The Paediatric Society of New Zealand/Te Kāhui Mātai Arotamariki o Aotearoa are very concerned about the high number of tamariki injured by dogs in Aotearoa.
Auckland emergency doctor Natasha Duncan-Sutherland says, “Over 2800 dog-related injuries occur every year to tamariki aged 0-14 years, with 170 of these requiring hospitalisation, including the fatality of an infant three years ago, with little in the way of change since then.”
“The protection of tamariki must remain paramount and beyond reproach when considering strategies for prevention of harm to children from dogs.”
She says, “Because of a child’s size relative to a dog, and their limited ability to defend themselves, injuries to young children often occur on the face/head region and can result in permanent scarring or deformity. Within recent research on this topic, parents frequently described dogs either attacking or invading the space of children in both public and private spaces, dispelling the commonly-held belief that somehow children, despite their vulnerability, are to blame for these incidents.”
There is currently no legislation in New Zealand governing a requirement for children to have safe spaces from dogs in private spaces, or property fencing requirements to prevent attacks from roaming or guarding dogs. This is despite research suggesting that engineering barriers to create safe spaces for children is likely the most effective strategy to prevent injuries.
The Ministry for Primary Industries has recently asked for submissions on a proposal to review constraints for dogs on private properties. The Paediatric Society strongly recommends that the outcome of this review is to first implement legislation ensuring child safety from dogs, through consideration of what dog-constraint regulations should be implemented, alongside consideration of dog-welfare.
Dr Duncan-Sutherland says, “These legislation changes alone will not solve the issues of either child or dog welfare.” The Starship Foundation has recently implemented a guideline strongly recommending the notification of all dog-related injuries (to adults or children) to Animal Management Officers so that issues of either child safety and/or dog-welfare can be promptly addressed. Further safeguarding/notification systems through veterinarians or other organisations such as delivery services would also be beneficial.”
The Society would also like to see improved funding of Animal Management Officers, independent from dog-registration fees, to address these animal welfare and public health issues. Currently, there may be only one officer for a large geographical region and thousands of people and dogs. With over half a million registered dogs in Aotearoa, a large number of estimated unregistered dogs, and an increasing incidence of injuries, this issue urgently needs to be addressed.