Nine sheep, most of them pregnant, were mauled to death by a dog over the space of four nights in Tapora in early July.
As well as losing stock worth thousands of dollars, farmers Rodney and Julie Cotton were left with orphaned lambs from slaughtered ewes that had recently given birth at their Burma Road property.
However, after news spread via Mahurangi Matters online and in social media, the attacks not only stopped, but willing volunteers came forward to adopt the orphan lambs for local calf club days.
“Word got round real quick,” Julie says. “I reckon someone knew it was their dog and pulled it into line.”
An Auckland Council dog control officer visited the farm and baited a cage with fresh meat, but nothing was caught and no more attacks have since occurred.
“The guy said it definitely would have been local, because no dog will go past food to get to food further away,” Julie adds.
She says the original attacks were horrific, and came at the worst possible time of year.
“Our ewes are very vulnerable, we’re in the middle of lambing,” she says. “It’s the cruelty of it – dogs always go for the neck. It’s a painful, slow death, and the problem is, once they get a taste for it, they just don’t stop.
“You tend to find most farmers are pretty respectful and will kennel their dogs. But our rural communities are changing. We’re starting to get a lot of people on smaller landholdings that aren’t used to living in farming districts and who don’t have the same sort of knowledge and respect level in terms of being completely vigilant with their animals.”
Pet owners often don’t realise a dog’s capacity to maim and kill stock, Julie adds, citing an example of a couple who visited their farm stay cottage from the city some years ago.
“They had a tiny little poodle, but in the space of a weekend it killed two sheep – a poodle. It becomes a game and they’re on the chase. It’s kind of like a kid in a lolly shop.
“But this is people’s livelihoods – it’s a form of stealing, and we’re having to wear it.”