Dog owners hound council into submissions


On Monday Aucklanders gathered in the Aotea Centre to let Mayor Len Brown and his councillors know how unhappy they are about proposed dog registration fee increases.

The fee hikes for all dog owners - up to 300 per cent in some cases - were buried on page 144 of the third volume of Auckland's Draft Long Term Plan and were first revealed in The Aucklander two months ago.

The proposed fees [see below] sparked outrage from dog owners and led to several petitions, dozens of letters to the editor, hundreds of Facebook comments and nearly 4500 submissions to the council's Long Term Plan.

Of those who submitted, 857 opted to come along and share their concerns in person.

At 4.30pm an apologetic Len Brown took the mic, backed by a semi-circle of 15 councillors displaying varying levels of enthusiasm.

"It's fair to say that the initial set of fees missed the mark and pretty badly," he began, to applause from the crowd. He acknowledged a loud and clear response from dog owners and said the council had taken the comments on board.

"I hope that you get a sense that we've not only listened but we've started to move to an appropriate place."

He didn't indicate whether that was a cheaper place.

Young and old, male and female, chic and shabby, the dog owners rose to their feet and formed orderly queues behind the microphones, ready for their two-minute opportunity.

The common themes were soon clear: the proposed increase would tax the good owners for the actions of the bad, more should be done to encourage responsible dog ownership, those who pay their fees get little for the pleasure.

Julie Clayton-West, from St Heliers, said she found the fee proposal obscene. "Of course I was appalled that the general public only heard about this through word of mouth."

She suspected fees would still increase, perhaps a little less, and ended with a curt "roll on election year".

Remuera's Peter Cropper was the first of many to suggest mandatory registration of cats to top up council's coffers, a suggestion that drew some cheers from the crowd.

Jill Parsons of Whangaparaoa- who The Aucklander met in an earlier article on the subject - had examined the council's costs surrounding dog control and suggested the system had flaws. "Profit is going to the contractors who do the animal control work for council. I suggest a complete investigation into costs and losses."

Jeremy Pickford, from Avondale, choked up as he handed the councillors post-surgery photos of little Snoopy, attacked by a larger, unregistered dog while being walked in Massey.

Shane Fenton asked how many councillors have dogs - four - and suggested this was the reason for such insensitive fee increases.

Cath, from Pakuranga, began in a quavering voice. "I need my dog. He's my companion, my life. I can't afford the new fee so I won't pay it."

She concluded with gusto: "You people have done a very underhand thing and I'm not happy."

As Barbara, Mike, Joseph and Prue took their turns to speak, Mayor Brown leaned forward in his chair and gave each his full attention.

However, some of his councillors struggled to maintain their attention to the ratepayers and after the first hour were starting to wriggle, whisper to their neighbour or sink deeper into their chairs.

One of the older chaps thought he could just nod off unnoticed but the crowd was onto him like a greyhound on a hare.

"He's asleep!" several people barked, and the red-faced councillor was jolted awake.

There were a few wide eyes when Franklin resident Sue said she wouldn't register her six dogs and anyone trying to remove them would meet a firearm. Nervous laughter from all and the adjudicator suggested it was time everyone took a little break.

About 200 submissions had already been covered in an earlier session and, in the 90 minutes I was there, councillors listened to around 30 people, so there was no denying it was hard going, particularly as the theme was much the same throughout.

The council's chief operating officer, Patricia Reade, says registration fees contribute to the council's animal management responsibilities, which include running kennels, responding to dog attacks and education in schools on dog safety.

"We also respond to around 40,000 dog-related calls from the public each year."

She says by law the fees can be spent only on activities related to dog control, but revenue doesn't come close to covering these costs. The council will meet on May 3 to review its proposal and make a final decision on fees, which come into effect on July 1.

FEE PLAN

IF PAID BEFORE AUGUST 1:

Standard fee: $160, up from $104

Desexed dog: $120, up from $75

* Dog owner licence for desexed dog: $120, up from $47

Dog owner licence for unfixed dog: $160, up from $53

Superannuitant with community services card: $50, up from $47

Working farm dog: $50, up from $23

PAID AFTER AUGUST 1:

Standard, desexed and unfixed dogs: another $50

Superannuitants and farm dogs: another $25

*Auckland Council has charged lower registration fees to dog owners who have dog owner licences. To get one, they must pass a test on responsible dog ownership. Once you have the licence you do not have to renew it each year.

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- THE AUCKLANDER

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