The time has come for those in charge of animal control at the Far North District Council to shape up or ship out. The system clearly isn't working, particularly in Kaikohe, where uncontrolled dogs have been an issue for some years. And it isn't getting any better.

The latest incident, on May 19, saw 93-year-old Jim Morgan's inoffensive little terrier/chihuahua-cross Sandy attacked by two dogs in Harold Ave. That's the same street where Sandy was attacked in April last year, suffering injuries that required extensive veterinary treatment.

Mr Morgan was bitten too, as he tried to protect his pet. Thirteen months later he has not yet fully recovered. For some time he delegated the role of dog walker to his home help, until that was declared to be outside that person's job description. Don't you love the people who make the rules?

Mr Morgan, who has now been attacked by dogs four times, might have been injured again on this occasion but for the child who emerged from the property where the dogs had come from and took them away. Not surprisingly, however, he no longer feels safe in the streets of his own town. He doesn't even feel safe in his own home, after a large dog leapt over the fence and investigated his garden.


The council's response? It says it is patrolling the area regularly, and has investigated this latest incident. The two dogs were apparently returning to Wellington the next day. It also undertook to use Northland Age photographs of uncontrolled dogs, taken on May 23, to track down their owners.

Fact is, if Animal Control was doing its job this incident would not have happened. Nothing has changed for a decade or more. For all the promises, assurances and excuses, dogs continue to roam at will, and on occasion attack other dogs, and people. The Northland Age reporter who was in Harold Ave on May 23, four days after Sandy was attacked, saw three dogs, which began fighting amongst themselves, in Harold Ave, two in De Merle St and another in Wihongi St. If she could see them, how come Animal Control can't? Do they disappear when a dog ranger hoves into view? Why should a newspaper have to provide photographic evidence before Animal Control starts doing its job?

What more incentive does the council need than last year's attack on Mr Morgan and Sandy? Or all the others before that? This shouldn't happen to anyone, but at Mr Morgan's age and state of health, a dog attack could be fatal. Does someone have to die before the streets are made safe? Surely it can't be that hard.

The people of Kaikohe have the right to walk the streets without fearing for their safety. This is happening not in some remote corner of the district; it's within spitting distance of the council HQ. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the problem would have been fixed long ago if the council had the will to fix it.

We have been told in recent months that Animal Control officers have been employed as parking wardens. The council denied that, saying its officers were multi-warranted, and would only ticket a car if they saw one that was parked illegally while carrying out animal control duties.

We have to accept that -- we can't prove otherwise -- but the accusation came from an extremely credible source.

But even if there is nothing to that allegation, it is patently clear that the dog rangers, however they are spending their time, have not been able to clear Harold Ave, and other streets in Kaikohe, of uncontrolled dogs. In fact the council seems to be more interested in ensuring dogs that leave their owners' properties are registered than in preventing them from leaving in the first place, or holding their owners accountable.

They seem to think that a registered dog is a safe dog. It isn't. Registered or not, no dog should be loose in a public place.

Having said that, no one surely would have an issue with a harmless old hound patrolling his patch. That's the risk in calling on the council to get its act together. Years ago legislation was enacted after a child suffered a horrific attack in a park in Auckland. Council officers there responded with a blitz on unleashed dogs, targeting animals that were breaching the law but represented no danger to anyone, while patently savage animals went unmolested.

We don't want to see that here. Hopefully we can trust Animal Control to tell the difference between a dangerous dog and one that isn't, although you might not want to bet on that.

That comes down to the exercising of discretion, but the first priority must be to get uncontrolled dogs off the streets, accompanied by the throwing of the book at the owners of those that represent a danger to people or other animals, or actually attack them. The council must overcome its aversion to prosecution.

Why that isn't being done now, and hasn't been done for a decade or more, defies explanation.

It isn't clear whether the regular patrols that were referred to by the council last week began before or after Sandy was attacked on May 19. If it was before, then clearly more needs to be done. If it was after then the council should be ashamed. It did not take this incident to expose the fact that 'dog control' in Kaikohe is a serious misnomer. Indeed, Mr Morgan's latest experience had an air of inevitability.

Years ago this newspaper tried to find someone who could justify the legal requirement to register dogs. Once upon a time it had been necessary for the treating of dogs for hydatids, but that was, and is, no longer the case. We were told, several times, that dogs now had to be registered to provide the revenue for local authorities to pursue unregistered dogs. That would only make sense to a bureaucrat, and may actually be illegal -- if dog registration is a tax it does not benefit the person who pays that tax (except in that it could help in reuniting a lost dog with its owner). By law, taxes must benefit those who pay them.

Registering Sandy hasn't benefited Jim Morgan. It should have, in that the dogs that now have him and his pet in fear of their physical wellbeing should have been dealt with long ago. But if the idea is to rid the community of dangerous dogs, it isn't working.

Those in the Far North who do register their dogs might well take the view that they aren't getting value for money. They might also be wondering why they bother registering, or ensure that their dogs are confined to their property. Nothing seems to happen to those who do neither.

This isn't about a seemingly dysfunctional council department efficiently applying the dog registration rule though. It's about a department that has failed, repeatedly, over a number of years, to serve its community in the most fundamental fashion, by keeping the streets safe for those who have every right to freedom of movement, secure in the knowledge that they are not going to be threatened or attacked.

That applies to 93-year-old Jim Morgan and Sandy as much as it does to anyone else. And if those who are charged with ensuring their safety cannot do the job they should make way for someone who can.