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Animal welfare: Companion Animals NZ to hold conference series in Waikato

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Professor Nat Waran, from Companion Animals New Zealand, is getting ready to host a week-long series of conferences in the Waikato on the future of animal welfare.

Over two-thirds of New Zealand households own one or more pets – but not all owners are treating their four-legged companions appropriately. A conference series is set to shine a light on issues and discuss the future of pets.

Animal welfare will take centre stage as international experts, organisations, scientists and vets convene in Waikato for the week-long Companion Animals in a Changing World conference.

The event will kick off on March 12 in Hamilton and is set to address the issues of the cost of living, cat management, environmental challenges and the economic impact affecting pet owners globally.

Companion Animals New Zealand (Canz) welfare director, Professor Nat Waran, said financial hardship was often one of the top factors that influenced pet owners’ decisions.

“What we know from our research is that people want … and will have pets regardless of the financial strain imposed upon them.

“[But] we’re hearing from different organisations that the cost of living impacts the level of care people can provide to their animals.”

Canz runs the animal register where pet owners register the microchips for their pets.

Waran said the organisation has been seeing signs of irresponsible pet ownership as registrations decrease.

“There are fewer registrations this year and what we’re hearing is fewer animals are being presented for vaccinations and deworming.

“All of these things are part of preventing problems for pets – it’s part of the good maintenance of pets responsible owners should do.

“People want [to keep] their animals [despite] knowing it’s causing them financial strain, so they’re making decisions that aren’t in the best long-term welfare interest of the pet.”

As the world continues to evolve, Waran maintains that the desires of pets change, too.

“We know people live very busy lives now. It’s common for families to go to school or work, and leave their pets at home.

“Certain species like dogs don’t always cope well with the lifestyle their owners have and you see modern living impacting on pet behaviour.

Nat Waran from Canz said the agency has also partnered with the International Society for Equitation Science to stage a conference on horse welfare.
Nat Waran from Canz said the agency has also partnered with the International Society for Equitation Science to stage a conference on horse welfare.

“You see things like problematic behaviour in pets becoming more prevalent: pets not having enough exercise, being fed too much, and [owners] not necessarily making the right decisions about what [food] that pet needs.

“The important thing is recognising animals have their own needs and behavioural desires, and it’s significant in this changing world that we provide the best information to animal owners, so they can understand what their animal needs.”

Waran said the upcoming conferences were also an opportunity to discuss how to improve animal welfare.

“How are we considering our pet’s impact on the environment? How are we learning from last year’s weather events with emergency preparedness?

“Ultimately, we want to address the question of how we ensure animals in our homes are experiencing a good life now and into the future.”

The conference will also celebrate a recent launch by Canz of the facility, A Good Life for Animals Centre.

Professor Nat Waran of Canz says one focus of the conference will be the ever-evolving discourse on cat management. Photo / SPCA
Professor Nat Waran of Canz says one focus of the conference will be the ever-evolving discourse on cat management. Photo / SPCA

“The Good Life Centre is a collaborative effort to fill knowledge gaps and elevate animal welfare standards across the country.

“Even people with the best intentions might not have the knowledge needed to be confident that their pet’s wellbeing is optimised, and a good life means maximising positive experiences and emotions, and minimising negative ones.

“The centre will help develop quality research-based information required to help people become better informed, or more motivated to change what they do, and in that way improve animal lives”, Waran said.

A conference on horse welfare is also on the schedule as Canz brings the International Society for Equitation Science to the series.

Waran said the Companion Animals in a Changing World Conference will take place at different locations across the Waikato.

“The first conference will be in Hamilton, some will be in Cambridge, and then we’ve got three full days of the equine conference in and around Cambridge too.

“We won’t just be in a conference room but we will also visit local equine industries with these groups of people.”

Waran emphasised that animal welfare is significant.

“Animal welfare matters and not just for the animal, but for people in New Zealand because we rely hugely on animals for sustenance, or various other products that we acquire from them.

“But we also enjoy our animals and want to live with them so we want to make sure that animal welfare is at its highest standard.”

Registrations are still open for anyone interested in taking part in the conference. Visit the Canz website for more details.

The Canz conferences take place from March 12 to 16.

Malisha Kumar is a multimedia journalist based in Hamilton. She joined the Waikato Herald in 2023 after working for Radio 1XX in Whakatāne.

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