Richard Field and his hearing assistance dog Jett have been shouted at, threatened and filmed as they walk on Stanmore Bay Beach.
Under the Dog Control Act, registered assistance dogs like Jett can walk on any beach or public place, at any time (regardless of Auckland Council’s summertime dog-on-beach bylaws), on or off-leash.
While doing so, Jett has recently been attacked and chased by dogs that were not supposed to be on the beach at that time and a lot of anger has been directed towards Richard.
“I am finding lots of other dogs on the beach at times when they are not supposed to be there,” Richard says. “When I ask owners to get their dog off the beach, it has often ended in a shouting match.”
Richard says the abuse has also come from members of the public who think Jett should not be on the beach outside the permitted times.
As an assistance dog, Jett is almost always on duty. Walks are therefore a chance for her to run about off leash, without the jacket that identifies her as an assistance dog, and have fun.
Assistance dogs are trained not to go to the toilet while they have their jackets on, so Richard removes the jacket to give Jett some freedom.
“I understand that locals get upset when they think we’re ignoring the rules because Jett is not wearing her jacket that identifies her as an assistance dog,” Richard says. “If they approach me politely and ask if I’m aware of the regulations, I can show them my ID card that proves we are allowed to be there,” Richard says. “But mostly they yell in an aggressive way and don’t want to listen when I try to explain.”
At times, Animal Control officers have stepped in to assist and Richard says they, and the Police, have been very helpful when there have been problems.
However, he says Council’s enforcement officers are not on the beach often enough to make a difference to the number of dog owners ignoring the rules.
“At 2.30pm yesterday there were five dogs on the beach, and that’s fairly common,” he says. “Why does Council have the dog on beaches law if it’s not prepared to enforce it?”
Richard has had Jett for five years, but says this summer on the beach has been particularly bad.
“It’s got to the point where every time we go for a walk I anticipate someone is going to come up and have a go at me.”
He says on the other hand, he received a lot of support and kindness when Jett was attacked, including an anonymous donation towards her vet care.
Auckland Council’s animal management manager, Kerri Fergusson, says animal management officers proactively patrol beaches.
“Visits and beaches patrolled are chosen based on various factors such as areas that are known to have high dog numbers, previous high number of complaints of dog owners non-compliant with the rules, but also on a random basis where the dog access rules apply for officers to ensure compliance is region wide,” Kerri says.
“The focus of our patrols is not only to identify and educate those breaking the rules, but also to speak with people in the area to provide advice and learn of any potential issues. We had two Auckland Council interns who undertook this role on Hibiscus Coast beaches over the busy summer period, from the end of November until February 18. No fines were issued during this period.”
The summer dog on beaches rules are effective December 1 to March 1 – outside that period, all dogs are allowed on Hibiscus Coast beaches without restrictions.