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Letter: Responsible ownership, not bans!

Thursday 28 March 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


Letter: Responsible ownership, not bans!

Dear Editor, I am struggling to comprehend the rationale behind the recent list of prohibited dog breeds released to the public by the Police department.

In New Zealand, there is no specific legislation that defines “dangerous dog breeds”. Instead, the law focuses on the behaviour of individual dogs, rather than their breed. The Dog Control Act 1996 requires that all dogs be kept under control and that owners take reasonable steps to prevent their dogs from causing harm to people, other animals, or property.

The Dog Control Act does however define a ‘menacing dog’. A dog can be classified as menacing either by its breed or behaviour.  Here it classifies specific breeds that are wholly or predominantly considered to be ‘menacing’, no matter how they behave individually. Those breeds are: American Pit Bull Terrier; Brazilian Fila; Japanese Tosa; Dogo Argentino; and the Perro de Presa Canario. With the exception of the APBT, nowhere on that list are any of the dogs listed by the Cook Islands Police Department. In NZ, once the dog is defined as menacing it must be muzzled in public, except when in a vehicle or cage; either neutered or certified unfit to be neutered within one month, and microchipped within two months.

As far as I know, we have no such legislation here in the Cook Islands which places the responsibility for the dog squarely on the owner, and/or requiring specific actions to be taken by the owner if the dog is considered as menacing. You only need to take a ride on a bike along the backroad at Matavera to work out that there are many such aggressive dogs already present and uncontrolled in our community. Proper dog control legislation is what is sorely missing or needing to be enforced, not nonsensical ‘lists’ drawn up by someone who has obviously no clue about particular dog breeds and/or their relative danger to the community at large.

To illustrate what I mean, the Australian Daily Mail published a list in 2022 of the worst breeds for dog bites by percentage of reported cases in Australia. The highest on that list was the American Pitbull Terrier with 10%, followed by the Labrador, with 8.5% of recorded cases! Also in the top ten list was the Border Collie, Kelpie, Jack Russell terrier, and the German Shepherd. The reason I point this out is simply to show that any dog, if it’s not properly trained or socialised, is capable of biting someone, even if it is considered a ‘safe’ breed.

I am the responsible owner of ‘Teva’, an English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, which I brought legally into the country in 2011. He was desexed and micro-chipped as part of the condition of his entry into the country. He is a much loved member of our family, a happy companion and a perfect example of his breed, known in the UK as the ‘nanny dog’, because of its caring nature, especially with younger family members. English Staffordshire Bull terriers are the sixth most popular dog breed in New Zealand, and for good reason – it’s a fantastic dog. Like all dogs however, it needs proper care and discipline. Unfortunately in NZ, ‘staffies’ often get confused with other breeds, and lazy journalists often describe rogue dogs responsible for attacks as ‘staffy-crosses’. A staffy-cross could be anything, but it is for sure not a registered, papered, Staffordshire bull terrier anymore. There is no way of knowing the temperament of such a dog in such circumstances.

So, perhaps Trevor Pitt could elaborate a little more on the reasoning behind the changes of their prohibited ‘list’, and as a part of that, give us an update on where they have got to in terms of specific, targeted legislation which holds owners squarely responsible (and liable) for their dogs. As a part of that, perhaps they could work with the SPCA and Te Are Manu on promoting courses on how to look after their household pets, because there are some/many people on this island who clearly either have no idea or don’t care.

For the record, I do agree with Trevor that all dogs brought into the country should automatically be desexed, and anything called a cross-breed should also be prohibited, as there is no way of knowing what it is, or its temperament.


Josh Mitchell