Tragic reminder of our responsibility to dogs

Published on 11 August 2022


All of us were shocked and saddened to learn last week of the tragic death of Panguru man Neville Thomson after he was attacked by dogs at his property. Council Animal Management Officers are working closely with police, who are still piecing together exactly what happened at the remote Puketawa Road property. What action the police and the council take will be decided once that investigation is complete. In the meantime, I want to express my condolences to Mr Thomas’ family. Many of us know the sorrow of losing a family member, but the circumstances of Mr Thomas’ death must make that loss much harder to bear.

This tragic event has inevitably focused national attention on aggressive and uncontrolled dogs and on the so called ‘dog problem’ we face in the Far North. The truth is our district is much the same as other, similar rural areas of New Zealand. We have an estimated 11,000 dogs in the Far North. In 2020/21, 8,949 of those dogs were registered. That was an increase of 665 registered dogs compared to the previous year and shows that the majority of our dog owners are responsible, with 81 per cent registration compliance. That was up from 75 per cent on the previous year. This was largely due to the great work our Animal Management Officers have done with dog owners and following up on unregistered dogs.

Not all dog owners do the right thing. Last year, we disqualified five people from owning dogs. Under the Dog Control Act, the council can disqualify someone from owning a dog if they have received three or more infringement notices within a two-year period. Wherever possible, animal management staff encourage dog owners to do the right thing by educating and encouraging them to register their dogs and get their pets microchipped. That is an effective long-term approach but doesn’t mean we are soft on owners who do break the rules. Last year, we issued 231 infringements to dog owners, 65 more than the previous year.

Of course, issuing infringements is little comfort to those who have been attacked or, as more often happens, have seen their stock or pets attacked. A widely publicised example occurred last year near Cape Reinga. The Nilsson family, which farms beef and sheep at Te Paki, lost scores of sheep, lambs and goats to groups of roaming dogs. Those dogs once had owners, but for whatever reason were not controlled, began to roam, and eventually became feral. The impact these dogs had on the Nilsson family was devastating. Those dogs have been hunted and I’m told well over 50 have been shot.

Dogs can be our most loyal and loving companions. They sniff out dangers for us, they help us navigate our world and many people would be lost without them. Last week we were delivered a very stark reminder of what our much-loved pets are capable of. Care for them well and treat them responsibly and they will be devoted members of our families. 

Last updated 11 August 2022