Dog dilemmas

By: Christine Rose

Dog control bylaws are one of the most controversial subjects in local government. Nothing generates emphatic submissions quite like a council’s consultation on dog control, exercise areas or beachside and other restrictions. People love their dogs and feel a strong sense of  justification for defending what they see as in the best interests of their pets.

New Zealanders own more pets per household than any other country. This includes about 700,000 dogs. According to some reports, around half all Aucklanders own them. In 77 per cent of dog-owning households, they’re considered part of the family. Dogs are greatly loved and bring joy and comfort to their human companions. No wonder people have strongly held views.

But just as our beloved cats have been in the spotlight for their reputation as predatory and indiscriminate hunters, dogs also have negative impacts on the environment that many dog owners would prefer to ignore.

The natural life span of kiwi, for example, is about 60 years. But today the average age at death is about five. That’s because dogs are the greatest kiwi killers of modern times. Images on the internet of dozens of kiwi dead, show how conservation efforts are regularly set back by dog attacks in the Coromandel and Northland where kiwi still roam.

But it’s not just in the forests where dogs conform to their origins as wolves and kill smaller creatures as prey, even when said creatures are native species. Dogs are particularly troublesome at beaches and in coastal zones. Whole penguin colonies, resting seabirds and seals are all vulnerable to attack from off-leash, uncontrolled dogs.

Every summer, resting and roosting birds on beaches are chased and sometimes killed by energetic dogs. Birds like godwits and knots, resting on the shore before their migratory flights over thousands of miles of ocean, have their habitat disturbed by dogs out for a run.

Unfortunately for the birds, every time they are frightened and displaced by running dogs, they waste energy they really need for the long flight to come. Moreover, much of their coastal refuge is under pressure from development, and quite likely only a small stretch of beach is all they have left. At high tide, they’re particularly vulnerable. Sadly, you sometimes see these birds chased continuously, from one end of the beach to the other and back again, alighting, and landing and alighting, as they seek somewhere safely to land and stay. The facebook page “Dogwatch BOI” (Bay of Islands), shines a light on dogs chasing birds. In some cases, dog owners have taken their pets to the beach just to chase birds for fun.

Exercise is an important part of any animal’s daily routine, and no-one denies this right and necessity for dogs. Though exercising a dog on a beach is sometimes the worst place for the welfare of native species.

by Christine Rose
christine.rose25@gmail.com

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