I spend much of my day under a form of house arrest.
I cannot leave the house without being closely watched and followed. I am escorted to the shed and back. At night, unseen eyes monitor my movements from beyond the pool of light from the security lights. I have been stopped and searched while taking food scraps to the compost bin.
The all-seeing eyes belong to my foster son McIntyre, a short-legged but long-tailed Jack Russell with a dark past. He came to us under a cloud of suspicion — some would say compelling evidence — that he was responsible for the deaths of chooks on our friends’ farm just north of Wairoa.
The legal fraternity would offer the opinion, along with a hefty invoice, that finding him beaming amid the feathery carnage would persuade most juries of his guilt. Mind you, a jury of his peers, namely 12 Jack Russells from good rural stock, would throw the case out.
Not only were the chooks were not in an OSH-approved enclosure, not wearing high-viz jackets and not wearing safety boots, but a small dog with only passable eyesight could hardly be expected to differentiate between chooks and turkeys, the latter being popular hunting game on the farm.
If that line of argument did not have 12 canine heads nodding in agreement, their open jaws salivating in unison, then I would adopt rugby commentator Murray Mexted’s advice and go on offensive defence. I would attack the dubious character of the only witness to the alleged attack, a man with French blood in his veins.
We of Anglo-Saxon stock have always harboured a deep suspicion of the French. They invaded our home country, let everyone else invade theirs, make good cooks but bad cars, smoke too much and smell of onions.
Now the word of a semi-Frenchman, a Dreyfus-like cry of “J’Accuse!” has condemned my poor little dog as Wairoa’s worst serial killer, at least in the free-range poultry category. Having being plucked from Death Row and now facing a life of home detention with us, McIntyre has tried to turn his life around. He has become a useful member of society, ridding our parks of old dried chicken bones and the occasional discarded burger.
Once free to roam hills and valleys, McIntyre’s paddocks have been reduced to a backyard, although daily supervised walks on riverbanks and trips to a block of land we are trying to beat into submission, give some relief from his urban confinement.
He had a brush with the law when found trudging along the main highway north of Napier on his solo way to Hastings in the belief he’d been left behind at the block. An overnight stay in the Bay View police station, a bag of biscuits and a delivery trip home in a patrol car were all enthusiastically accepted. A large chocolate cake delivered to his uniformed rescuers ensured the matter went no further.
The only road McIntyre had ever walked along previously was a quiet shingle one in a valley. Now we dodge rush-hour traffic and drivers who make us wait 10 minutes to cross a street. But he learned to stand at the edge of a busy intersection and not move until he heard the pedestrian buzzer, trotting across in front of amused motorists.
A hunter by instinct, confronter of possums and rats, able to vanish out of sight down rabbit holes, he is also the most gentle animal with children and people of all ages. He can reduce swaggering Mongrel Mob prospects to smiles when he trots up for a pat.
But his life has changed again.
In December the Hastings District Council passed new dog control laws to stop children and anyone else being summarily mauled by dogs every time they step out their door. They require dogs to be on leads in all public places, except a few designated areas scattered around the district.
We made a submission against the bylaw at the time but knew it was futile.
So McIntyre’s morning walks, once a happy release of urine and pent-up energy, are now spent trudging along at the end of a lead. Morning walks now are like living in occupied France. Every ute or van with a council logo could be an informer.
The new bylaw also requires owners to pick up their dog’s droppings. Fair enough. But the flaw in the whole scheme is that there is nowhere to dispose of the bag and its contents. Do they really expect people to happily carry a fresh batch of warm dog droppings around until they get back home?
McIntyre now spends much of his day waiting for the late-afternoon trip in the back of the ute to officially dog-designated zones like riverbanks and the Pakowhai Country Park on the outskirts of Hastings. There are plenty of trees to pee on at the park, a river to cool off in and lots of dog backsides to sniff.
In fact there is only one thing missing from this canine utopia — bins for dog droppings. So the old concrete Pakowhai bridge, part of the Hawke’s Bay walking track complete with a small brass plaque, is always a minefield of dog droppings. It’s not a good look.
The council put out a press release saying it had been heartened by the fact that out of 208 dogs seen with their owners in public since the bylaw was introduced, 178 were on leads.
Flushed with its own success at bringing most dogs and their owners into line, the council will impose an instant fine of $300 for owners whose dogs are not on leads.
In which case there should be plenty of money for those bins they forgot to provide in their bylaw.