Christchurch City Council has hit back at criticism following its decision to enforce the muzzling of menacing dogs - even inside their own homes - saying it is well within its rights.
Locals were outraged after the council sent out letters to owners of "menacing dogs" telling them the animals must be muzzled at all times, including inside their own house, warning that owners would face legal repercussions if they did not abide by the rules.
However, the council says its decision to enforce the muzzling of dogs at all times - except when in a cage - was not taken lightly and was made in the interest of public safety.
"Since March last year, the council has been asked to investigate 234 complaints about dogs attacking a person, stock, poultry or domestic animals," council CEO Karleen Edwards said in a statement.
"Public safety is paramount to our Animal Management officers, and so we prioritise these investigations on a daily basis."
Abbey van der Plas, who set up Christchurch Bull Dog Rescue, said the council has no ability to enter people's homes to check on muzzling.
"I'm shocked, disgusted and sad. I cried, to be honest. This is heartbreaking," she told NZME's Newstalk ZB.
"The fact they need further legal advice shows how incompetent their legal team is in the first place.
"Anybody looking at this can see that it's breaching the Animal Welfare Act.
"Any animal needs to be able to display its natural behaviour. A dog cannot display its natural behaviour when it's muzzled 24/7.
"A dog's nose and muzzle are its arms and legs, and if I tied your arms and legs behind your back and told you to live a functioning life, you would have some questions for me.
"They are asking people to break the Animal Welfare Act by enforcing this law."
"It's not just the pit bulls they are saying have to be muzzled. It's not just a pit bull issue, its breeder relevant. This could be anybody's dog that's forced to wear a muzzle in its own home 24/7."
Dog owners and the Christchurch Bull Dog Rescue have also accused the council of redefining the term "at large" to mean any time that a dog is not caged - including in at its own home.
However, the council's CEO responded to these claims, saying it is well within its rights to enforce the muzzling of menacing dogs in their own home.
"Recently we sought legal advice around the interpretation of the dangerous dog/menacing dog classification within the Dog Control Act (1996) to ensure we were applying the regulations correctly."
In the Act, a menacing dog must not be allowed to be "at large, or in a public place, or in a private way, without being muzzled".
"We sought legal advice to clarify what 'at large' means. In the council's interpretation, a menacing dog is 'at large' when it is not tied up, or it's unchained, or unconstrained, even when it is inside a house or on the owner's property.
"Following the latest legal advice, we wanted to proactively communicate what this means to owners of menacing dogs. A letter was sent to 159 owners of dogs who are classified as menacing by breed, outlining their obligations.
"We acknowledge that this letter has come as a surprise, because of the interpretation that is now being applied. We are urgently seeking further legal advice on this interpretation to ensure we are doing the right thing.
"Once we have this clarification, we will get in touch with all owners of dangerous and menacing dogs, to help them understand what is required of them.
"The last thing we want is for someone, or another animal, to be hurt in a dog attack. So while we wait for this clarification, we simply ask all owners take reasonable steps to keep their dogs under control and meet requirements of the menacing and dangerous dog classification."