The Far North District Council might be "comfortable with the Animal Management Team's responses to these incidents and the professionalism displayed in conducting the investigations", but at least one councillor isn't.

Councillor Dave Hookway said there were an "alarming number of discrepancies and inaccuracies" in the response provided to elected members, which was not satisfactory.

He was therefore backing Bay of Islands Watchdogs' call for an independent external inquiry into the council's animal control services, including a review of the decision-making processes around priorities and appropriate action in cases involving harm to people, wildlife and stock.

Watchdogs' spokeswoman Leonie Exel said councillors should have "strong concerns", the council's official position being out of step with the community's perception, while its own version of events pointed to serious errors of process.


The Watchdogs believed that a number of "red flags" had been missed, and that process errors needed to be rectified.

Council records showed two notifications of dog attacks (at the Stephens' property) within a month, which staff attributed to different dogs.

"This should have been immediate cause for concern and prompted further investigation," Ms Exel said.

"There should also have been additional weight given to these notifications, as the Stephens are retirees who have health issues and are thus more vulnerable to dog attacks.

Further investigation did not occur, and the dog involved in one attack was impounded, yet returned with a fine. First red flags missed."

The council was notified of an attack at the Jones property, near the Stephens property, on December 23, but according to a Northern Advocate report did not return calls. Council notes did not state whether they visited or called Mrs Jones.

The next attack on the Jones property, on February 5 or 6, involved two dogs herding sheep into a creek and then mauling them. Residents called the council for help, and animal control officers were advised by phone, but were busy on a 'few high-priority dog attacks'. A request for service was not lodged, by mistake.

"Ken Thomas' detailed notes state: 'The job was not put through and subsequently slipped out of mind.' Third red flags, and major errors of process," Ms Exel said.


On March 19 Ms Jones called again, as she had not heard from the council after the February 5 attack. The council impounded two dogs, which Ms Exel said had previously been classified as dangerous, euthanasing one but returning the other, although it had been photographed during the February attack.

The council's response to the June 8 attack, where eight sheep were killed, was that there was no evidence to support taking action against specific dogs. Investigations by Ms Jones and friends established that there had been an attack on a nearby property earlier in June.

"We would like to know how these decisions are made and by whom. Animal management, or legal staff, or a combination? How is the decision-making process monitored internally? What procedures are being used such that council thinks the above process was reasonable, when clearly it was not?

"We would be far less concerned if council management had advised that they were worried about their failures in this instance and had chosen to admit fault, and undertake a review. That they consider this okay is simply further evidence that this area is not being managed, measured or overseen effectively."