Calls for dog-owner licence

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 05:00 30/03/2014

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A recent spate of vicious dog attacks has thrown the spotlight on New Zealand's current dog control laws and prompted calls for owner licensing.

Last week the High Court rejected a Rotorua man's appeal to stop his dog being put down after it bit a passing cyclist.

The labrador rhodesian ridgeback cross had come to the attention of the authorities on at least 19 previous occasions, the judgment said.

The court said the number of earlier incidents suggested the owners were unable to maintain proper control of the dog.

"It also suggests that the dog will remain at risk of rushing and/or attacking members of the public in the future."

Earlier this month a seven-year-old Japanese girl was bitten more than 100 times by a group of four dogs in Murupara.

BayTrust rescue helicopter pilot Art Kowalski, who airlifted Sakurako Uehara to Rotorua Hospital, said her injuries were extensive and affected about 90 per cent of her face.

All four dogs were euthanised by a vet.

Anthony Hedgeman and Tara Julian of Tauranga, whose bull mastiff left a four-year-old boy with facial injuries, successfully defended the charge of owning a dog that attacked a person causing serious injury.

And last month a two-year-old red-nose pitbull was put down after it mauled another dog to death after being released from the Napier dog pound.

The 1996 Dog Control Act requires the destruction of any dog that causes serious injury unless the judge is "satisfied that the circumstances of the attack were exceptional and do not justify destruction".

Owners of dogs that cause injury are liable for up to three years in prison or a $20,000 fine. A judge in the United Kingdom this week called for a greater maximum sentence for owners of dogs that cause injury, after a four-year-old girl was mauled by a pit bull and left unable to move half her face.

Auckland SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said penalties for owners of dangerous dogs were not harsh enough and laws relating to dog control were too flexible, with local authorities able to make their own by-laws.

He said the responsibility lies with the owners, not the dogs. In all instances of reported vicious dog attacks there was a lack of supervision and a lack of training, he said, and he advocates a licensing system for dog ownership.

To qualify for such a licence, owners would have to be familiar with the laws and understand what it meant to be a responsible owner. Those who erred too often would be unable to own a dog, he said.

He admitted it sounded "a bit draconian", but dog ownership required responsibility.

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"The onus must fall on the owner of the dog. Those are really the people that should be targeted."

New Zealand also has breed-specific legislation. Five breeds of dogs cannot be brought into the country: the american pitbull terrier, brazilian fila, dogo argentino, japanese tosa and perro de presa canario. There are 3962 registered dogs of those breeds in New Zealand.

Councils can decide if they want to require these breeds to be desexed and not all do. Kerridge said he did not support breed-specific legislation.

However, anti-cat activist Gareth Morgan said banning dangerous dog breeds was the best way to prevent attacks, and correct training also played a part.

The current breed-specific bans needed to go further, he said.

Once a dog "crossed the line" and got a "taste of blood" it had to be destroyed.

Although banning breeds could lead to a black market of illegal dog breeds, there would be fewer attacks, Morgan said.

However, the Australian Veterinary Association says breed-specific legislation is not effective in reducing the incidences of dog attacks.

The association has suggested legislation that led to the registration and identification of all dogs and a system that supported socially responsible pet ownership through education.

- Sunday Star Times

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