In a tremendous demonstration of citizen participation, an estimated 22,000 Hastings residents turned out for a public meeting yesterday on dog control.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” exclaimed Mayor Yule, “This is twice the number of people that voted for me in the last election. I want them to know I feel their anxiety. No more speeches about sustainability from me … that’s sooo yesterday … from now on, I’m all about dog control!”
Added Councillor Cynthia Bowers: “This is bigger than the sports park, bigger than Ocean Beach, even bigger than the firing of the Health Board. I’m not sure what these people want, but I’m all for it.”
HDC’s senior group manager of dog control, Wheaton Terrier, noted: “There would have been even more people here, but several thousand residents got mis-routed to the sports park, and haven’t found their way back. It’s waaay out there, you know.”
The crowd, which seemed evenly divided on the issue, was so large the demonstration had to be moved outdoors, to the empty field that was once Nelson Park. But the rain didn’t dampen the spirits of those in attendance. Chants of “leash those lassies” and “muzzle the mongrels” — countered by “dogs don’t bite, people do” and “bite me” — could be heard all the way back to the deserted central business district.
For its size, the crowd was mostly well-behaved. Police kept the mob on a short leash. However, officers did need to step in to avert violence when outraged gang members threatened to pummel a contingent from the Mary Doyle Lifestyle Village when the rowdy seniors tried to burn a pit bull in protest. The pit bull was rescued, but only after biting several officers.
Hastings Councillors huddled behind closed doors for an hour, while the crowd waited nervously, to hammer out a compromise between advocates of banning all dogs in public, and others championing “dog emancipation.” However, when a proposed compromise was presented to the people, the deal fell apart. Opposing sides were unable to agree on what constituted the acceptable maximum length for leashes. “We knew this could be the biggest bone of contention,” said Jack Russell, chairman of Unleash the People.
“We’ve done all we could,” said an exasperated Mayor Yule. “This is a tougher issue than beach erosion at Haumoana, or closing the dump at Blackbridge.”
The leash length issue will now be put before Hastings voters in a special referendum to be held as quickly as possible, given the urgency of the matter.
“We have citizens who are afraid to leave their homes,” noted Councillor Bowers, “they can’t be held hostage by dog terrorists any longer.”
Yes, it was a messy day for democracy in Hastings, but most Councillors were upbeat, seeing the massive turnout as a sign that citizen participation is alive and well. Only Councillor Kevin Watkins disagreed. “My Chinese sister-city friends will never understand why we aren’t just eating the bloody dogs,” he lamented. Off he went to lobby Hawke’s Bay Today not to report on the demonstration.
BayBuzz spotted a bemused Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott surveying the scene. “As we pointed out our submission to the Hastings Council, there’s no need for our two cities to take a unified approach on dog by-laws,” she sniffed. “Our dogs in Napier are perfectly well behaved — it all starts with the pedigree of their masters, you know — so we can be far more enlightened on these matters. Our dogs wouldn’t even think to poop in public.”
As we get closer to the referendum, BayBuzz will publish a special election edition on the dog control vote. And you can bet your dog license, we’ll let you know where each Councillor stands on the issue.