13 Oct 2023

Northland dog attack: Police say household pet killed elderly woman

6:13 pm on 13 October 2023
Moerewa, Northland on 13 October 2023.

A Moerewa local says dogs roaming its streets has been a problem for a while. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

Police say the dog that killed an elderly woman in an attack in her Far North backyard was a household pet.

The community in Moerewa is shocked and grieving after the woman, who was in her 70s, died - and her two daughters were left injured in the attack on Thursday.

Her family said they were devastated at the tragic loss of their dearly loved mother, nanny and aunty.

Police have not yet released the name of the woman, who was a well-known whaea of the Far North community.

Family spokesperson Joey Rapana said they were devastated at the tragic loss of a dearly loved mother, nanny and aunty.

"No one would have expected such a tragedy in our community."

Rapana said his aunty's two daughters were still healing from their injuries.

"This is not the time to lay blame anywhere but a time to call for action to keep all our communities safe," he said.

"We are all here as a community to support our uncle and his whānau at this time."

A family member at the house in Moerewa told RNZ his aunt had been hanging out washing when the dog, a pet, attacked her.

The animal was reportedly shot by a neighbour before police arrived.

Police said the dog belonged on the property but were still investigating exactly what occurred.

The tragedy has reignited concern about the number of roaming pet dogs - and dangerous breeds - in the small community.

Moerewa local Andrew Naera said it had hit the community.

"Definitely is a big shock a tragedy, absolutely, condolences go out to the family involved.

"It has been a problem around here for a while, in terms of dogs being let out and roaming the streets."

Moerewa, Northland on 13 October 2023.

A Northland dog welfare group says the local council has a history of poor animal control. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

Bee has lived in Moerewa most of her life and said pet dogs were often left to roam the streets - although that wasn't the case in this attack.

"I really feel that the dog situation in this town needs to be addressed and something needs to be done, sooner rather than later so that this kind of thing doesn't happen again."

Bee said she had had a few run-ins with roaming dogs.

"We do have a lot of dogs in this town that are very vicious. I always walk around with my umbrella now because I have a major fear of dogs."

Five years ago, on the same road in Moerewa, two children were attacked by dogs in separate incidents on the same day - leaving one in hospital with leg and back injuries.

Naera worried about children's safety and was concerned about pet dogs left roaming.

"I'm big enough to handle myself I believe but we've got kaumatua, kuia and children that walk around here so that's more the primary concern."

Far North deputy mayor Kelly Stratford requested privacy for the small Northland community, as it dealt with the tragedy.

"Unfortunately today I think everyone's waking up looking at dogs in a different light which is really sad for the dogs but it's the dog owners who are at fault."

But she acknowledged there was a wider problem.

"There is a problem with the amount of dogs that are wandering in every single town of this district. Our dog control officers are stretched."

A Northland dog welfare group said the local council had a history of poor animal control.

Bay of Islands WatchDogs co-ordinator Leonie Exel said the growing population had outpaced old notions of dog ownership.

"When I was a kid everybody let their dogs wander. You walked to school, the dog walked with you. We'd all go to the bush or the beach during the day and everybody's dogs would just follow us and that was the norm and it was lovely, it was about community dogs," she said.

"But you can't have community dogs in an urban setting without causing terrible problems."

Exel said poverty in the region meant many people could not afford to properly fence properties, or have the time to adequately train and care for their dogs.

The SPCA said responsible pet owners are a crucial factor in preventing such tragedies - and that proper training, socialisation and control of dogs were critical to ensure the safety of the community.

Bee said the elderly woman who died in the dog attack was a much-loved member of Moerewa's community.

"A beautiful woman with a humble caring heart and it's just a real tragedy that this has happened."

Far North Area Commander inspector Riki Whiu said police were making enquiries on behalf of the coroner and could not yet release the woman's name.