'Tired' animal control officer killed Gisborne dog Sarge, inquiry finds

2:17 pm on 14 December 2023
Sarge the dog

Sarge was killed by mistake by an animal control officer who mistook him for another dog. Photo: Supplied

An investigation into the death of a Gisborne dog at the hands of council staff has detailed the sorry state the animal was returned to its owners in.

On 22 September, family pet Sarge was euthanised by Gisborne District Council staff after being mistaken for another dog.

The labrador ridgeback cross had been found roaming the streets earlier in the day by an animal control officer who unsuccessfully tried to locate his owner.

In the two days following the event, word spread throughout the community at such a rate the council released a statement apologising for what had happened.

On Wednesday, the council released a copy of an independent investigation into the event, with some information redacted for privacy and protection purposes.

Gisborne district councillors previously agreed to pursue an overall 4.87 percent rates rise for 2020/21.

Gisborne District Council's premises. Photo: Liam Clayton / The Gisborne Herald / LDR

It found the animal control officer acted correctly in taking Sarge to the pound, with his death the result of human error.

But there were other mistakes that occurred in and around the event.

At about 9.40am on 22 September, an animal control officer discovered Sarge roaming in Darwin Road, outer Kaiti.

Dash camera footage confirmed the dog was on the street, negating previous theories he had been uplifted from a property.

The officer called the registered owner without success. He then led the dog to its owner's property, but nobody was home.

After texting the owner just before 10am requesting contact, the officer was challenged by a member of the public, who was reassured Sarge would be held safely at the pound for no cost until he could be returned home.

Sarge was brought to the pound where he joined a tan mastiff cross that had been surrendered the previous day, and was awaiting euthanising any time after 10.50am when its 24-hour stand-down period ended.

That dog was located in row one of the kennels, and officers decided it would only be put down if time allowed.

Meanwhile, two more attempts were made to contact Sarge's owner after 3pm. Both were unsuccessful.

At 3.30pm, another officer returned to the pound in a state described as "time-poor and stressed".

They completed their tasks and decided to put down the surrendered dog as their last job for the day.

Seeing Sarge in the third row, the officer mistakenly thought the dog which was supposed to be put down had been moved closer to the area where euthanising took place.

In the words of the report: "He checked the paperwork on the kennel, viewing the words 'but not reading them'."

It was not until the officer wheeled a dead Sarge towards the freezer at the rear of the building and walked past the other dog that they realised their mistake.

They then rang their team leader and visited the owners at 5.15pm to apologise, which the report said was an "honest and heartfelt conversation".

Sarge was delivered to his owners the following day upon their request, but the manner in which he was handed back was highlighted in the report.

"Sarge was returned to his whānau in a black plastic bag, his collar removed, dog roll stuck to his body, unspecified 'rubbish' in the bag, a captive bolt wound to his head and dried blood around his face and body," it said.

The investigation found no issue with Sarge being taken to the pound and was confident his death could be attributed to human error.

But it said information about Sarge's death should have been escalated with senior management earlier to cater to affected whānau.

It also said the officer acted alone in returning the dead dog and not on behalf of the council.

The report concluded that if two officers had been present on the day the incident occurred it could have been avoided.

It suggested there needed to be "more robust, formalised, written processes in place around the escalation of information and how dogs are managed at the pound".

Sarge's owners also highlighted changes they wanted to see. These included being able to provide alternate contact numbers on dog registration forms, the leaving of cards with contact numbers when animals were taken and euthanisations being undertaken by an independent party.

Sarge's owners and the council released a joint statement on 29 September saying they had resolved the matter.

The animal control officer responsible for the dog's death issued an apology shortly after and resigned.

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