Investigation launched after animal rescue group finds 'broken' dogs at farm

The SPCA say some dogs at the property were "broken and terrified".
The SPCA say some dogs at the property were "broken and terrified". Photo credit: Getty

By Louise Ternouth for RNZ

Police are investigating an incident in Northland over the weekend after a property was trespassed by animal rescue workers following ongoing concerns over the welfare of more than 90 dogs.

The group filmed themselves breaking into the Dargaville farm where they say a puppy mill has been operating with animals living in poor conditions for some time.

They took their concerns to animal welfare and the SPCA about puppies being sold from the breeder under multiple listings online.

But while six dogs have since been uplifted, the group is now at loggerheads with the SPCA. The SPCA says the remaining dogs are in good health but the group maintains some dogs at the property were "broken and terrified".

The rescue workers broke into the property over the weekend, sharing footage of what they say were distressed and terrified dogs on social media.

Dargaville resident Nicole said she first heard about the breeder in 2010 and has been watching the situation for the past decade.

"I actually inquired about one of their listings that they had on Trade Me, never heard anything back and from there people would send me these accounts and they had listings every couple of months so I started like keeping an eye on it basically."

After becoming concerned for the dogs' health, she reported the breeder to animal control, which alerted the SPCA.

"Then I have friends that have bought off these people, one person actually had to have their dog's leg amputated because it ended up getting cancer but it was only 12 months old.

"One still has severe anxiety because of whatever happened during those first eight weeks of its life, and now two-and-a-half years later, the dog is still mentally unwell."

All animal owners are bound by the Animal Welfare Act, which gives the SPCA authority to take enforcement action when it believes there may be an incidence of animal cruelty.

SPCA Inspectorate general manager Tracy Phillips confirmed inspectors have visited the property at the centre of the incident.

"We have checked the property and every single dog on the property and you know our inspector has done a very good job with the owners for the right animal outcomes."

However, Phillips wouldn't comment on what plans are in place to achieve these outcomes.

Nicole said the animal rescue workers, who visited unannounced after the SPCA's visit found a mix of different dogs at the property including Jack Russells, poodles, golden retrievers and labradors.

On Saturday, six of the more than 90 dogs on the property were surrendered and given to the Bay of Islands Animal Rescue.

Its chairperson, Summer Johnson, said they were in a terrible emotional state.

"The mental stability of these dogs, they're ruined, they're broken, I've just done nothing but cry they are so withdrawn and so scared of humans, it's just incredible."

Living conditions at the property were concerning, she said.

"It was just absolutely horrific as soon as we pulled up the driveway through the gate to just barking and chains rattling and cages rattling."

In a video taken illegally on Saturday, the property owner is seen in an altercation involving a gun with a group of people who appeared to have trespassed on her property to document the alleged animal mistreatment.

Senior Sergeant Rob Huys said Northland Police attended the incident and its investigation was ongoing.

The property owner in question has not responded to multiple requests from RNZ for comment.