Far North residents fed up with dangerous, wandering dogs are calling for ramped-up animal control and tougher penalties for their owners after the death of an elderly woman.
Moerewa locals also want more education for dog owners after Elizabeth “Effie” Whittaker was attacked and killed on October 12 trying to break up a dog fight on her Otiria Rd property.
While police have confirmed the dog belonged to the owners of the property and was not roaming, residents say an increase in the number of large, aggressive dogs in the town is causing widespread concern.
Eddy Te Kani said it’s so unsafe he can’t go for a walk in his own neighbourhood because of roaming bull mastiffs, Rottweilers, and pit bulls.
Te Kani, who is in his 70s, said he has called the Far North District Council [FNDC] numerous times about four dogs “constantly coming onto my property”.
“They put out traps and caught them, but a week later those four dogs were back again.
“I’ve had the ranger around here so many times.
“They roam over to everyone’s homes, they’re even down the shops wandering around.
“I like to go for walks but I can’t, I’ve got to drive away to Kawakawa.
“They need to be taken away and destroyed.”
Te Kani’s daughter Amy Walters witnessed three separate dog attacks in two weeks while living around the corner from Effie a few years ago.
A neighbour’s staffy came onto her property and attacked her older dog, before returning two weeks later and mauling their puppy, causing $2000 worth of vet bills.
“The dog then ran back onto its own property, they had a puppy there at the time, and it killed the puppy on their doorstep,” Walters said.
“I called the council and held out the phone so they could hear it screaming.”
Walters moved to Hamilton in 2021, partly because she felt unsafe with so many roaming dogs in town.
“It’s always been unsafe with dogs roaming around like that. I’ve always been worried about my dad going outside and doing stuff, because he’s elderly.
“The morning I found out the kuia passed away I called my dad to see if he was okay and told him to stay inside.”
Walters said there needs to be more restrictions on dogs and tougher penalties for their owners “to wake everyone up”.
“The rules are too lenient on the dog owners, and they’re getting away with it.
“They don’t take enough care with their dogs, the dogs are vicious, they’re not socialised properly.
“There are dog attacks all the time and nothing is getting done.”
Auntie Rosie Reihana said she planned to organise a meeting to try to resolve the dog issue, but “everyone is too heavy at the moment”.
Reihana said she went to Ōtiria Marae on Sunday to pay her respects to Effie who was “everyone’s friend”.
“You can’t talk, you don’t know what to say.
“You can accept when someone dies from sickness but this ... words are not enough.”
Reihana said the number of dogs per household, and the breeds, should be restricted as people didn’t feel safe.
“We’ve got to learn from this,” she said.
“What message does she [Effie] want to leave her people about dog ownership and how to look after them?
“I think we’ve got more dogs than people in our community at the moment. It’s gone crazy.”
It’s not the first dog attack fatality in the Far North. Last year, Neville Thomson, 69, was mauled by dogs he was temporarily looking after on his property in Pānguru, and there have been countless attacks on people’s pets and livestock.
The number of menacing dogs in the district has increased, along with the amount of dog attacks, threatening behaviour, and wandering dogs.
FNDC figures show there are currently 195 menacing dogs in the Far North, mostly American pit bull types, up from 171 in 2021/2022.
There were 526 complaints about straying dogs in 2022/23 up from 446 the previous year.
There were 257 reported attacks, up from 229 the previous year, and 108 reports of dogs rushing at people or their pets, up from 89 the previous year.
Far North deputy mayor Kelly Stratford acknowledged there was a wider problem and said animal control officers were “stretched”.
Stratford said more animal control officers were needed to work with communities to increase awareness about responsible dog ownership.
“There’s only so much we can do.
“Animal control staff are doing the best they can with the legislation available.
“The situation is getting intense that the number of dogs that have to be euthanised increased last year, and is probably going to increase this year. The amount of dogs in our district has increased.”
Stratford said she doesn’t believe a ban on pitbull-type breeds would solve the problem.
“I don’t believe it’s the dog that’s the problem, it’s unfortunate situations that families are in and the decisions being made that are causing dog attacks.
“We’ve got a systemic problem in our district with impoverished communities faced with how they’re going to buy bread and milk, never mind how they’re going to feed and manage their dog.”
FNDC compliance manager Rochelle Deane said straying, unregistered and aggressive dogs “are not unique to the Far North”.
“Dog control and irresponsible dog ownership are nationwide issues,” she said.
Deane said animal management officers (AMOs) regularly patrol all Far North towns, “and will continue to do so”.
“AMOs patrol areas where roaming dogs are reported.
“Following up on unregistered and unknown dogs is part of the ongoing work our AMOs carry out on the ground in our communities … on a daily basis.”
Deane could not say what type of dog was involved in the fatal attack, or if it was registered.
“The police are leading the investigation regarding this matter and council is assisting police as required.
“Given the investigation is current and ongoing, the council cannot comment any further.”
Moerewa community stalwart Mike Butler said he had heard of “quite a few instances” where dogs have chased children going to school.
Education for dog owners was key, he said.
“We pay our dog registration fees every year, and what does it entail? Surely education could be part of that too.”
Bay of Islands Animal Rescue founder Summer Johnson said her heart goes out to the family involved.
“We need to step up as dog owners and be more responsible about how we are bringing our dogs up,” she said.
“This is a tragedy for the family and the dog.”
Stratford said the council had dog traps available for anyone who had problems with dogs wandering onto their properties.
Once caught, animal control officers could pick them up, she said.
Jenny Ling is a news reporter and features writer for the Northern Advocate. She has a special interest in covering health, food, lifestyle, business and animal welfare issues.