I left the SPCA in late 2017 after being the final CEO for Wellington SPCA prior to the national merger. Only months earlier, I had lead the largest animal rescue operation in our country’ history as head of SPCA Rescue following the Edgecumbe floods. There were many lessons to be learnt and this event was a key motivator to embark on my PhD with Otago to provide the first major domestic study of a companion animal disaster response with a view to evaluate laws and practices to afford better protection to these animals and their human guardians. “Its been a real privilege to be supported by Otago University with a scholarship to immerse myself in this topic. I thought I had a good grasp of the subject before I started, but I am finding out new areas that have never been researched before, especially around animal disaster law and the incident management of animal emergencies. Having three supervisors from very different backgrounds (sociology, bioethics, and law) is adding huge value to my research and it is growing my critical thinking and challenging some of my own assumptions. I have found my supervisors and support staff (especially from the library) amazing and I am stoked to be doctoral candidate at the University of Otago.
I was watching the AM Show on TV3 this morning which had veterinarian Dr Alex Melrose giving advice on how to protect yourself from a dog attack. It is great this conversation is happening, but having been an Animal Control Officer that routinely dealt with dangerous dogs outside of a vet clinic, I have more practical advice than “be a tree” which is a bite prevention programme mainly aimed at children (but still good advice).
First of all, most attacks are not reported and are from dogs of friends or family. Dogs that are habitually chained up in the back yard are highly likely to be un-socialised and territorial. Simply keep away from these! In many countries such tethering practices are illegal and New Zealand needs to follow suit to improve both animal control and animal welfare of dogs. Even if the dog is well socialised, introduce new people to them, and show people especially younger people how to behave around them (for example some dogs are food protective, so don’t got near their food bowl). Maintain supervision and keep excitement levels down.
Many other dog attacks are from the dog being territorial. Most dog attacks occur within a 100m of the property, and the more often a dog is allowed to roam, the more it extends its territorial boundary. This is why wandering dogs should be reported to local animal control and why it should be an issue dog owners take seriously. I have seen teeth gnashing dogs spitting at the mouth turn into placid puppies (not quite but by comparison they were), by simply removing them from their territorial area, let it be a property or vehicle.
Prevention is the best cure for dog attacks. If you are going onto a property look for signs of dog occupancy such as bones, chew toys, grass damage, scratching marks, kennels, dog signage and the obvious dog poop. Upon approaching the property, if it has a gate rattle it or the latch first and wait. If you are routinely going onto people’s property like a courier for example, wear a baseball cap so you can quickly deploy a bite object to put in front of you. If rushed at, you want to leave the dog’s territory so you are no longer a threat. Back away slowly and put an object between you and dog such as your baseball cap (wave it around with an extended hand), bag, clipboard, coat or even a shoe (not so helpful if you are a tog wearing lifeguard!). I used my bag once to shield myself from an aggressive street dog in Laos, which is known for rabies – thank goodness I always carried a bag! When knocking on a door (which often triggers a dog to rush toward the door and bark i.e. “someone’s coming into my territory!”, have something ready again to put between you and the door, but remember that often dogs will hear the knock at the door while at the rear of the property and come rushing toward the front from the side of the house. This happened to me when making an enquiry to a dangerous dog complaint and a large Rottweiler came hurtling around from the back of the property trapping me between the doorway and itself – since then I would knock on the door, then take a few steps backward and scan for side threats too!
Despite being a dog lover, when I was working in Ambulance it was common to go inside to people’s home when they were injured and sick, often in pain. Dogs pick up on their owners distress and want to be protective. Owners often are offended to have it suggested their dog could bite someone, so the most diplomatic way to deal with this is say “Sorry, I am really allergic to animals, could you put him in another room please”. This way, you are not suggesting their dog is dangerous and most people are very understanding when this tactic is deployed (no one wants a sneezing paramedic while inserting needles!).
Make sure you report any incidents to local animal control as the next person including a child may not be so lucky. Local animal control have the power to classify dogs as dangerous or menacing, and this can require owners to take additional measures to keep the public safe, such as muzzling in a public place or improve fencing requirements.
And despite German Shepherds being the culprits from two out of the three dog attacks I have survived, every breed is capable of attacking, they just have different calibre teeth.
Do you remember when it was okay to smack your children? Well from the same era, it was also okay to leave your pets behind if you evacuated.
Leaving pets behind was FEMA’s policy back in 2005, that was until Hurricane Katrina struck and over a thousand people and over 50,000 pets died. The Fritz Institute found that of those that chose to stay behind, 44% did so because they could not take their pets. This is why the tweet I spotted on the Stuff Live Feed today citing a QBE infographic is something that is at odds with international best practice for emergency management.
The lessons of Hurricane Katrina is also why the US passed Federal legislation namely the Pets Evacuation & Transportation Standards Act (2006) that now requires pets and service animals to be included in evacuation plans.
Leaving your pets behind creates many issues. Firstly, pet owners may refuse to evacuate if pets are not included in the evacuation.
Secondly, pet owners often attempt to illegally return to the evacuated area putting rescue personnel at risk.
Thirdly, it is illegal to abandon an animal; and in New Zealand a farmer was convicted for failing to move stock who later drown despite being warned. I don’t think anyone in New Zealand could claim they didn’t know about the Gita warnings. There is no excuse to leave pets behind to drown. A documentary called Dark Water Rising (available from Amazon) showed decomposing pets inside houses following Hurricane Katrina, who had run out of food and water, with many of the owners thinking they would be back within a day or two. Don’t make the same mistake.
So if you want to get ready for Gita here are some tips so that your pets are kept safe:
Bring your pets inside, so you can easily find them if you do have to evacuate.
Ensure you have a cage for every small animal. Label the cage or box.
Buy a muzzle for each dog so if emergency services have to help you, they won’t be reluctant to pick up your Land Shark/Monster Cross. Each dog should have a leash too (and ideally a crate).
Identify friends or family that are pet friendly that you can evacuate to if you are likely to be affected by the storm.
Have a grab/evacuation bag for your pet containing its normal food, water, vaccination card, brush, toys, poo bags, and blanket. Some cleaning products wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Make sure all your pets have identification, and are microchipped. It is a bit late leaving it to today, so at least book in a vet appointment to get any unchipped animals chipped in the coming weeks. If your pet is microchipped make sure your details are up to date with the NZ Companion Animal Register and that you have someone outside the area as secondary contact.
Take a photo of your pet so if you become separated you have a picture to help with posters and lost/found websites such as http://www.lostpet.co.nz
Never leave your pet behind. It’s not the 1990’s and it is not okay to leave them behind when you evacuate.