When dogs attack: One prosecution out of 1034 incidents

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Of the 1034 dog attacks reported to Christchurch City Council last year, only one resulted in the owner facing prosecution.

Data from the city council shows 99.8 per cent of dog attacks in 2019 did not result in a prosecution, leaving some questioning why the dogs' owners are not being held accountable.

Of the 1034 reports, 562 were classified as dog attacks and 472 were classified as dog rushing complaints.

The city council holds the power to prosecute dog owners under the Dog Control Act 1996.

Depending on the offence, an owner may be liable for fines up to $20,000 or jailed for up to three months.

Aside from prosecution, dog owners may also face infringement offence fees under the Act, which can range from $100 to $750.

In most cases where a prosecution results in a conviction, an order is also made for the destruction of the dog.

Based on data from the past 11 years, on average, 21 dog attack or rushing complaints are reported to the city council a week.

Jayne Abbott and her husband Bill with a photo of their dog Alfie who was killed in an dog attack...
Jayne Abbott and her husband Bill with a photo of their dog Alfie who was killed in an dog attack. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Cashmere resident Jayne Abbott called the statistics “horrendous".

In December, Mrs Abbott watched her three-year-old dachshund Alfie get mauled to death in front of her in a car park after two dogs leaped out of a car window and attacked.

Mrs Abbott and her husband Bill were able to provide the city council dog control team with the car’s registration plate number, descriptions of the dogs and their owners and multiple statements from witnesses.

But 10 weeks after the attack, Mrs Abbott is still waiting to hear what action is being taken against the owner, who she understands still has possession of the dogs.

Mrs Abbott was told by city council staff they would proceed with the case to court if they could gather all the evidence required.

“Quite frankly . . . I don’t know how much more they need. I don’t know why it is taking so long - it’s really black and white,” she said.

The couple are willing to take their battle to court privately.

“It’s been 10 weeks and we have got literally nowhere.

"My dog was horrendously killed in front of me and it happens everywhere. It’s not right.’’

Mrs Abbott questioned the number of dog attack prosecutions in Christchurch.

“Are those numbers so low because everyone does the right thing and puts their dogs down or are the numbers low because things just get swept under the carpet?’’

Abbey van der Plas. Photo: Supplied
Abbey van der Plas. Photo: Supplied
Christchurch Bull Breed Rescue founder Abbey van der Plas wasn’t surprised by the statistics and said NZ’s Dog Control Act needs to be “completely rewritten".

“It’s so outdated, it’s not even funny," Ms van der Plas said. 

"It’s not just Christchurch City Council, it’s councils nationwide. In New Zealand every council writes its own bylaws when it comes to animal control, taken from the Dog Control Act.”

Ms van der Plas has been a dog owner for 17 years and strongly believes dogs should be on a lead at all times in public.

“Compulsory leashing is the way to go. Animal control officers need to have more powers of enforcement. 

"At the moment, out of those attacks, if only one or two people are being prosecuted, there is no encouragement for people to keep their dog on a leash because nothing is going to happen to them.

"That’s why these types of things happen because people don’t keep their dogs on a leash.

"They don’t train them for one, and then don’t keep them on a leash and then chaos follows.

“There needs to be an emphasis on encouraging responsible dog ownership and enforcing responsible dog ownership.”

When walking her rescue dogs in public, Ms van der Plas keeps them on long horse lunge ropes.

"As far as they are aware they’re off-leash, they’re chasing a ball, they’re free, but we have control of them the entire time.”

People who want real change in regard to dog attacks should approach their local MPs, Ms van der Plas says.

"It needs to change at a higher level. Animal control can only work within the Dog Control Act. 

"It’s not the council’s fault they can only do with what they can work with.

"People need to talk to their local MPs, talk to people, let them know there are petitions out there, and there are people and groups lobbying for law changes.

"The whole mentality of dog ownership in New Zealand needs to change.

"It’s a privilege to own a dog, not a right. The animals and dogs don’t have a voice and they need people to stand up and be their voice,” she said.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Dog attacks reported to the city council:

  • 2009 – 782
  • 2010 – 1117
  • 2011 – 1074
  • 2012 – 1238
  • 2013 – 1272
  • 2014 – 1284
  • 2015 – 1160
  • 2016 – 1091
  • 2017 – 981
  • 2018 – 992
  • 2019 – 1034

Dog attacks that have resulted in a prosecution:

  • 2018 – Two, one resulted in the dog being put down.
  • 2019 – One prosecution filed for an attack on a person, which is ongoing.