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Behind the scenes: no shortage of love at Auckland's animal shelters

Published: 16 August 2019

They say dogs may be man's best friend, but at Auckland Council’s animal shelters all but two staff are women.

“The majority of our shelter staff are women,” Animal Management Manager Sarah Anderson smiles. “And they all have hearts of steel.”

While the job requires empathy and a love of dogs, Sarah says every animal shelter employee has to have a wide range of skills, including strong de-escalation and customer service skills.

“Not everyone who walks in here is happy and sometimes they take their anger out on our staff.”

In south Auckland in July, 360 dogs were impounded – with 37 of those classified as 'menacing'. Twenty-five dogs were impounded for attacks on animals and 14 dogs impounded for attacks on people or behaving aggressively in public.

With council shelters at Henderson, Silverdale and Manukau, thousands of lost, abandoned, menacing and dangerous dogs are cared for by staff each year.

Manukau Shelter Manager Zarene Gerbich says dogs classified as menacing are classified either by deed (what it’s done) or by breed (what type of dog it is).

Having worked in animal control for nearly 30 years, Zarene has seen it all - from the hydatids eradication era to the implementation of the Dog Control Act 1996.

“The changes have been for the better,” she admits.

With a focus on reducing dog-related harm, responsible dog ownership and mandatory registration, Zarene says the Act is “more people focused.”

She says there’s also been a lot of work around educating people about dogs.

Sarah says last year there were “strong results across the board with the numbers of registrations going up, and the number of impoundments going down”.

All dogs need to be registered by three months old and re-registered every year and need to be contained or under control at all times. If owners do this the chance of them seeing staff at a shelter is minimal.

A huge effort goes into returning and rehoming dogs, with 194 dogs claimed and 22 dogs adopted from the Manukau shelter in July.

Zarene explains the council actively seeks to rehome dogs wherever possible and appropriate.

“We don’t rehome dogs that are assessed to be menacing as specified in the Dog Control Act.”

The adoption process is all about finding a dog’s “forever home”.

“We’re looking for a happily ever after.”

Zarene says the adoption process is thorough – with a 100 per cent success rate.

Behaviour and temperament assessments help ensure each dog is suitable for adoption, and to understand the right environment for the dog.

She likened the process to dating.

“We always try to find the best possible match and home for our dogs. The best interests of both the animal and the owner are taken into account before we approve an adoption.

After the details of a potential owner are entered into the system, staff carry out a number of checks.

“Staff watch the interaction at the shelter and make notes. Sometimes it’s the dog who chooses its owner,” she smiles.

Inspections are carried at a successful applicant’s home before the dog is handed over.

“One of our animal management officers visits the home to check if your property is suitable for keeping a dog, we check fences and see if the home is of adequate size for the dog you are adopting.”

As well as facilitating the adoption of unwanted dogs, all council shelters can process dog registrations, provide de-sexing, microchipping and assist welfare agencies when required.

The number of dogs being euthanised and impounded has dropped, as a result of the hard work and commitment by shelter staff and field staff, Sarah says.

Where euthanasia is the only option, it's carried out by a veterinarian through intravenous injection.

“There’s no cushy office job for these guys. Rain, hail or shine they are out there in the kennels each day taking care of the dogs.” 

Find out more

Learn more about Auckland Council animal shelters, and see the animals currently looking for a new home here on the council website.

Read more: Behind the scenes Dogs

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