Cats and dogs are two of New Zealand’s most loved companion animals who are often integral parts of a family. My own dog, Kea, is a rescue from the SPCA and brings huge joy in my life.
It’s well established that having a pet can have many benefits. Having a pet when you are a child can help with developing empathy and responsibility. Older people also benefit both emotionally and physically, helping them to live longer, healthier and more enjoyable lives.
But along with pet ownership comes a host of responsibilities. Including the responsibility to ensure that your pet is de-sexed, safe, well cared for and does not harm others or the environment.
Sadly, New Zealand’s culture around pet ownership has meant that many cats and dogs are not looked after as well as they should be.
In particular, many owners don’t get their pets de-sexed. This leaves us with huge numbers of litters being born on farms and in backyards without any ability to home all the baby animals.
As a result, not only are tens of thousands of kittens and puppies being euthanised in council pounds and animal shelters every year as it is simply not possible to rehome them all, our wider community also has to put up with a host of negative impacts.
Thousands of cats end up as strays with a serious impact on local wildlife, birds and insects.
And thousands of dogs end up languishing in people’s back yards, untrained, poorly socialised, unneutered and a real risk to any children who may come onto the property.
In recent years, there have been a huge number of high profile dog attacks, where children and adults have suffered major injuries. This is totally unacceptable and clearly something has to be done.
However, the measures that have just been announced by the Government are, in my view, counterproductive. Instead of using this opportunity to change our culture around dog ownership, they have chosen to single out some breeds as dangerous and brought in a host of punitive measures targeting these breeds.
These measures mean that animal shelters may be forced to euthanise pups, like the one I am cuddling from HUHA in the photo below, if they are deemed to have a bit of a dangerous breed in them.
Overseas international evidence has shown that the best way to prevent dog attacks is by funding widespread de-sexing – which is proven to reduce aggression in all dogs – along with education around responsible dog ownership. In other words targeting the behaviour not the breed. It is such a shame that the Government, in its haste to be seen to do something about aggressive dogs did not listen to the SPCA and others.
The Government proposed dog control measures are also in contrast to the draft national cat management strategy just released. This document, which represents a collaborative effort between animal experts and other groups lays out a really strong proposal, with a focus on de-sexing of all cats, microchipping and other measures that I believe will result in both better welfare outcomes as well as managing their impact on the wider environment.