Council talking cats, dogs, birds and the bees

20 November 2015

Wellingtonians should get the opportunity to talk about the birds and the bees, cats, dogs, pigeons, poultry, livestock and other animals in the city next year.

The 26 November meeting of Wellington City Council’s Environment Committee will discuss the scope for reviews of the Council’s Animals Bylaw and Dog Policy.

The policy and bylaw determine the requirements for keeping dogs and other animals. They aim to protect the public from nuisance, to maintain and promote public health and safety and to protect the welfare of animals.

If approved by the committee, the reviews will scrutinise management of cats, dogs, pigeons and poultry in particular. Work on the reviews will start in the New Year – and a four-week public consultation will follow in May.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the reviews will interest owners of dogs and cats and people who keep other animals – as well as Wellingtonians passionate about our growing native bird population and the city’s wider biodiversity.

“Wellingtonians are generally fond and responsible pet owners. It will be good to have their views in light of the changing dynamics of the city – we’ve got far more native birds in our city due to Zealandia, Council staff and conservation volunteers carrying out restoration work and predator-eradication programmes.

“We also recognise so many people have dogs and cats. We’ll be looking for the best way to accommodate the interests and rights of cat and dog owners as well as allow our native biodiversity to flourish.”

The Council’s existing provisions within the Animals Bylaw do not place restrictions on cat ownership. However, there are indications cats and dogs are increasingly coming into conflict with wildlife.

There have been reported instances of dogs bothering seals, penguins and kaka. Recent debate on cats has included reports of domestic and feral cats killing native birds and other native animals.

The Council has been working with Victoria University to better understand cat behaviour and how to reduce the risk to native animals. Dr Heidy Kikillus’ research is showing just how far cats roam.

There are around 10,000 dogs in Wellington, and within New Zealand 50% of households have at least one cat. Staff will investigate regulatory and non-regulatory measures to protect native animals from cats and dogs. Some examples for further investigation could include limiting the number of cats per household, public education to keep cats inside from 7pm to 7am, microchipping cats, and education about where and when it’s safe to walk dogs.

Environment Committee Chair Cr Iona Pannett says the main issues in terms of the Dog Policy review are adequacy of dog exercise areas, registration fees, dog faeces, and access to public places.

Cr Pannett says there has only been one prosecution and minimal infringement notices issued in the last three years relating to dogs. “It is encouraging from a public safety perspective to see the majority of Wellington dog owners continue to be responsible and interactions between dogs and people are largely positive,” she says.

The review will look at the adequacy of certain dog exercise areas and the existing rule that does not allow dog owners to ‘stop’ when walking a dog through the CBD.

“From a dog owner’s perspective, the adequacy of dog exercise areas continues to be an issue. There are a number of excellent areas throughout the city, but there are still a number of gaps in the network.

“We know some dog owners want to be able to take their dogs into the city but other people may feel it is not appropriate, so we will be asking the public what they think.”

She says a significant number of dog owners believe registration fees are too high. “Revenue from our fees covers much of the total cost associated with dog control but we will have another look at whether dog owners are getting good value. We will also be encouraging more dog owners to apply for Responsible Dog Owner status which gives owners a 50% discount on their registration fees.”

The feeding of pigeons and other animals will also be reviewed.

“Pigeons, especially in high numbers, are a health hazard and can be a public nuisance with their unsightly excrement damaging heritage buildings. Part of the problem in the CBD is caused by people feeding them. One of the issues we will be looking at is whether feeding pigeons should be banned in certain areas. ”

The Animals Bylaw review will also investigate the management of bees and livestock within urban areas to determine whether additional measures are needed to maintain Wellington as a bee-friendly city.

If the committee approves the review proposal, Council staff will begin the review process in December by meeting key interest groups and conducting a survey to assess issues and ideas. A four-week full public consultation exercise will follow in May. The intention is for an updated Animals Bylaw and Dog Policy to be debated, adopted and in force by September 2016.