Dog owner wants pound visitation rights restored

7:43 pm on 3 February 2023
Ryan Tarawhiti-Brown and Chopper after the dog’s release in July 2022.

Ryan Tarawhiti-Brown and Chopper after the dog’s release in July 2022. Photo: Supplied

A family whose dog spent nine months in the pound is calling for the council to reinstate visitation for owners.

Impounded dogs whose owners are awaiting a court date can no longer be visited after Tauranga City Council changed its policy.

Council environmental regulation manager Nigel McGlone said the policy changed after a review in mid-2022.

"This policy has been put in place as a result of past incidents of abuse towards staff and/or the failure of some visitors to follow staff directions about the behaviour required while they are at the pound.

"The new change only applies to owners who are awaiting prosecution for attacks by their dogs on other animals or people.

"It does not apply in any other situations, such as where a dog owner may need to visit the pound to uplift a dog or where an appointment has been made to view a dog for adoption," said McGlone.

Helen Fraser visited her Rottweiler Chopper in the Tauranga pound four or five times a week for the 271 days he was there.

Chopper’s owner visited him four to five times a week while he was in the Tauranga City pound.

Chopper’s owner visited him four to five times a week while he was in the Tauranga City pound. Photo: Supplied

Fraser's son Ryan Tarawhiti-Brown told Local Democracy Reporting the visits kept Chopper "the same dog going in as he was when he came out".

"An owner coming to visit dogs is probably one of the most important things, it can make a dog feel more comfortable."

Chopper was impounded after he bit veterinarian Dr Liza Schneider during an appointment to discuss his de-sexing in October 2021.

Fraser was charged by the council with owning a dog causing injury. The charge was dismissed by Judge David Cameron after a judge-alone trial at Tauranga District Court in June 2022.

Chopper was freed in July 2022 when Judge Cameron released his decision. Tauranga City Council appealed this decision and a court date for the appeal is set for 2 March.

During his impoundment, Chopper was confined to a 2-metre by 3-metre cage with a concrete floor and never went outside.

There was a sign on his enclosure that read "Aggressive dog. Do not exercise."

Tarawhiti-Brown said Chopper was occasionally allowed into another slightly larger area if there were no other dogs in nearby cages when Fraser visited.

Fraser would take Chopper toys and treats and blow bubbles through his cage to help entertain him.

Chopper had regular hydrotherapy to strengthen his back legs after his release.

Chopper had regular hydrotherapy to strengthen his back legs after his release. Photo: Supplied

"Dogs are social animals, so they need mental stimulation. And even just with my mum visiting Chopper, it was that familiar face that kept him going," Tarawhiti-Brown said.

"Dogs that haven't had that stimulation, they're just pretty much driven crazy. Then they do get let out and everything's all new for them again."

McGlone said "animal welfare is the top priority for our animal services team at all times".

"While they are in the pound, all dogs … are cared for with compassion and consideration and are given the opportunity to socialise with people as much as possible.

"Dogs that are in long-term stays at the dog pound are there because they have been involved in a serious attack against a person or other animal.

"Each dog is assessed by staff on a case-by-case basis and, if deemed suitable, will be exercised by staff.

"Some dogs are unapproachable when they first arrive, but once they realise they are in a safe environment with regular food and care, will begin to interact positively with staff; we reassess their status, and they can then be exercised outside of their pen.

"Unfortunately, by the time some dogs come to us, they are already very aggressive and unsafe to be handled."

Tarawhiti-Brown wants the council to employ a qualified dog trainer to exercise dogs the pound staff aren't comfortable walking.

"If you've got a dog trainer there, you can start teaching them [the dogs] good behavioural skills.

"Starting rehabilitation for them, so that when they do go back to their homes, they're in a good mind space and they're well trained."

He said the family worked with a dog trainer and Chopper picked up his training really quickly when he was released. The Rottweiler did need rehabilitation to strengthen his back legs and surgery for claws that had become ingrown.

Tarawhiti-Brown said he would also like to see bail for dogs which would save the council money and be better for dogs' welfare.

"Doggy bail is the best thing because you're just doing more damage to a dog keeping it caged."

In terms of bail for dogs, McGlone said: "Our [council's] current process is that each case is assessed on its merits depending on the circumstances of the incident, and we also take into account the history of the dog and owner.

"If a dog owner disagrees with the council's decision, they can seek a review of the decision by lodging an objection with the council hearings panel and, subsequently, the district court.

"We know that most dog owners across the city are responsible and ensure that their pets do not behave in a way that represents a danger to our community.

"The no-visit policy only affects a very small minority of dog owners and is a consequence that owners face if they have not taken the appropriate actions to control and care for their pets.

"While it is regrettable that the no-visit policy has had to be implemented, we would be failing in our responsibilities to our staff and community if we had not taken this action."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs