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Dealing with the four-legged attack weapon

Saturday 18 June 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion


Dealing with the four-legged attack weapon
John Dunn. Photo: Supplied/19120456

Over the next five weeks I will outline what I see as the main problems which serve as barriers to tourism – from dogs to rubbish to mynahs to service to human rights.

I will end on a positive note about what is in fact a fabulous country, and a plan to nevertheless improve. I am new to tourism in the last four years (two obviously disastrous) but I’m not new to touring.

I’ve visited 70 countries and I know what works and what I like. This business naïveté can be a strength when it brings fresh eyes. Certainly, a lot of tourism practices are steeped in tradition and are unbelievably archaic like travel wholesaling. The thing needs a shakeup.

My main work is as a surgeon. Bringing those disciplines has proved useful. It helps to make quick important decisions, spot the risks, think on your feet, be empathetic, welcome innovation, be prepared for problems, maintain optimism and cut out the bad bits. What could possibly go wrong?

I considered submitting this anonymously for about five seconds. I actually disrespect those who hide behind a rock. I understand the sensitivities in a small place but in the end, you need the courage of your convictions. What I have to say will no doubt offend almost everyone. If I haven’t, I probably haven’t done my job. Covid has forced us all to re-evaluate. Now’s the time to shake complacency, question the status quo and reject mediocrity. Just OK is not good enough. Excellence is not hard to achieve because most people never reach for it. Let’s get excellent – John Dunn, owner of the Motu Beachfront Art Villas and visiting surgeon Rarotonga Hospital.

The two best lagoons in the world are widely recognised as Aitutaki and Bora Bora. Aitutaki is better, for one rather surprising reason – dogs, or rather, no dogs. They’re banned. On beautiful Bora Bora you are safe on the reef but unsuspecting tourists trying to walk on the island are quickly victims of Rarotonga-style dog attack.

The dog situation on Rarotonga is appalling and unaddressed. Apparently, there is a law limiting each property to two dogs max but it is widely ignored and evidently unenforced. The situation has been recently exacerbated by the Covid inspired exodus to NZ, with those departing dumping Fido with Aunty to feed. I’ve counted six on one property.

I have friends who won’t visit Cook Islands because of dogs. I have guests too scared to go walking in Titikaveka. I’ve had one bitten on the beach.

As an experiment I measured the south coast DAR (Dog Attack Rate) on a local 30-minute walk. The answer is six, or one every five minutes. I’ve walked the entire island. The DAR is lower in the east and west but still significant at one scary encounter every 7-10 minutes. I’ve always had dogs and I’m not afraid of them but I won’t walk without a stick.

Perhaps the answer is to import electric cattle prods, if not for the dogs then maybe their slack owners who remain blissfully uncaring.

The dog situation on Rarotonga is appalling and unaddressed. Picture: JOHN DUNN/22061715

I have decided to challenge them. One young family whose gnashing monster ran at me seemed amused. The next errant owner, smoking on her porch while her drooling mongrel bailed me up, had a well-considered, succinct and witty retort. “Why don’t you F… off! And have a nice day.” I was till then. The next was also blunt when his yapping horde surrounded me. “Who the hell are you? And the third dog is my neighbour’s. And he’s a judge!” Yeah right.

I find this incredibly frustrating. While many of us are spending time, effort and money trying to attract guests and rebuild our shattered economy, there remains an underclass determined to drive them away with their canine army.

One lame excuse for these random, roaming four-legged attack weapons is “security”. I don’t buy that at all. Passing pensioners in Lycra pose no risk. And there is no difference in murder and home invasion statistics between dog-free Aitutaki and dog-infested Rarotonga – both approximately zero. Also, I have lived in South Africa. If you really want a security dog you keep it inside, not down the road bothering strollers.

The solution is quite simple. Unrestrained or wandering dogs are immediately impounded. If unregistered they are put down. Otherwise they are desexed at the owner’s expense and returned after a fine. If the owners won’t pay or won’t restrain them, they are put down. Registration should be mandatory, expensive (to discourage ownership and fund dog control) and enforced. Mandatory desexing of all puppies will decline the population towards zero over the next dog generation. Dogs remaining intact should be desexed or destroyed.

Old timers tell me there was once a very effective controller on the island. However his preferred technique of roadside execution was unpopular and we need to refine that approach a little.

But something needs to be done. The official response will predictably be slow or absent so I suggest start at puna level. Call out your neighbours who have an aggressive, wandering or barking pooch. Let them know it’s not ok. Enquire as to whether the offender (dog not owner) is neutered. Put pressure on at local and community level.

These thoughtless, irresponsible owners are a minority. They, more than their dogs, are the problem. They present a local nuisance and a health and safety problem. And they damage the economy because they have, indeed, built a barrier to tourism. Let’s remove it.


Tony Heays on 20/06/2022

Couldn't agree more, well said.