Public education on responsible dog ownership is the focus for three in-house animal control officers hired by the Kaipara District Council.
The team started work last month, taking over from contractor Armourguard who was ditched after numerous public complaints of not doing enough about wandering dogs.
The council decided to move animal control work in-house after receiving more than 300 complaints from Dargaville ratepayers in the year to June.
The three newly appointed animal control officers worked in a similar role at the Whangārei District Council, Waitakere City Council and the SPCA.
Kaipara Council spokesman Ben Hope said the yearly cost of running animal control was $172,000 — the same as the Armourguard contract.
The new officers, he said, had an immediate impact and lift in visibility and their goal was to achieve an increase in reports of wandering dogs.
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The team says public education will be a focus for its work.
"The safety of the community is our priority and educating people about responsible dog ownership is one way we can work towards that.
"For example, when we see a dog out wandering we'll try to find the owner so we can educate them about their responsibilities. We'll also go into problem areas and door-knock to get to know the local people and their dogs.
"Educating people is the best way to have a lasting effect on how they look after their dogs. We've been around a long time and we know what works."
The team is willing to tailor the approach to meet the different needs of communities across Kaipara.
"We want to encourage registration, and we're keen to run a registration amnesty this summer so people can register their dogs without fear of a fine."
Registering and microchipping are both legal requirements, and dog owners who fail to do so are liable for a $300 fine for either infringement.
A Dargaville resident and vociferous critic of Armourguard dog control services, Graham Jones, said the council's decision to take over animal control was a "good start".
"A meeting with one of the officers last week has given me hope that much more interest is now being given towards locating uncontrolled dogs and their owners, with a catch-up on registrations and responsibilities of owners."
Regrettably, he said, he still saw wandering dogs virtually every day so there was some work to do to bring that to a halt.
"Even more regrettably there is a need to confront those owners who just won't comply with the law, and I have met a couple of those who are openly defiant.
"It does seem, however, that reports can now be sent in with confidence that action will be taken, and people are encouraged to forward their reports as soon as they can," Jones said.