Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Cat owners should pay too

Last year there were twice as many cats as dogs. Photo / Thinkstock
Last year there were twice as many cats as dogs. Photo / Thinkstock

You can't blame Auckland councillors for slinking off into the sunset when bailed up by a pack of dog owners baying for their blood.

But patting the nice doggie owners on the head and saying plans to raise your dog licence fees were all a mistake was just setting themselves up for a proper mauling in the run-up to next year's election.

It might have been smarter to give the yappers a swift kick in the goolies now and hope the yelping and pain would be forgotten by election time.

The situation is simple. It costs the council $12.1 million to run the dog control services necessary for people to indulge in their desire to keep dogs as pets within the greater community. Unfortunately for the rest of us, dog owners shell out only $7.1 million in licence fees to pay for the service - leaving a shortfall to come out of general rates.

The proposal before councillors was that dog-owner fees should go up so that the general ratepayer contribution dropped to 20 per cent from the current 43 per cent.

Because of the restructuring of existing charges, in particular the dropping of a large subsidy for so-called "good dog owners", some dog owners were facing more-than-doubled fees.

What the dog owners aren't publicising is that since the establishment of the Super City 18 months ago, thanks to former Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide, most of them have been enjoying a huge discount on the fees they used to pay. In the Government's efforts to make the reforms look good, Mr Hide insisted that the fees paid for various services in the new city be based on the lower end of fees being charged by the eight amalgamating councils. Thus, last year every dog owner, except those in Franklin and Papakura, got a cut in fees. Not surprisingly, the cost of running a dog control service is more expensive in the bigger urban areas - but that inconvenient fact was ignored in the Government's push to produce evidence of cost savings, however false.

Now it's back to the drawing boards as Mayor Len Brown and his bureaucrats disappear behind a dog-proof fence to come up with a fee policy that won't have dog owners snarling for their blood at next year's ballot. My bet is the consultation process drags on and on and on until well after the election.

Having riled the dog owners of the city, the other alternative would be to stir up the cat owners as well and propose to adopt the Australian practice of having a companion-animal charge that also includes pet felines.

Last year, the New Zealand Companion Animal Council claimed there were around five million pets in New Zealand compared with 4.4 million humans. At 1.4 million, there were twice as many cats as dogs. At 1.68 million, pet fish were even more numerous, but let's not go there.

In Queensland, the state Government recently introduced compulsory registration of cats - with a microchip and identification collar - to try to reduce the need for tens of thousands of strays to be put down each year and to help protect the local wildlife. With the Northern Territory, it was the last part of Australia without compulsory registration of cats and dogs.

The annual non-desexed cat fee is A$43.40 ($55.12), the desexed fee, half that. Pensioners pay half. Dog charges are double, with a dangerous-dog fee of A$454. There is debate about mandatory desexing as the next move.

The New South Wales Companion Animals Act came into effect in September 1998, introducing a permanent identification and lifetime registration system. The Government argued it greatly assisted authorities in returning lost and injured animals to their owners and provided councils with a more effective means of keeping track of dogs and cats for the benefit of the wider community.

In New South Wales, the one-time charge for registering a desexed animal is A$40, (pensioners A$15), a non-desexed animal, A$150.

There's little doubt that a reduction in the number of stray cats would be welcome news to the birds and lizards and weta of Auckland, to say nothing of the shopkeepers and residents near the colonies of feral cats around the town. But somehow it seems unlikely that Auckland councillors are "entire" enough, to use the clinical term, to stand up to a snarl from cat-loving voters. Not after a woof from the doggie set was enough to sent them whimpering off.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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