Auckland dog owner 'devastated' pet could be euthanised over guinea pig's death

Rebecca Moore
Source: 1News

An Auckland dog owner says she's "devastated" her four-year-old husky could be euthanised after chasing a guinea pig which later died of "fright".

Alexandra Johnson told 1 NEWS she burst into tears leaving court today after being told he could be put down.

The incident happened on May 23 near Waiake Beach on Auckland's North Shore.

It was just after the lockdown and four-year-old Aspen had been "full of beans" after being confined to a leash during that period due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Johnson said her husband was walking the dog who had taken off towards some chickens he's previously gotten into trouble with.

However, whilst that was being dealt with Aspen got into another yard where guinea pigs had been let out of their confinement.

Johnson's husband never saw what happened, but said the owner had the guinea pig in their hands by the time he got there.

She said it appeared to be "shocked but alive" with no obvious injury.

Johnson said they were told it died that night, but declined a replacement guinea pig or money.

An emotional Johnson said she tried to talk to the owners today without success.

"The owners are furious and they want the death of the dog," she said. "He isn't a danger to anybody."

The owner of the guinea pig Brent Tustin said on social media their pet died moments after the incident, not later that night.

"At no point have we requested the dog be put down, the council is responsible for any action taken, not us. We would like to see the dog rehoused, the whole family loves all animals, but we are not responsible for the outcome.

"I am not sure why the dog owners blame us. It appears the council may have a reasonable file on this dog and this was the last straw."

Johnson said she loved Aspen no matter what and that he was part of their family.

"A great many people will know Aspen and know he's overly friendly and a lovely natured husky," she said, describing him with "the most gorgeous heart".

Johnson's son Cian, now 15, saved up $500 to buy the then nine-month-old dog from a woman in Thames.

"We have had to work really hard with him because he had no training or socialisation with other dogs."

She said at first training was particularly difficult because huskies are known to be wilful independent dogs, however Aspen has now calmed down and was "amazingly good natured".

"He's an absolute sweetheart. I get everyone wanting to pat a husky and I have no hesitation in letting kids do so. I know Aspen's temperament. He is a very chilled laidback dog. He's biggest fault is he's too friendly wants to say hello to all other dogs."

But Johnson admitted that dogs have an instinct to chase. 

What she didn't understand is why cats could also chase and kill guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens and native birds without the same consequences.

"The Council doesn't care whether Aspen is a sweet natured dog that would never hurt a child or person. There is no grey area. The law is what it is and it needs updating," Johnson said.

"I'm trying to get help to raise this issue, to change the way the Council & Animal Management operates."

According to the Dog Control Act 1996, a person may, for the purpose of stopping an attack, seize or destroy a dog if the person is attacked by the dog; or the person witnesses the dog attacking any other person, or any stock, poultry, domestic animal, or protected wildlife.

"[If] the court is satisfied that the dog has committed an attack ... and that the dog has not been destroyed, the court must make an order for the destruction of the dog unless it is satisfied that the circumstances of the offence were exceptional and do not warrant destruction of the dog."

The act also states that in a public place, if a dog rushes at, or startles, any person or animal in a manner that causes any person to be killed, injured, or endangered; or any property to be damaged or endangered; or rushes at any vehicle in a manner that causes, or is likely to cause, an accident the court may make an order for the destruction of the dog.

It is the owner's responsibility to ensure a dog is kept "under control" in public.

However, Johnson said the act is contradicting as it also says the owner is responsible for exercising the pet, yet they were ordered not to take him out after the incident.

"We're restricted to house arrest, it's ludicrous power.

"I suffer from depression and anxiety, have been on medication for years and this has caused me to double my medication.

"This whole situation is making a bad health situation so much worse but Council doesn't care about me or our rights."

Johnson said her court documents state she has to prove "exceptional circumstances" to not warrant dogs destruction of the dog.

"There was no blood, no wounds. How do you prove that?

"It's simply horrible. Anyone who meets and pats my dog loves him and can see him for what he is but you can't eliminate evolution and the fun of chasing things.

"It seems irrationally unfair. I'm sorry the guinea pig died, of course we would not wish it and we offered to replace it, but is this justice. An eye for an eye."

When asked about the case Auckland Council told 1 NEWS: "Our Animal management staff take a graduated response, starting with trying to educate owners, and working with them to ensure they’re keeping their dogs, other animals, and people safe.

"We only take more serious action as a last resort."