Dog-bite toll cited at bylaw hearing

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 25/09/2012

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Nelson had one "imminently life-threatening" dog bite injury last year and since 2008, 187 people have been treated at Nelson Hospital for dog bites, an opponent of the city council's plans to modify "off-leash" areas says.

Nelson dog owner Katherine Rock told city councillors at yesterday's hearing on the dog control and policy bylaw review that she believed the proposal to create off-leash areas for dogs in council horticultural parks, cemeteries and urban streets contravened parts of the Dog Control Act and Local Government Act.

More than 300 submissions were received by the council from people wanting another say on the amended draft dog control policy and bylaw.

It replaced that sent out for public consultation earlier this year.

Ms Rock said a total of 129 dog bite victims considered "potentially serious" were treated at Nelson Hospital since 2008 to the present. A further 27 had "potentially life-threatening" injuries, and 30 had less urgent injuries which could have been treated by a GP.

Figures compiled by Ms Rock from the hospital's emergency department presentations showed that by far most (147 people) of those bitten by dogs were 16 and over.

"I strongly object to turning what were safe areas for me to walk my dog on the leash to unsafe areas where every large dog owner will tell me, ‘my dog has never done that before' as their dog rushes up to intimidate and harass my small dog," Ms Rock said.

Nelson veterinarian Hans Andersen said figures showed most dog bite victims were known to the animals which bit them.

Mr Andersen was among many submitters yesterday who made a return visit to the council chamber for the hearing on a revised draft bylaw.

The city council decided in May that its preferred direction would be to allow dogs off leads in most places if under control; to require dogs to be on a lead in urban centres and most neighbourhood reserves; and to continue to prohibit dogs from certain areas, including conservation reserves, sports fields and playgrounds.

However, councillors realised that the suggested changes would alter the statement of proposal put out to the public. Their decision to fine-tune the proposal and go back to the public was out of concern the decision could have been open to legal challenge to the consultation process.

The current proposed approach requires dogs to be on a lead in the urban centres of the Nelson central business district and the Stoke and Tahunanui shopping centres, and requires dogs to be on a lead in most neighbourhood parks not listed as off-lead areas.

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Several other submitters were also against allowing dogs to run free in parks such as the Queen's Gardens and Wakapuaka and Marsden Valley cemeteries.

Council sexton Alistair Papps said it was inappropriate to have dogs off leads in these areas, particularly at times when people were gathered to grieve.

Queen's Garden Preservation Society spokeswoman Ellen Brinkman said the community benefit of keeping the city's parks as "beautiful places of quiet and safe enjoyment" must rank more highly than the desire of dog walkers not to have to leash up.

Most she had spoken with were happy to keep their dogs on a lead while in the Queen's Gardens.

Mr Andersen said a "significant change" from the consensus of the council deliberations following the previous round of submissions was the planned prohibition of dogs from the east Barnicoat part of Marsden Valley.

"You don't need to create another national park there. We have more of these close by than any other city in New Zealand," Mr Andersen said.

He reiterated his earlier stance that emphasis should be on education for puppies and dog owners.

Dog trainer and behaviour counsellor Sue Walsh said there was a lack of understanding about the way dogs interacted, and it might be useful to educate dog owners more about canine body language.

"We need to raise public confidence, and train more dogs to be useful parts of society," she said.

The council will deliberate on the hearing in November before a decision in December.

- Nelson

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