Seizing unregistered dogs has got owners under the collar

By Lawrence Gullery


Whakatu man Des Ratima is upping his campaign to bring Hastings District Council to task over its dog control laws he believes are penalising pets which do not pose a threat to the community.

Mr Ratima plans to write a submission and present it to the council at its annual plan hearing next month, questioning whether the hard line on seizing unregistered dogs is making the community safer or perhaps just a money making venture for the animal control department.

He's making the stand after his family pet dog, Nellie, was seized by the council's animal control team over a week ago - because it was not registered.

The Ratima family took on the dog after its owner moved overseas to live. He admitted it had not been registered to his family when it was taken.

It was one of three dogs taken from the community when the council made a sweep of Whakatu, walking on to properties collecting unregistered canines.

Nellie spent seven days in the "doggy jail" at the council's pound west of Hastings city before a good samaritan offered to pay her registration fee so she could be returned to the Ratima whanau.

Mr Ratima's column on the incident and a story marking Nellie's return generated many letters and phone calls of support he now wanted to use to bring about change in the way the council was dealing with dog registrations.


"We need to continue to highlight the issues of this whole 'dogasco'. I've had a number of calls come from people who wanted to pay Nellie's bill, all women and I suppose all people who have a connection with animals.

"Most of them also had bad experiences with the council or council staff. There was one lady who had dog control staff come to her house to seize her dog in January this year. One of her children was closely attached to the dog and had a seizure when the dog was taken away. The dog control staff took the animal out on to the street, rang an ambulance and then left.

"It just goes to show how cold hearted the council is being but it need not be that way."

Mr Ratima believed the law allowed the council to deal with unregistered dogs, which did not pose a threat, in less dramatic ways.

"They have the option to issue an infringement notice and fines, and give a time frame to pay the bill so they don't have to take the dog. They take the dog because they know the emotional trauma it will inflict means people will go rushing down to the pound to pay the money to get their dog out.

"This highlights the arrogant stance staff have been instructed to take to address the issue."

The council's chief executive Ross McLeod acknowledged Mr Ratima's dog was not among those considered to be menacing or dangerous. "The animal control staff that came around could see that, and at that stage should have made a call to say, look Mr Ratima, we need you to pay a fine, here is the infringement notice with 14 days to pay, please get it done.

"This is a really important part of the council's job. I don't disagree with the council's work to remove dangerous dogs, but Nellie was not dangerous. It was our fault she had not been registered but then we weren't given the chance to do that before she was taken away."

Mr Ratima said making a case to the council's annual plan was his next move.

"I will also be calling for the council to publish details of its activity, to make it known to the public, about the number of dogs it has seized and revenue it has made through its animal control department."

Dog owner Kaari Bull experienced a similar incident to Mr Ratima but was more worried about the $12 a day fee to keep a dog in the pound up until the seventh day when it came to be euthanised.

She said animal control officers tended to target placid dogs like Nellie or her dog, Price, both labradors. When she went to the pound she noted the dogs there were like hers, alsatian or retrievers.

"No vicious dogs of course as some owners hot under the collar the officers, as big as they are, would have to put the animal down before the can even get near them.

"We made inquiries with the police as to the dog control officers coming on to our property as we felt that the officers had trespassed on our property. Apparently there is a fine line that was crossed but what legal ground do we have to stand on?"

Mrs Bull also wondered what the impounding fees covered.

"When we picked up our dog he stunk to high heaven, that was only one night, after seven days who would want their dog back? Our dog came back traumatised and couldn't stop shaking for a week and he had an awful racking cough."

Dog owner Elizabeth Oliver, Havelock North, wrote to support Mr Ratima and also believed the council's tough dog control laws were aimed at revenue gathering.

It was a view Mr McLeod rejected. He said the public demanded more work to prevent dog attacks a few years ago and so more staff were hired to enforce a programme aimed at removing dangerous and menacing dogs.

He said the council's interpretation of the Animal Control Act allowed it to enter private property to seize dogs.

Mrs Oliver said: "I do not think he is interpreting the law correctly.

"They simply want to add to the revenue by expecting the registration to be paid, which is fair enough, and the pound fees for as long as it takes."

She believed it was now $75 to have a dog returned if it was picked up on the street.

"No question about whether this is a one-off accidental incident; no attempt to call the number on the collar and get an explanation.

"The registration fee itself is higher than our neighbours in Napier. Perhaps we should have amalgamation and have some equality with said neighbours."

Another dog owner Wendy Taylor also wrote to say she had a run in with the council's animal control staff a few years ago when her dog, Pepper, went missing from their Eskdale property.

"We noticed she was missing on Saturday morning and she was found by someone who contacted the pound. We asked if we could pick her up from the pound near Flaxmere but we were told we had to wait until Monday.

"They said there was only one person on and they didn't have time to go back and forwards every time someone wanted to pick up a dog."

Mrs Taylor said Pepper was an elderly 12 year old dog and she was worried about her health. She had to pay a fee, between $50 and $100, to get her out of the pound.

"I took one look at her and took her straight to the vet. She had a severe eye infection and was shaking. I was so upset and the vet was horrified about the whole situation.

"I can't prove it but I believe her poor condition was the result of the two nights she spent in the pound."

Dog owner Deana Scott said her research suggested the council's dog pound needed to be upgraded and didn't meet national standards for kennels. She believed the harder line on taking unregistered dogs was a way of generating the income needed to pay for the upgrade.



"I recently had my dogs taken from inside my property, they were registered and they were chipped. My bitch came out with kennel cough.

"She now struggles to run up town as the kennel cough has taken hold. They have both been vaccinated for kennel cough so they cant throw that at me."

Mrs Scott said her dogs were microchipped but the Hastings animal control could could not read the chips.

"The argument was that they were registered in Napier so it doesn't show up. So why did we pay $45 to have it put in in the first place.

"There are two grids for the chips to show up but the pound only put the national grid chips in not the international, so if you move, the chip won't show anything."

She said Napier City Council's animal pound had an automatic payment system for people to pay registration fees over time.

Hastings District Council said its animal control team had an electronic copy of the dog registration data base in their vehicles.

Animal control officers had a list of considerations to determine whether they had reasonable grounds under the law to enter a property.

The first was whether a dog was registered at a property in a previous year but was no longer registered and no notification had been received it had moved or died.

Officers could enter a property if a complaint had been received about a dog barking or there were reports of behavioural issues with a particular dog;

The officers could visit areas where reports suggested there were roaming or other problems with dogs. They could enter a property where a dog was seen, or heard, but there was no corresponding record of a dog in the registration data base.

The council said it had legal advice that confirmed the approach was lawful.

Legal advice received by Hawke's Bay Today suggested the council was working within its rights to seize unregistered dogs. Brookfields Lawyers, Auckland, had specialists in local government law and partner Andrew Green said: "Section 42 of the Act does allow the council to enter a property and seize a dog where it has reasonable grounds to believe that its owner has failed to register it. On the facts as you've outlined them the council's actions are lawful."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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