Dog lover Lennie Vickery is an Animal Management Officer with Auckland Council, a busy role that sees her teaching dog owners about responsible ownership, dealing with complaints, and ensuring compliance with the Dog Control Act 1996.
Lennie is also the owner of Tony, the face of Auckland Council's TXT2DSEX campaign, which offers free de-sexing to dogs registered and classified as menacing.
How long have you had Tony?
About two years now. I was coming home from the dairy one day and saw this puppy sitting in the middle of the road, so I followed him home to make sure he got there okay. It turns out his owner was having trouble looking after him, so he ended up with me.
As a pit bull-type dog, he's classified as a menacing breed. Does that make him difficult to look after?
No, but it means that I have responsibilities as the owner of a menacing dog. He must wear a muzzle in public and has to be de-sexed and microchipped and under control at all times. His breed is very high maintenance and needs a lot of work, both in terms of exercise and training.
What’s your secret weapon?
Cheese. He’s a total sucker for cheese.
What’s the biggest misconception about your job?
That we hate dogs and that we want to kill them or take them away from families. And that’s just not true, we all love dogs – that’s why we do the job. Even the non-adoptable dogs get treated like our own but, sadly for some dogs, the time they spend with us will be the best they’ve ever known.
What's the bag on your hip for – is that dog treats?
Yes, it's the number one necessity for dog wrangling!
What are the highlights of your job?
When you work with a dog owner and get them to understand what their dog needs to lead a fulfilling life. Many of the people I meet get a puppy because it’s cute and they think it’ll be easy. But if you don’t know how to take care of it then you’ll both be unhappy.
Too often people just leave their dogs at the shelter and get themselves another puppy, so when I see an owner come in and claim their dog I know they care and they want to do the right thing.
What are some of the worst things about the job?
For many of us it’s seeing people treat dogs as a disposable thing, rather than a long-term responsibility, and the endless litters because the owners won’t de-sex their dogs. Plus the aggression - we get a lot of verbal abuse and people threaten to physically hurt us, even threatening to shoot us.
What is the most crucial thing for a dog owner to do?
To have their dog de-sexed and to train it – both as soon as possible. A male dog can detect the scent of a female in heat from 10km away and will travel that far if not de-sexed. They’ll also fight each other for the female. It’s a big factor in the work we do! Seventy-six per cent of the dogs that come through the Manukau Animal Shelter haven’t been de-sexed.
To find out more about owning a dog and being a responsible dog owner, visit the Auckland Council website.