Rotorua will be one of the first in New Zealand to roll out a new neutering programme that aims to reduce attacks by menacing dogs - of which there are currently 443 in the district.
The $850,000 Government-subsidised programme was announced by Associate Minister of Local Government Louise Upston in Rotorua today and is part of a second round of proposals for a national action plan to reduce the risk and harm of dog attacks.
Opotiki will join Rotorua in trialing the programme first.
Other proposals will ensure the owners of high-risk dogs are fit for the job, introduce stricter penalties for owners of dogs that attack, and improve data about dog attacks.
Ms Upston said owners of dogs classified as menacing or dangerous would have to obtain a 'high-risk dog owner licence' from their council.
"Owners will need to show they are capable of handling a high risk dog, show they understand their legal obligations and have their property inspected.
"The dog's temperament will also need to be tested," she said.
Rotorua district councillor Karen Hunt said the Rotorua Lakes Council had set the ambitious goal of de-sexing all menacing dogs by June.
"In our district alone we have 443 menacing dogs which mainly come in two breeds; Dogo Argentino and the American Pit Bull Terrier.
"That makes up about 3.5 per cent of our dog population, which is about 11,000 dogs."
She said 404 of those were American Pit Bull Terriers, a breed that was responsible for 33 per cent of attacks on people in Rotorua last year. American Pit bull Terriers and Dogo Argentinos had attacked 18 people this year in Rotorua, she said.
She said of the 443 menacing dogs 333 had been de-sexed, which left 110 more.
"Through this programme we will achieve the ultimate goal, which is to reduce the gene pool of menacing dogs."
Council animal control supervisor Kevin Coutts said he welcomed the proposals.
"[They] will not result in increased costs for ratepayers as the council has been proactive and has focused on de-sexing menacing dogs since 2012.
"In recognition of this, the council will be trialing a government de-sexing pilot programme, which heavily reduces the cost to owners for de-sexing their pets, which are classified as menacing dogs," he said.
Ms Upston said only licence holders would be allowed to adopt menacing dogs from animal shelters.
She said maximum penalties for dog attacks causing serious injury would be increased and offences causing endangerment or injury would be extended to include incidents on private property, not just public spaces.
In September, Ms Upston announced the first round of measures for the National Action Plan, which included the establishment of Best Practice Guidance for local councils, the development of a behavioural change campaign to encourage responsible dog ownership and better public safety, and a nationwide programme for the neutering of menacing dogs.
Owners of menacing dogs in Rotorua and Opotiki wishing to neuter their dog should contact their council.
"This partnership with councils means that owners may not have to pay anything for their menacing dog to be neutered, and may also be eligible for reduced fees for micro-chipping and registration, depending on the details of each council's scheme."
Ms Upston intends to introduce legislation in February 2017.
Members of the public will be able to have their say on the proposed changes during the Select Committee process.
View details at www.dia.govt.nz/Resource-material-Dog-Control-Index.
Proposed law changes will require owners of high-risk dogs to:
■ Have their dog neutered.
■ Keep dogs in a fenced in area that allows visitors dog-free access to at least one house entrance.
■ Display signs at the front of their property alerting people of high-risk dogs.
■ Ensure dangerous or menacing dogs wear collars identifying them as high-risk.These dogs must also wear muzzles and be on a leash in public places.
■ Obtain a high-risk dog owner licence.
■ Seek consent from the local authority to transfer the dog to new owner.
■ Inform any new owner that the dog is classified.
Adjustments to the infringements and offences under the Dog Control Act 1996 including:
If an owner fails to:
■ Keep their dog under control, the council may issue a $300 infringement fine (increase from $200).
■ Meet the legal obligations of owning a dog classified as dangerous, the council may issue a $500 infringement fee or the court may issue a fine of up to $5000 on conviction (increase from $300 infringement fee and $3,000 maximum fine on conviction).