Cracker by Damian Christie

It's a Dog's Life

Ever noticed that since the terrible attack on seven-year old Carolina Anderson in February, there has been a new dog attack in the news almost every day? It's as though someone's spiked NZ's supply of Pedigree Meaty Bites with P, and man's long-suffering servant is giving Bill Clinton a good run for no.1 spot on the "Top 10 things unlikely to ever be described as faithful" list.

Dog ownership is regarded as something of a fundamental human right in NZ. What else is supposed to leap into the back of your station wagon, soil your quarter acre of Godzone turf and run amok at the Grey Lynn Festival? What other use could we find for all our 1.5 litre fizzy drink bottles if not filling them with water and throwing them en masse on our lawns to stop "unsightly" doggy deposits?

It's no surprise then there's been a veritable twenty-cent mixture of reactions to the package o' laws that the Government has rather hurriedly conflated ostensibly in response to the tragic defacing of a young girl. As I write, Paul Holmes is on the telly entreating people to call and give TVNZ 99 cents + GST per minute for their privilege of airing their views on the matter. When there's a Holmes poll involved, you know it must be serious (either that or our national broadcaster is in worse financial straits than I thought).

It's hard to avoid lapsing into puns, but it must be said that the new proposals represent a complete and utter dog's breakfast. Some make sense, such as microchipping and giving dog control officers greater powers to seize guilty dogs from private property. Others seem like a good idea on paper but just won't work; such as requiring dangerous breeds of dogs to be muzzled in public. Can you tell the difference between a Japanese Tosa, a Pitbull, a Bulldog, a Rottweiler and a Staffy? Do you know which of the above must now be muzzled? Are you prepared to take an errant dog owner armed with a Dogo Argentinos to task if they don't comply?

Where the laws become ridiculously onerous is not with what is to be required in public, but what is you're expected to do in your own back yard. As the proposal stands at present, dog owners will be required to fence their property by 2006. This is arguably reasonable, (and many people think it's already law anyway) but it does raise questions, particularly in regard to toy breeds. Okay, you could argue they're not real dogs, and are therefore exempt under the legislation, but that aisde, does Froufrou the bed-ridden poodle really need a six-foot high fence to stop her getting at the postie?

Where things really start to trample on private property rights (and okay, it's an ideological standpoint, but here I like to take Westpac's "it's your house and what you do in it is your business" line), you must also provide a pooch-free path to your front or back door, for anyone who chooses to use it. Hullo!! We live in dangerous times. Burglar Bill no longer wears a stripy jumper and conveniently calls round during the holidays; these days it's Home-Invader Harry - he's high on crack and toting a machine gun. If you want a dog guarding your front door, I say 'so be it'. Not to mention the fact that many of us don't have the luxury of having a front yard AND a back yard anymore, particularly in the big A, where a plague of infill housing has left us lucky to have a yard at all. Are we then required to subdivide further by sub-fencing our front yard off to allow all and sundry unfettered access? Apparently so.

What is noticeably missing from all of this latest crackdown is any talk of additional funding for more dog control officers. Unless this changes, we can expect the recalcitrant owners of dangerous dogs, who train them to be even more dangerous still and then let them roam in public sans leads, will only continue to do so. Banning further imports of dangerous breeds will only result in the inbreeding of our nation's existing Cujos and Cujettes.

Meanwhile, Mr & Mrs Law-abiding Citizen will be forced to fork out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for additional fencing, microchipping and the like, all for a dog that was never a threat to anyone in the first place.

The public submission and select committee carry-on is taking place shortly, so if you own a dog, or plan on ever doing so, you might want to make your feelings known.

In case you were wondering, the Holmes poll: "Will new dog control laws protect us from dog attacks?" results were 497 'yes', 2036 'no'. The people have spoken, and Holmes' wage bill has been paid for another night...