Far North Mayor Moko Tepania has promised those protesting that the council’s dog control system is not fit for purpose that he has heard their concerns and will work to make the system better.
About 40 people, many with dogs, protested outside the Far North District Council (FNDC) offices on Thursday over what they say is a dog control system that is not running effectively and is not fit for purpose, with far too many dogs getting put down.
The protest was organised by Bay of Islands Watchdogs co-ordinator Leonie Excel and Bay of Islands Animal Rescue founder Summer Johnson, after years of frustration with the way the FNDC ran its animal control. Both made presentations to the subsequent council meeting, to outline their concerns to councillors.
While they were outside the council chambers ahead of the meeting, they chanted “dogs’ lives matter” and Tepania came out to talk to them and hear their concerns.
He told them he had heard them and would do what he could to improve the council’s dog management system, but acknowledged it was not an easy task.
“If I’m honest, I’m so happy to have our Far North whānau come here to show their dissatisfaction [with the dog control system]. It should be the community here pushing us to get things right,” he said.
Tepania said he had a dog in the whānau and understood how much they meant to people.
He said the Far North had one of the lowest dog registration rates in the county, but possibly one of the highest number of dogs, with up to 12,000 in the region.
Tepania acknowledged the wandering dog issue was widespread in the Far North, and had been for some time, but vowed to try to turn the situation around.
He said there had been two fatal dog attacks in the region in the past 18 months or so and he did not want to see that happen again, and education on good pet ownership was crucial.
Johnson told the councillors that her animal rescue group and others in the Far North saved the council a lot of work and resources, but they had no staff and little funding.
She said in the past year the FNDC pounds had taken in 517 dogs, but her group had rehomed 969 in the same time. As well, the Donna Doolittle Animal Rescue centre in Kaitāia had rehomed hundreds more.
Johnson said this took some of the pressure off the council’s two dog pounds, and if the two groups were not there, all those dogs would have gone into the council’s pounds and most of them would likely have been put down.
She said the FNDC had the highest dog euthanisation rate in the country - 21 of the 28 dogs in the Kaitāia pound were killed in September this year - and the council had to put more money and resources into staffing the dog management team, desexing, education for dog owners and prosecuting bad dog owners whose animal attacked or continually roamed.
Excel said she was encouraged by the mayor’s response to their concerns, but would only believe that the system would change when it happened.
“It’s great that Moko has listened to us, as we did not feel the council has been listening to us previously, and we’ll be watching to make sure he lives up to the commitment,” she said.
The Far North has the highest rate of dog-related injuries in the country. Dog-related injuries had cost New Zealand $15.8 million in the year to June 30, ACC figures reveal - an an increase of almost 50 percent from five years earlier.
The Far North District leads the way when it comes to dog attacks, with 427 ACC claims in the 2022-23 year or 5.88 dog-related injuries per 1000 people per year, which is more than double the national average and much higher than for Whangārei and Kaipara district councils.