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Wairarapa dog attacks under-reported

A comparison of local data with ACC claims indicates a large number of dog attacks are not being reported to local councils.

According to Masterton District Council [MDC] records, 17 dog attacks were reported between 2021 and 2022.

But a study using regional ACC claims has estimated that nearly 100 dog bite injuries occur each year in the district.

There were 17 ACC claims for dog bite injuries estimated per year in Carterton, but only one was reported to the local council between 2021 and 2022, while South Wairarapa Council received seven reports compared to an annual estimate of 31 ACC claims.

Mandatory notification of dog-related injuries to authorities is currently not required in New Zealand.

Auckland emergency doctor and researcher Natasha Duncan-Sutherland said only about 20 per cent of dog bite and dog-related injuries are reported to authorities.

In one audit of dog-related injury notification practices at a New Zealand medical practice, Duncan-Sutherland found less than 2 per cent had documented evidence of somebody reporting it.

“I went over 300 discharges, and I was almost crying reading them.

“Animal management is poorly funded and it’s not enough to address what is a public health issue.”

Duncan-Sutherland said the main reason why dog attacks are not reported is that the attacks often happen within family or friend environments.

“We need people to report more – we want that local statistic to go up so it’s accurate.”

MDC environmental services manager Terri Mulligan confirmed that when dog attacks involve the owner of a dog or their family, it is often not reported to the council.

Methods to mitigate this include educating dog owners on their responsibility to provide a safe environment.

“The animal services team works hard to tell dog owners of their responsibilities, which includes a regular programme of visits around schools to explain how children should behave around dogs.”

Both Carterton and Masterton saw a slight increase in dog attack numbers during the covid-19 lockdowns.

Carterton District Council said depending on the severity of the attack, they would seek to help owners with rehabilitation programmes for dogs.

It’s not only biting which is going unreported – there were 177 ACC claims in Masterton between 2021 and 2022 for dog-related injuries, which include fractures, scratches, and head injuries from being hit or knocked over by a dog.

Duncan-Sutherland said that nationally there was an annual average of over 2800 dog-related injuries suffered by children under 14 years old.

“Children end up being hospitalized more due to their size and ability to protect themselves. One thing we found in our studies is education is often directed towards children, but they don’t have a huge amount of scope to change their position.”

Instead, Duncan-Sutherland said more effort has to be put into “engineering strategies” like separated areas for dogs and children, leashes, and muzzles.

“Our research showed dogs were invading spaces of children, roaming on other properties. Someone told me the dog pulled a child off the bed.

“A large part of appropriate animal welfare needs to be addressed through improved funding … we want more people to report what’s going on so the issue can be addressed.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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