30 years of animal control at an end

22:00, Jul 01 2014
Happy times: Up for adoption, not Jim Aitken the dogs. This shot shows how quickly a person can get caught out by a wayward pooch lick to the face.

Wrestling pigs, standing on a wasp nest in the dark and even the odd electrocution are stories from Jim Aitken's career as an animal control officer.

On July 9, after more than 30 years on the job, the New Plymouth District Council animal control team leader will hang up his catch pole for the last time.

"It's with sadness I leave, but after all this time newer and fresher ideas are needed," he said. "I still hope to have some involvement in a voluntary capacity with the welfare of animals."

He began in 1979 at the Inglewood County Council as a hydatids and dog control officer.

Hydatids, a significant part of the dog control programme until 1994, is a potentially deadly disease that spreads between dogs, farm animals and humans.

Jim remembers the Inglewood County Council and Inglewood Borough Council amalgamation in 1984. Next came the amalgamation of all the North Taranaki councils into the New Plymouth District Council in 1989.


Over the years his job has included animal and pest control, and even dealing with litter. On one occasion he discovered personal documents in dumped rubbish.

"It led me to the owner of the rubbish whose son had been given the car to dump the rubbish at the local dump."

The bags were about 10 kilometres in the opposite direction of the dump. Jim was assured by the owner the problem would be fixed.

"I observed the offending son on a push-bike with a rubbish bag strapped on," he laughed.

As part of pest control Jim was stung by wasps many times. He recalls standing on a nest once.

"I was somewhat unsure of where everything was in the dark until a dozen sewing machines started working on my leg."

One day in the late 1980s he had to lasso a pig outside the Inglewood post office.

"The pig was quietly eating some bread scraps I'd put on the ground until I put a noose around its neck.

"Then it sounded like half a dozen chainsaws going off in a tin shed."

A large part of his job has always been dog control. While delivering hydatids treatment to a dog, Jim didn't realise the kennel was electrified to keep unwanted male visitors at bay.

"I got this tremendous shock up my arm and my wrist watch got caught. It was a shocking experience," he laughs.

"I turned around to see the owner of the dog just rolling on the ground in mirth. Sympathy did not come into it."

Clearing the hydatids threat paved the way for the 1996 dog control act, amended in 2003. Jim describes the act as fair and workable.

"A dog wakes up in the morning and says, ‘hi I'm a dog.' We humans are responsible for what that dog will become," he said.

"Every dog's got a sharp end and a dirty end. The most influential factor is the nut on the end of the lead."

During his career Jim's been bitten by dogs less than half a dozen times. Pulling out the catch pole doesn't happen very often.

"Treating it [the dog] with respect and dignity will enable you to win the dog's trust on the vast majority of occasions," he said. "In all my years at animal control the worst injury was by a cattle beast running down my back."

Not all the stories have happy endings.

"Sad things are locating the owners of a dog that has been hit in a road accident. That's a very hard thing to do."

Dog attacks are also difficult because, in bad cases, the animal needs to be put down.

"I share the anguish of people who own a dog that has attacked stock or badly bitten a person because I know they love their animal."

Jim wanted to thank the New Plymouth Police for their support over the years. He's proud of the new dog pound facility and of how his team has developed.

"The job's evolved to a very highly professional unit of animal control officers that I'm very proud to work with."

Jim intends to move on to volunteer work with youth and find a part-time job that utilises his licences in big trucks and forklifts.