A code has been created that decides if a dog owner deserves to be prosecuted when it attacks. Shannon Johnstone reports on the fascinating decisions forced by a new Hastings District Council system.

Your dog's attacked a person - you've just earned between 14 and 34 points. If it's not serious, it'll be in the teens. If it is serious, expect it to be in the 30s.

Was it a breed that's notorious for attacking? Earn another four points automatically.

Sheep attacked by dogs in June 2019. Photo / Warren Buckland
Sheep attacked by dogs in June 2019. Photo / Warren Buckland

Was it off-leash and out of the owner's control? There's another four points.

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Collect 39 points in total and you've met the requirement to be prosecuted by Hastings District Council.

SEE THE FULL POINTS SYSTEM BELOW

The vagaries of this point scoring system, known as the Attack Rating Evaluation, can be a headscratcher for both dog owners and the ones affected by attacks.

But Hastings District Council insists the code that it created is the way to go.

It says it's helped it get tougher on attacks, particularly on stock, which has been thrust into the national spotlight by a spate of them in the district over the past year.

WHY IT WORKS

Hastings District Council Regulatory Solutions Manager John Payne said the evaluation considered so many factors in its brief that it meant it was consistent.

They include:

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- The seriousness of the offence

- The type of dog and breed characteristics

- The impact on the victim

- Observed aggression of the dog

- The actions and cooperation of the dog owner

- Behaviour of the dog

- Previous history and offending

- Recurrence likelihood

- The purpose of the dog

- Registration status

- Degree of restraint

- Known temperament of the dog

- Whether the owner had paid damages

Only a judge could order the destruction of a dog and the evaluation did not always determine the outcome but is generally in the vicinity, Payne said.

He said the evaluation system helped provide consistency for the six animal control officers who work in different areas of Hastings.

Animal control officers investigate the attacks then perform an evaluation with Payne.

"The district is divided up amongst Animal Control Officers and we need to ensure we have consistency. We agree on the evaluation and then discuss the appropriate action based on the circumstances."

The evaluation was created by the Hastings District Council and has been shared with other councils around New Zealand who alter it to fit their needs.

Napier City Council's done just this - changing its point system around and providing a lower point aggregate that leads to prosecution - just 35 points.

Cattle in the Hastings area have also been attacked by dogs recently. Photo / Supplied
Cattle in the Hastings area have also been attacked by dogs recently. Photo / Supplied

Waimarama resident John Maxwell Moeke said he felt the evaluation system was making councils too lenient.

He helped his nine-year-old daughter Awatea start a petition to change dog control laws last year after her pet ram and three of their neighbour's sheep were killed in dog attacks.

Moeke said that the dogs were impounded for around three days before being given back to the owners who had to pay a fine.

When she found out the dogs were able to go back to their owners Awatea felt "annoyed, sad and petrified" which prompted her to start the petition to change the system around dog attacks.

Moeke said the fact that a dog killing an animal didn't automatically result in prosecution was problematic.

"The severity scale [for dog attacks] is absolutely appalling. How can they let a dog that has killed go away?" Moeke said.

The two believe there should be a change to the evaluation system with stricter penalties and fines for dog owners.

They believe there should be a fine of $20,000 for a loss of sheep and owners should be made aware of the penalties they could face when they register their dog.

Moeke believes that dogs which have killed stock should be destroyed.

"Once a dog has tasted blood it's nearly impossible to get them out of wanting to attack," he said.

"I love dogs, but I don't want other people to feel the terrible feeling I felt when my ram died. I was crying all my tears out and I had a lot. I was just devastated," Awatea said.

Moeke also believes there should be more animal control staff at Hastings District Council to deal with dog attacks.

A Hastings farmer who lost lambs in 2019 agreed with Moeke.

"Once a dog has attacked once it always happens again, they enjoy it.

"After it has attacked and been identified it should be put down no questions asked.

"There shouldn't be a points system," the farmer said.

HOW WIDE-SCALE IS THE PROBLEM COUNCILS ARE DEALING WITH?

The most recent Hastings District Council dog control report states that in the 2017/2018 year 2868 complaints were made about dogs.

This included 106 complaints were about a dog attacking animals and 53 complaints of a person attacked. There were 511 infringements and zero prosecutions.

The 2018/19 report is not yet publicly available.

The Napier City Council dog control report for 2018/19 shows that there were 3655 complaints about dogs.

There were three complaints of an attack on stock and three complaints of worrying stock.

There were 51 complaints of minor attacks on people and nine complaints of a serious attack. There were 228 infringement notices issued and three prosecutions made.

In the last six months of 2019, 20 different dog owners were prosecuted in Hastings District, more than $5000 in reparations had been paid, and "a number of dogs have been destroyed".

If a dog is caught and the owner is unknown it is treated as an impounded dog and held for seven days, then destroyed as an unclaimed dog, a Hastings District Council spokesperson said.

Under the dog control act of 1996, all dogs must be registered, and owners must take all reasonable steps to ensure their dog does not injure, endanger or cause distress to any stock.

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