More than 40 people and a dozen pooches of every shape and size took part in a protest outside the Far North District Council headquarters in Kaikohe on Thursday morning.
The protesters were demanding tougher action against roaming and dangerous dogs, better conditions in the council’s pounds and a reduced euthanasia rate for impounded dogs.
Leonie Exel, coordinator of lobby group Bay of Islands Watchdogs and one of the protest organisers, said it was the culmination of years of frustration with the council’s animal control department.
“We’ve had enough. We’ve spent six years trying to get action out of them. We’ve tried the SPCA, we’ve tried [Ministry for Primary Industries], we’ve tried the ombudsman.
“We’re sick to death of it and we’re saying to council, you’ve got to deal with these dangerous dogs, you’ve got to deal with community education, you’ve got to get your euthanasia rate down at the pound… and you’ve got to stop treating your staff like you treat your pound dogs.”
Exel hoped the council and new chief executive realised the depth of community concern, and that dogs were a central issue for many people.
“We need to teach people how to treat dogs like whānau, because a happy dog is a safe dog… We need to get this fixed now. Terrible things are happening to people in the community.”
Despite a surge in dog attacks, prosecutions of irresponsible dog owners had dropped to just one last year from five the year before, Exel said.
The council had built new pounds in Kaikohe and Kaitāia in recent years, but Summer Johnson of Bay of Islands Animal Rescue said that had done little to improve the lot of impounded dogs in the Far North.
She challenged council staff to visit the pound in Waitākere, Auckland, to see the conditions those dogs enjoyed.
Johnson said volunteer groups in the Far North rehomed three times more dogs than the council impounded last year, and did so with minimal resources, no paid staff and a much lower euthanasia rate.
Her Kawakawa-based group had rehomed 969 dogs in the past year, while Kaitāia-based Donna Doolittle had saved 702. Over the same period, the council had impounded 517 dogs and recorded a 47 percent euthanasia rate, she said.
Both Exel and Johnson spoke at today’s council meeting. So many people wanted to sit in, every seat in the public gallery was filled and some people were turned away.
Low registration rate
Far North Mayor Moko Tepania said he was grateful to the protesters who had turned out to show their dissatisfaction. When so many people turned up at a meeting to challenge the council, that had to be listened to and respected.
“For me it shows that real community care and passion for what we need to do to get things right,” he said.
It was not a new issue and the council was “actively working on changes”, Tepania said.
The Far North had more than 12,000 known dogs and one of the country’s lowest registration rates.
“Since August last year we’ve had two dog-related deaths in our district. That’s something I never want to see again in the Far North, or anywhere else.”
Council compliance manager Rochelle Deane said residents had a right to protest, but the concerns raised by the two groups were “highly subjective”.
The groups did not have to work within the Dog Control Act or Animal Welfare Act, and the job of protecting the public from nuisance, aggressive and dangerous dogs was a tough one.
She rejected claims dogs were abused at council pounds, but conceded euthanasia rates had increased.
“We do not euthanise good dogs. These are returned to their owners or are adopted back into the community. The dogs we euthanise are aggressive, unsociable dogs that cannot be released safely back into our communities.”
Dogs at the protest ranged from a 16-year-old dachshund in a children’s stroller to a rottweiler named Bella.
Tepania revealed he also had a dog, a whānau pet named Ziggy. It originally belonged to his grandparents at Mitimiti who thought they were getting a jack russell. When it grew up to be a “Matawaian mastiff” and too big for his grandparents to handle, Tepania took it on instead.
Northlanders’ relationship with dogs goes back a long way. Māori brought kurī to Aotearoa from their ancestral home, and in 1898 a dog tax imposed by the Hokianga County Council – seen as punitive and unfairly targeting Māori – triggered the ‘Dog Tax War’.
The Crown dispatched a military force to Rāwene to quash the rebellion, but it was defused after only a few shots were fired thanks to intervention by the MP for Northern Māori, Hone Heke Ngapua.