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Ask a behaviourist - Dr Jess Beer answers your pet behaviour questions


Dr Jess Beer, BVSc, Qualified Veterinary Behaviourist

I’ve just adopted a puppy, Cody, and walking him is a nightmare. He pulls all the time! What can I do?

Dogs pull because they’re excited about where they’re going and by pulling they get there faster! Going for a walk is probably the highlight of Cody’s day and it’s hard to dampen that enthusiasm. It’s important to work on this while Cody is still a puppy, and always train as you mean to go on, the aim is to have a loose leash. If he is pulling while you’re out walking, stop, call his name and reward him with a treat when he comes back to you. Then continue forward, repeating as soon as he starts to pull again. Consistency and persistence is key! The sudden stop is all the pressure needed to indicate that pulling is unwanted, as Cody learns it is more rewarding to stay close to you, and then only a small amount of tension on the leash will remind Cody to slow up and stay close.

Your goal is to make Cody want to follow you and build a strong bond with him so he wants to follow you. It can be frustrating, but pulling or yanking on the leash often doesn’t work. Punitive tools such as choke chains, prong collars and martingale collars aren’t effective either because in most cases the reward of going for a walk is greater than the pain you’re inflicting.

If you’re still having trouble with his training, you may wish to look into some of the newer tools such as a halti or harness, which can help dogs who persist with pulling.

My cat Henry goes crazy at 5am! He runs around the house and wakes me up. Why does he do this?

Cats are most active at dawn and dusk, and these high energy bursts are completely normal cat behaviour. I understanding it can be frustrating though if it’s disturbing your sleep! Have you recently changed your routine? Cats like routine so if you’ve changed your work hours from weekends to weekdays, Henry may just be expecting your attention.

One way you can stop the early morning wake-ups is by ensuring Henry is entertained and exercised during the day. Set aside some time to play with him, followed by a small meal ideally in the evening just before bed. This is a good way to help him rest throughout the entire night.

Remember that like dogs, cats will repeat a behaviour if rewarded. So make sure you’re not responding to his 5am wake-up calls by giving him food or attention – this will only encourage Henry to keep waking you up at that time. Sometimes having him sleep in a separate room will minimise this rude awakening and avoid the inadvertent rewards of your attention.

My local SPCA has a rabbit Alfie who I think might be a perfect friend for my bunny Otis. I’ve heard bonding rabbits can be difficult, so what’s the best way to introduce them?

Rabbits are very sociable and often crave the companionship of their own kind, so getting a friend for Alfie could be a recipe for happiness.

Remember that while rabbits form powerful bonds, bonding them takes time, patience and commitment from you and you will need separate housing for each rabbit until they are successfully bonded. Introduce Alfie and Otis by first getting them acquainted by sight and small. Position their hutches beside each other and after a week, swap the rabbits over to the other’s hutch.

After another week try putting them together. This is best done in neutral territory where neither has been before. Rabbits are extremely territorial and may use territorial droppings, urinating and aggressive behaviour. It’s important to be prepared: have a water bottle handy to squirt them if they begin to be aggressive and have a towel handy so you can use it to pick one rabbit up if a serious fight breaks out.  Never put your hand between fighting rabbits.

The more you work with Alfie and Otis, the faster the bonding process will be. So work with them every day for at least 15 minutes. Remember that when they are not fully bonded they need to be kept separate when you are not with them – and it could take from a few weeks to a few months until Alfie and Otis are a bonded pair.  Once Alfie and Otis have bonded don’t separate them, even to take them to a vet. Rabbits form a bond for life and separating these two friends would cause a great deal of emotional trauma to them both. If you have further questions, or would like advice on finding a friend for your bunny, ask the staff at your local SPCA. Good luck!

I absolutely adore my cat Moby, but he won’t stop scratching my brand new couch. Help!

I can understand this is frustrating for you, but please remember that cat scratching is perfectly normal and it’s necessary for Moby’s health to help keep them stretched, limber and their nails in good health. That’s because the outer sheath needs to shed regularly, or they can suffer from painful, infected ingrown nails. Scratching is also an essential way of marking their territory – which is why you might see Moby scratching near windows or doors.

Cats will use your furniture if you don’t provide them with another appropriate outlet. So the good news for you – and your couch – is that you can teach Moby to scratch somewhere else. You’ll need some appropriate scratching materials like posts, or a cat tree. Keep in mind that some cats, especially if they are older, like horizontal surfaces and others like vertical surfaces, which should be 1.5 times the height of your cat.

Place this new scratching item near the coach and make the couch less appealing by wrapping the area where Moby scratches in bubble wrap, tin foil, or double-sided tape. Or block access to the couch, and tempt him to use the new scratching post by dangling toys or treats at the top of the post. Remember the sooner you offer alternatives to scratching your couch, the more success you will have in changing this behaviour.

RNZSPCA appoints new CEO


The RNZSPCA (“SPCA”) board is pleased to announce the appointment of Andrea Midgen as its new chief executive officer.

In her role as CEO, Andrea will lead the newly created ‘One SPCA’ entity, a new model SPCA delegates voted for in June 2017, that will see the SPCA become one national organisation from its current 45 independent centres. The move will unify all SPCAs with a common strategy, purpose, voice and leadership for the benefit of all animals in New Zealand.

RNZSPCA Board Chair Gordon Trainer says Ms Midgen has made a tremendous contribution to the SPCA in her time with the organisation.

“We’re delighted with Andrea’s appointment and are confident she will continue to build on the crucial work she has led to date,” he says.

“Andrea, together with the other members of the SPCA’s senior leadership, has been a driving force behind the SPCA’s structural, cultural and constitutional transformation to better achieve our purpose - to create a better life for New Zealand’s animals.”

Ms Midgen says she is thrilled to officially step into the role of CEO and is looking forward to leading the organisation through the shift to one organisation.

“I’m privileged to be able to continue leading a team of people who are incredibly passionate about preventing cruelty to animals and improving the way they are treated. I’m looking forward to the next chapter and unifying the SPCA as one national organisation working together to achieve the right outcome for every animal in New Zealand.”

Ms Midgen is a proven leader with extensive CEO and senior executive experience, both within and outside the SPCA. Ms Midgen has provided strong leadership and vision for the animal welfare organisation as acting RNZSPCA CEO since July 2016, while simultaneously serving as SPCA Auckland CEO for more than two years.

Prior to joining SPCA Auckland in April 2015, Andrea held the positions of Group Strategist/CFO for Southern Cross Group and several senior executive roles in Vodafone, culminating as Director, Customer Operations. During her time at Vodafone, Andrea also developed her governance background in the charitable trusts environment as the Chair of the Vodafone New Zealand Foundation.

Ms Midgen’s new appointment starts on 14 August 2017.

For more information please contact:
Morgan Bailey, Porter Novelli for SPCA Auckland, 021 812 620

SPCA encourages animal lovers to go barking for baking


The SPCA is encouraging Kiwis across the country to get their paws messy in the kitchen for this year’s SPCA Cupcake Day. The annual fundraiser provides a tasty way for New Zealanders to “bake” a difference in the fight against animal cruelty.

Now in its ninth year, Cupcake Day is the SPCA’s fun, community-driven annual fundraiser with all proceeds going towards protecting abused, neglected, injured and abandoned animals. Since 2009, supporters of the charity have raised more than $2million through the baking and selling of cupcakes and other treats.

This year, SPCA Cupcake Day is on Monday 14 August, and the SPCA is inviting people to register and bake for friends, family, colleagues and classmates, no matter what their baking ability. All the funds raised go directly towards helping animals in bakers’ local areas. The SPCA aims to raise $400,000 through Cupcake Day sales this year.

The SPCA’s acting CEO Andrea Midgen encourages everyone to get creative in the kitchen.  

“In our SPCA centres across the country, 46,000 abused and neglected animals come through our doors every year in need of love and care. Cupcake Day is a fun and delicious way to help raise funds for the shelter, food and vet treatment these animals need, while they wait for their forever homes,” she says.

“We want Kiwis to go barking mad for baking! We’re very grateful to everyone who bakes or buys a cupcake. The funds raised help the SPCA to provide vital care to vulnerable animals across New Zealand.”

How to take part:

It’s easy to get involved in Cupcake Day 2017. You can register to bake and sell as an individual, team or school at

After registering, you’ll receive plenty of ideas, recipes, inspiration and tips to make your event special. The SPCA encourages Cupcake Day participants to use SPCA Blue Tick approved eggs in their baking. Remember to share photos of your sweet creations on the SPCA’s Facebook page at SPCACupcakeDayNZ and on Instagram and Twitter using the #SPCACupcakeDay

CCD 2017 email header Dog FO

Why you should microchip your pet


microchipIt’s a tiny chip, as small as a grain of rice, inserted into the back of your pet’s neck - but it might just be the difference between being reunited with your beloved pet or losing them forever.

Microchipping is a simple, lifelong way to identify animals and link them to their owners, resulting in the speedier return of lost, stolen or injured animals. In fact, over 80 per cent of animals that are microchipped are successfully reunited with their owners. If your animal is lost and taken into a vet clinic or SPCA, it can be reunited with you within hours of it being found.

In New Zealand, microchipping is required for all dogs registered for the first time, with the exception of working farm dogs. However, SPCA National Chief Executive Andrea Midgen says the organisation strongly recommends microchipping of all pets.

“All dogs, cats and rabbits at SPCA centres are microchipped before adoption. Unlike collars and tags, which can fall off, microchipping is a more permanent method of identifying your beloved animals if something happens.”

“Wellington City Council has recently become the first to make micro-chipping compulsory for all cats - a move which we wholeheartedly support and hope other councils around New Zealand will replicate.”

Over half a million animals are now registered nationwide on the Companion Animal Register.

The benefit of microchipping pets was illustrated in Canterbury recently, when the SPCA managed to reunite a beloved cat with its owner after more than three years apart. When Max disappeared in October 2013, his owner Kelly Osborn gave up hope of ever finding him again. Max had followed her flatmate down the driveway as she put wheelie bins at the kerb for collection, and never came back.

Kelly delivered flyers and desperately appealed for sightings of her beloved Max on social media. She gave up hope of ever seeing her black and white cat again.  Three years later, he was handed into the SPCA and his microchip immediately identified Kelly as the owner. Just a few hours later, she had her beloved cat back.  Kelly said without Max's microchip, she would have never been reunited with him.

SImilarly, in Marlborough Jimmy ‘the Ginga’ cat was reunited with his owner after two and a half years when he was found 20km from his home and identified by his micro-chip. Within a day of arriving at Marlborough SPCA, Jimmy was on a plane to Auckland and into the hands of his owner, who had since relocated to Auckland.

SPCA Canterbury and Marlborough Chief Executive Barry Helem said the team were thrilled to be able reunite the cats after such a long period.

"It really does illustrate the value of microchipping your animals. Without this, we may not have been able to find these owners and have such a happy ending."


●    Microchipping does not hurt nor harm your pet’s health
●    The microchip is approximately the size of a grain of rice
●    The microchip lasts the lifetime of your pet
●    Each chip has a number and when an animal is microchipped, the owner’s details are recorded against that number onto the New Zealand Companion Animal Register database
●    Vet clinics and SPCAs have access to the New Zealand Companion Animal Register
●    Microchipping can be used as legal identification if an animal’s ownership is in dispute
●    Microchipping can help with legal identification in case your animal is stolen
●    Animal microchips do not include GPS
●    Currently vets are charging around $45 to $80 for microchipping. This is often cheaper if your pet is already in the clinic for another procedure, such as desexing
●    The microchip is administered via a syringe and needle, which is not extraordinarily large.
●    For most dogs and cats, it only stings as much as any injection or vaccination does. Many vets will apply some local anesthetic cream first, and the procedure only takes a few seconds

SPCA supports new Animal Welfare Regulations


thumble 2The SPCA supports the new animal welfare regulations announced this week by Ministry for Primary Industries and believes they are a win for animal welfare in New Zealand.

“The SPCA has been working very closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries to achieve positive animal welfare regulatory outcomes,” says RNZSPCA CEO (Acting) Andrea Midgen.

“The 46 new animal welfare regulations cover many animal welfare issues the SPCA encounters. We welcome the strengthening of these regulations to protect animals and believe they’ll help improve the lives of New Zealand’s animals.”

The SPCA is particularly pleased with the new regulations around dog tail docking, dogs left in cars, collar and tether wounds, dog dew claw provisions and dogs secured on moving vehicles:

1.    Prohibiting unnecessary tail docking of dogs

The SPCA is opposed to all cosmetic surgeries carried out for aesthetic reasons and has consistently called for tail docking to be prohibited for many years. Many SPCA centres across the country have seen first-hand cases of home tail docking gone wrong, where in some instances euthanasia has been the only option for the dog.The new regulation prohibits tail docking unless done by a veterinarian to treat a significant injury or disease and is a true win for the welfare of dogs in New Zealand.

2.    Dogs left in cars

Dogs left in a car on a hot day can suffer pain, distress and heat stroke, which in severe cases can be fatal or result in lifelong disabilities. Every summer the SPCA receives numerous calls from concerned members of the public about dogs left in cars. For many years the SPCA has run campaigns urging the public not to take the risk. Under the new regulation people leaving a dog in the car must ensure it does not display symptoms consistent with heat stress or will face an infringement offence.

holly3.    Injuries from collars and tethers

A collar or tether that is not fitted properly can cause injury and distress to an animal, and in severe cases can embed into the neck of the animal. Unfortunately collar and tether wounds is something the SPCA sees far too often, and can require several surgeries and months of rehabilitation for recovery. In the most severe cases, humane euthanasia is the only option for the animal.
Under the new regulations, any damage to an animal from a collar or tether is unacceptable and not complying with this is an offence. Animal owners must ensure the collar or tether does not cause cuts, skin abrasions, swelling, or prevent breathing, panting or drinking.

4.    Dog dew claw provisions

Up until now dew claws in newborn puppies could be removed for any purpose. They are often removed by dog breeders without veterinary assistance. The SPCA has long opposed the removal of dew claws for aesthetic reasons, and supports the new regulation that prohibits the removal of front and articulated dew claws unless done by a veterinarian for health reasons.

5.    Keeping dogs secured on moving vehicles

The new regulation states that dogs must not be carried on the open rear of a moving vehicle unless they are secured or enclosed in a crate, with the exception of working dogs while at work. The SPCA fully supports this regulation, which will help prevent serious injuries or fatalities as a result of dogs falling from moving cars.

The SPCA is an approved organisation, meaning SPCA Inspectors have powers to enforce the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and protect all animals from ill-treatment, starvation and desertion.

So the SPCA Inspectorate is also welcoming the new directly-enforceable regulations, which replace some of the previous minimum standards contained in Codes of Welfare that were not directly enforceable. These will create more tools to help ensure people meet their obligations as animal owners.

“There are instances where prosecution is not possible or appropriate, yet SPCA Inspectors want to have a more formal approach to dealing with animal cruelty. This adds significantly to the compliance options available to our SPCA Inspectors,” says Ms Midgen.

“Previously the only legislative sanction available under the Animal Welfare Act was prosecution which is often not appropriate, lengthy and expensive. The new regulations provide an ability to deal more quickly and effectively with medium and lower level offending.”

For more information, please contact:
Jessie Gilchrist
SPCA Communications Manager
022 658 3182
09 256 7307