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Puppy falls from ute and is dragged, owner convicted

Wednesday, 21 January, 2015

On 3 September 2014, 37-year-old Tauranga man Jarrod Wharekawa tied ‘Temtem’, his 5-month-old Staffordshire Terrier crossbred puppy, to the back of his ute and drove off. Somewhere down the road, Temtem jumped or fell off and was dragged along the road for some distance.

Wharekawa took the puppy to a vet clinic where the veterinarian observed that the flesh on its right hind leg had been ripped open to expose the bone, which had been snapped in two.

Tendons were severed or missing and the bone had been ground down significantly by the road surface. The skin on the puppy’s rear and other places on its body had been rubbed raw exposing the flesh underneath. The veterinarian suspected the pelvis was also fractured.

Wharekawa refused to accept the veterinarian’s advice that euthanasia was the best option to end the puppy’s suffering. So the puppy was released under strict instructions for it to be returned for further assessment the following morning. Following Wharekawa’s failure to return with the puppy, the clinic informed SPCA Tauranga.

SPCA Inspector Jason Blair visited Wharekawa’s property later that day but was verbally abused by Wharekawa’s father and informed the puppy was dead. The Inspector applied for a search warrant and returned the next day to find the puppy still alive. The Inspector seized the puppy and took him to the vet clinic to be euthanised. By now the puppy’s wounds were malodourous and infected. Post-mortem radiographs confirmed that both hind legs and the pelvis were fractured.

Jarrod Wharekawa pleaded guilty yesterday in the Tauranga District Court to two charges: one of failing to protect his puppy from significant injury by tethering it on the back of his utility vehicle in such a manner that did not prevent it from falling or jumping off, and a second charge of keeping the puppy alive when it was it was suffering unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.

He was sentenced to 100 hours community work for each charge to run concurrently and ordered to pay reparations of $637.90.

According to SPCA Tauranga Inspector Jason Blair, the case is an example of an otherwise compassionate and responsible dog owner placing his puppy at risk by transporting him unsecured on the back of a vehicle and failing in his obligation to end the puppy’s suffering when severe injury occurred.

“The owner obviously didn't wish his puppy to be injured in the first place and his reluctance to return to the vet clinic may have been due to his not being able to face having his pet euthanised,” says Mr Blair.

“This does not, however, change the resulting severe suffering of the animal. Animal owners must be aware that they have a duty of care and protection over their animals and a responsibility to alleviate the pain of a suffering animal. The owner’s failings in this case were inexcusable and charges were laid accordingly.”

SPCA New Zealand CEO Ric Odom says the SPCA and veterinarians see the consequences of animals falling from moving vehicles all too often and the resulting injuries are often horrific.

“Society has moved on from travelling with unrestrained children in the back of vehicles and we now need to extend the same sort of consideration to the safety of our animals. A ‘she’ll be right’ attitude can no longer tolerated when it comes to the transportation of animals on utes and other vehicles,” says Mr Odom.

“Recently developed codes of welfare around transporting animals reflect this shift in societal attitude. People that transport their animals in an unsafe manner run the very real risk of being prosecuted should injury occur.”

The Transport Within New Zealand Code of welfare (Minimum Standard No. 11 – Transport by Road) states:

  • Vehicles carrying animals must be operated in a manner that does not cause animals to fall or be injured during travel.
  • When being transported on the open rear of a light truck (such as a utility vehicle or flat-bed truck), dogs are best protected from the elements. They should be secured by attaching them close against the cab with a swivel between the securing point on the vehicle and the collar, and with the securing lead or chain long enough to permit the dog to stand and, lie down and move about but not of a length that allows the front or hind legs to reach the side of the tray when the animal is standing in a normal posture.

The Dog Code of Welfare (Minimum standard 20 – Transportation) states:

  • Except for working dogs at work, dogs must not be carried on the open rear of a moving vehicle unless they are secured or enclosed in a crate.

The recommended best practice section provides further guidance stating in the same wording as the transport code that:

  • When dogs are tethered on the back of an open vehicle for transport, the securing lead or chain should be long enough to permit the dog to stand, lie down and move about but short enough to prevent the dog’s legs from reaching the side of the tray so that it cannot fall off or enter the cab of the vehicle.
Press release 21 Jan 2015 1 Press release 21 Jan 2015 2

ABOVE: Injuries sustained by Temtem after being dragged behind the ute.