Reclaiming beaches from the dogs

It was a pilgrimage of sorts back to her roots in the Bay of Plenty, to where she grew up and was educated.

She read her poetry at an Anzac Day commemoration but left “horrified and concerned”.

“It’s an important issue The Weekend Sun has raised,” says Wendy Baker, now living in another dramatic and beautiful part of the country, the Catlins in Southland. “And it’s an issue that should be pursued.”

Her beef is dog control. And The Sun story she refers to was about a family being woken in the dead of night by a pack of roaming dogs that had bailed up a family pet – a cat called Rosie.

It’s believed the dogs made off with the cat, which hasn’t been seen since. And there were other reports of the dogs behaving in a threating way around Papamoa.

“That was exactly my experience in Tauranga after Anzac Day,” she says. Wendy, an inveterate jogger, went for a run on Papamoa Beach and there were several dogs roaming. Wendy says the owners were unaware of where their dogs were and what they were doing.

“I also ran down the reserve by the water course and there were more dogs not under control. They were not being controlled effectively. Where are the leashes?”

And she believes there should be signs advising visitors of the dog rules in that area and also advising dog owners of their responsibilities.

It’s not just Wendy’s concern it seems. She cites the results of a local Papamoa community questionnaire. It asked if there should be stricter controls for dogs on the beach. Fifty-eight respondents said ‘Yes’, just 18 said ‘No’. Should wardens to round up wandering dogs? ‘Yes’, said 71 replies, ‘No’, said just four. And should fines be imposed? Sixty-one respondents said ‘Yes, and eight for ‘No’.

“There needs to be better control of dogs by dogs owners. And there especially needs to be better education and enforcement under the Dog Control Act 1996,” says Wendy.

And she uses Accident Compensation Corporation statistics to give weight to her cause.

“In 2014 there were 12,655 dog biting incidents and last year there were 13,206 – that’s an increase of 551 in one year. Nearly two more each day. That cannot be tolerated.”

Claims lodged with ACC for dog biting incidents cost more than $3 million per year. Wendy says those statistics must been very worrying for Papamoa, where the population and dogs numbers are soaring.

Uncontrolled dogs in public areas and the potential danger they pose is a hobby horse of this former Bay of Plenty Regional Council worker. “I am familiar with the regulatory and compliance responsibilities of councils. And I don’t think enough is being done.”

And she is a victim herself. Wendy has been attacked from behind by a dog while running –not in Papamoa but another North Island town – and she still suffers lasting effects from the injuries to her ankle.

She she’s taken up the dog biting issue up with local Tauranga City councillor Steve Morris. She told him that “we all have the right to enjoy our beaches and reserves and they’re not just free-range for the dog owners to do what they want”.

Wendy told Steve there are people on the beach who don’t control their dogs effectively and “something needs to be done please”.

Back came Mr Morris. And apparently the council has started “pro-active dog ranging” for the first time. Steve says rangers now regularly patrol the beach in 4WDs with cages. “And we have brought forward the review of both our dog and beaches bylaws from 2018 to later this year.”

Steve says at the moment a dog is allowed off the leash on the beach and in the reserves. “But we may change this subject to consultation with the community.”

Wendy has been on this case for a few years now. “This is a serious issue. I feel dogs should be on leads and under effective control in public areas. I am passionate about advocating for New Zealand to be a safe place with dogs.”

She is not going to let go.