500+ sign petition for dog seating on Cook Strait ferries

A petition to provide designated seating for dogs on Cook Strait ferries has received more than 500 signatures. 

But Dr Gwyneth Verkerk, chairperson of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), told Newshub the government agency is "not intending any action on it at this stage".

The petition has called on the House of Representatives to "pass legislation requiring Cook Strait ferries to provide designated seating areas on the passenger decks for passengers travelling with dogs". 

"Passengers, not allowed on the vehicle decks, cannot check on their dogs. Dogs have died in hot cars during Cook Strait crossings... Dogs are sentient and have co-evolved with humans for thousands of years," the petition says. 

The call for action followed an investigation into several dogs found dead in a vehicle on an Interislander ferry last month, sparking an investigation into what happened. 

The SPCA confirmed at the time that several dogs - believed to be at least five - were found dead in a ute on the vehicle deck of the ferry. Ms Verkerk said she is aware that there are investigations underway by the SPCA in regards to the incident. 

While it hasn't been accepted yet, the petition - published on February 26 - has been signed by 524 people. It says we owe it to dogs to "look after them". 

The Interislander travelling through the Cook Strait.
The Interislander travelling through the Cook Strait. Photo credit: Getty

A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said he will consider the petition once it has been presented and reported back to from Select Committee. 

Dr Chris Rodwell, Director of Animal Health & Welfare at the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said the "loss of a companion animal in any circumstances is upsetting for all concerned".

He told Newshub people in charge of animals "must at all times ensure animals' physical, health and behavioural needs are met, and that appropriate housing, food and water are available at all times". 

"We understand the SPCA did open investigations into recent incidents as potential offences under the Animal Welfare Act. Anyone noticing a dog in an unsafe situation would report this to the SPCA."

New animal welfare regulations came into effect in October, making it an offence to leave a dog alone in a hot car, which the unnamed publisher of the petition highlighted on the Parliament website.  

People found guilty can face a fine of up to $300 for leaving a dog trapped in a hot car. Chief executive of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Andrea Midgen, has said the organisation is ready to prosecute.  

Dr Verkerk said MPI's Code of Welfare for Transport within New Zealand sets minimum standards for all people in charge of animals during transport within the country, including dogs. 

She said it requires that "ventilation during travel must be appropriate to maintain body temperature, and that immediate action must be taken where there are signs of heat stress". 

Regarding sea transport, she said it states that "if the passengers are not travelling with the animals, or the animals are in accommodation provided by the vessel, then the master or person in charge of a vessel is responsible for the welfare of the animals". 

She told Newshub: "We will continue to follow this important issue but are not intending any action on it at this stage."

The Interislander operates three ferries between Picton and Wellington, with around 4000 crossings of the Cook Strait each year. The website recommends bringing a kennel if you're planning to bring a pet on board. 

Kiwirail, which operates the Interislander, said pets' wellbeing on the ferries is the responsibility of their owners. However, it described the February event as tragic and distressing. 

Last month the SPCA said it had been called out to nearly 500 dogs left in vehicles over the summer period. In 30degC weather, it would take just five minutes for the temperatures inside to reach 39degC.