Hastings District Council

New strict dog control programme cuts the number of dog attacks by two-thirds.

Council tackles dog owners to reduce attacks

Hastings District Council logoCutting the number of dog attacks by two-thirds has been the outcome of a new strict dog control programme in the city of Hastings.

“There was a growing concern over dog attacks,” says Ross McLeod, Chief Executive of Hastings District Council. “In some areas where social deprivation is an issue, problems were increasing with pockets of antisocial behaviour and the dogs that correlate to that.”

The programme began with Phil Evans, Community Safety Manager, investigating what tools the Council could use within central government law. Mr McLeod, Mr Evans, and their colleagues then devised a strategy, gathered political support, and moved on to implement and develop the programme.

Pound fees were markedly increased. “We asked ourselves, who should pay for this? Do the costs go to the ratepayers or do you put it on dog registration, where you are hitting the responsible dog owners who register their dogs,” says Mr McLeod. “We decided to shoot the cost home to the irresponsible dog owners.”

To carry out the work, two additional animal control officers were employed. The funding for these officers was initially expected to come from dog control reserves, increased pound and registration revenue, and increased input from rates. But because of the increase in pound fees, income from that source rose from $41,000 in 2007/08 to a projected income of $240,000 this year. This has meant that irresponsible dog owners have funded the whole scheme.

All dogs not complying with their requirements and considered dangerous or menacing were immediately impounded and not released until pound fees were paid. However, Mr Evans says that the financial gain was not their motivation. “We just thought it would cover some of it.”

The project began by cracking down on dogs that had been registered but were not any more. “There’s a high correlation between people who do not register their dogs and dangerous or menacing dogs,” says Mr McLeod.

The animal control officers then began to comb the streets, going from house to house to investigate whether or not an unregistered dog was on the property.

“We filled the pound up in half a street.”

Being effective is about getting the result that contributes toward the outcome you are looking to achieve in your community. Efficiency is producing the result you want at good value.

Mr McLeod says he, animal control officers, and the Council have developed a good “symbiotic” relationship with New Zealand Police since the programme began. Police will sometimes accompany the animal control officers onto the properties, where “security” dogs are being used as a weapon.

However, the job for the animal control officers has still been dangerous. One woman was so enraged her dog was being removed that she threw a brick through the window of the officers’ van and then proceeded to ram it with her own vehicle.

Although the people implementing the project, particularly the animal control officers, have received accolades from local politicians and the executive team, Mr McLeod says it’s an area where they don’t want too much attention. “We want to steer a middle course and just focus on results.”

And results they have had. Dog attacks on people have gone from 63 in 2007/08 to 17 in 2011/12. And, in that same time, attacks on other animals have more than halved. Dog registrations are up, and there are fewer dangerous dogs in the community because they have been euthanised. Numbers of menacing dogs and dogs recognised to be of a dangerous breed, particularly pit bull varieties, have risen, but this is because of heightened awareness of their presence and increased reporting.

The programme has not been without controversy, however. Dog lobby groups have had a “divergence of opinion” and have opposed the changes. Mr McLeod says that any council considering this initiative should not underestimate the dog lobby or the media. They should also ensure that they have specialist prosecution lawyers on board.

However, both Mr McLeod and Mr Evans are satisfied that the scheme has been very effective, because dog attacks are steadily declining.

Based on an interview with Ross McLeod, Chief Executive, on 21 June 2012.

Disclaimer: This case study is the entity’s story – we have not audited the facts but have confirmed with the entity that its story is fairly represented.