28 Nov 2017

Dogs on the loose causing havoc in the Cooks

10:58 pm on 28 November 2017

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is seeking help to address the Cook Islands' problem with wandering dogs who attack livestock on Rarotonga.

Dogs in the Cooks are often referred to as 'wandering dogs' rather than 'stray dogs' with 98 per cent owned and in a home. In Rarotonga, there are about 4000 dogs.

Eight to 10 percent of visitors to the Cook Islands will often make complaints about stray dogs.

Eight to 10 percent of visitors to the Cook Islands will often make complaints about stray dogs. Photo: RNZ/ Daniela Maoate-Cox

SPCA inspector Steph Saunders said the majority of dogs were not tethered, did not wear muzzles and roamed in packs attacking pigs and goats.

"A lot of livestock are in peoples backyards and dogs have pre-access to them. Most of these livestock animals are not held in paddocks," she explained.

"The animals are generally tethered as well, so that is a real problem. They literally are just sitting there waiting to be plucked off.

"While we all love our domestic pets, we care equally about production animals too," said Ms Saunders.

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Photo: RNZ

Imposing penalities on the owners of dogs caught in the attacks might bring change, but Ms Saunders said more action was needed.

"We hear about dogs attacking livestock weekly, so something needs to be done. It's not just about penalties, it's about educating the public.

"People in Cook Islands need to change the way they see animals here. People don't usually have the same feelings and processes that we do, not feeling the pain like we do," she said.

Police inspector Solomona Tuaati said cases of dogs attacking livestock were reported once or twice a month to the police, which was not as frequent as the reports the SPCA received.

However, Inspector Tuaati said owners could be fined up to $US344 and have their dogs seized and euthanised.

"The owners of the dogs who is responsible for the attacking of stock is also liable for the cost of the damages that their dogs have done.

"So in these cases, we consult with the Ministry of Agriculture to give us a quote as to the damages and then we put that forward to the court and the fine is usually a lot of money," he said.

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Photo: 123RF

RNZ Pacific's Cook Island correspondent Florence Syme-Buchanan said the dog issue was serious because of the way many families relied on their livestock.

"Pigs and goats are a daily income for families, a source of food and that is why they raise them in their land. That's a huge disadvantage if they lose their pigs or goats that way," she said.

Ms Syme-Buchanan said not being able to desex dogs was not much of an excuse because veterinarian clinics offered this service for a token fee.

"The local clinics such as the Esther Honey Foundation only welcome a donation to treat your dog. Sometimes for free depending on your financial situation.

"People need to realise that we shouldn't stop caring for our dogs once they are out of their cute fluffy puppy days. It's a lifetime commitment," she said.

Ms Saunders said the SPCA wanted funding from an international trust to help desex 1000 dogs within a year. She said if this funding was secured, it would be the first time a Pacific nation received such support.

Ms Saunders said the SPCA also provided free transport for dog owners.

"A lot of families don't have transport or even more than a scooter, so getting their animals to the vet clinic can be a problem as well. That's where SPCA offers free transport, so really it only takes a phone call at this stage to have your dog desexed.

"We don't want to rid the island of dogs, but we do want to manage the level of complaints received of dead livestock and encourage owners to be responsible," she said.

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Photo: RNZI / Sally Round

The police indicated they would complete a dog census in the next couple of months, identifying owners whose animals were not registered.

The Dog Registration Act of 1986 states that owners must have full control of their dog, including using a leash when in public.

Inspector Tuaati said warning notices would be issued to unregistered dogs when found.

"The only advice to our people is to get their dogs compliant, have it registered and please keep it under control. That means if it's not in your yard, if you take it out it must be on a leash," he said.

"Otherwise we would consider it as dogs not being under control."

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