 June 2017, SPCA delegates voted to form one national organisation from its 40 independent centres to create a unified and future-focused national entity. This change came into effect on 1 November 2017.

About Us

About Us

The SPCA is a charity that helps protect animals who are sick, injured, lost, abused or simply abandoned. Every year, our 40 SPCA Centres across the country receive over 45,000 animals through their doors and 14,000 animal welfare complaints.

As a charity, we rely almost entirely on the generosity of New Zealanders to carry out our life-saving work, as we receive only a small amount of government funding. The majority of our income comes from public donations, bequests and our own fundraising initiatives.

We are the only charity with the power to prosecute people under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.


Our Mission

To advance the welfare of all animals in New Zealand by:

  • Preventing cruelty to animals
  • Alleviating suffering of animals
  • Promoting our policies through education and advocacy


How is the workload shared?

The Society operates at two levels - national and district.

At a National level, the SPCA :

  • Coordinates the activities of the 40 SPCA centres across the country
  • Handles inspector training throughout the country
  • Coordinates our national education programmes
  • Arranges national fundraising promotions, such as SPCA Cupcake Day
  • Coordinates the national SPCA Blue Tick Accreditation Scheme
  • Represents the SPCA on government committees
  • Handles major prosecutions which have national implications
  • Promotes and handles all approaches to government for new and amended legislation relating to animal welfare
  • Liaises with overseas and international welfare groups

At the district level, local SPCA centres:

  • Investigate and deal with complaints of cruelty and neglect
  • Uphold the laws relating to the treatment of animals and take prosecutions where necessary
  • Give sanctuary to animals in distress
  • Rehome suitable animals where possible
  • Ensure that animals which cannot be kept alive for whatever reason are humanely euthaniased
  • Assist with public education
  • Promote responsible pet ownership

Each of the 40 local SPCA centres incorporates in its title the name of the district in which it operates. For example - SPCA Waikato; SPCA Canterbury; and so on. For a list of local SPCA centres, please click here.

The larger SPCA centres have some paid staff, but most rely on unpaid volunteers. Each SPCA centre has one or more warranted inspectors, who may be either paid or voluntary, to investigate complaints of cruelty and to enforce the Animal Welfare Act 1999.



Facilities at SPCAs vary throughout New Zealand, from large complexes to a few cages in someone's backyard. Even where large complexes exist, SPCA centres rely heavily on help from volunteers in order to carry out the day-to-day operations of the centre.


Our Charities Number

The Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Incorporated is a registered charity (Charities Commission number CC22705).

Ban Rodeo Cruelty

The SPCA is calling for the government to ban rodeos in New Zealand because they are a terrifying and cruel experience for animals. No animal should have to suffer, especially for human entertainment.

Calves and bulls are trapped in tiny chutes, they are given electric shocks, their tails twisted, and they’re often kicked and slapped. And that’s just the physical torment. They’re also subjected to extreme fear, distress and anxiety caused by the noise, the surroundings, the small spaces and from being chased.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 should protect every animal in New Zealand from cruelty, yet rodeo animals are subjected to pain, fear and distress in the name of entertainment. Allowing rodeos is like legalised animal cruelty.

Rodeos are banned in the UK, the Netherlands and parts of Australia, the United States and Canada.

It’s time for New Zealand to make a change.


Calf roping

calf roping

Three-month-old calves are trapped in chutes, where they are given electric shocks, their tails are twisted and they are often kicked and slapped. 

Once released, they are chased at high speed, roped around the neck and thrown to the ground by a cowboy who ties its legs together. This can cause spinal damage, broken bones and internal haemorrhaging. These injuries can be fatal. 

The physical abuse and psychological stress these young animals are subjected to makes calf roping one of the cruellest events in a rodeo. 



buckingHorses and bulls aren’t ‘born to buck’, and they don’t buck because they enjoy it.

Rodeo animals buck because they are forced to wear a flank strap, which is tied tightly around their hindquarters. This causes pain and discomfort, and the animal bucks to try and get rid of it.

Being forced to buck in an arena full of spectators is stressful and terrifying for rodeo animals. Given the option, no animal would choose to participate in these events.


Steer wrestling

steer wrestlingIn this event a steer (castrated male cattle) is chased in a rodeo arena, grabbed by the horns and twisted to the ground by a cowboy.

An animal would never naturally twist their neck in the way it is forced on them in steer wrestling.

As a result, they can suffer injuries including a broken neck, broken horns and spinal injuries.



How you can help

  • Talk to your friends, family and colleagues about rodeos and explain why they need to be made illegal in New Zealand.
  • Don’t attend rodeos – rodeos will only continue in New Zealand as long as people attend them.
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