Retirement ‘ruined’

DESPAIR: Christine Sanderson is at her wits' end as to what to do to get the district council to take her noise complaints seriously.
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An elderly Netherby couple say their peaceful retirement has been ruined by loud barking and howling from a dog next door.

Christine and Trevor Sanderson’s battle to have their concerns taken seriously has seen Christine trespassed from the district council’s animal and noise control contractor Talbot Security Group.

Under the Dog Control Act 1996, dog owners must ‘‘take all reasonable steps’’ to ensure their dog’s barking does not cause a nuisance. It is up to councils to set bylaws to enforce the act and deal with complaints.

Under the district council’s bylaw, the district council can issue a dog barking abatement notice requiring the dog owner to take action to remove the likelihood of barking, including removing the dog from the premises. Failure to comply can result in the dog being seized and prosecution.

However, the district council says it has not found evidence to justify an abatement notice in this case.

Christine, 73, said she and Trevor, 80, had enjoyed living in Ashburton after retiring there in 2019 when they moved there from the West Coast to be closer to family.

Their peace was shattered in January last year, when their neighbour bought a puppy. Christine said she and Trevor were dog lovers, and the Staffy next door was ‘‘a beautiful little boy’’. But he was left alone in the backyard day and night, and intermittently barked and howled.

The backyard is 7m from their bedroom window. The ‘‘horrendous’’ noise from the dog was disrupting and distressing for the Sandersons.

‘‘I’m on sleeping pills for the first time in my life,’’ Christine said.

Trevor had late stage dementia, and as such the barking was confusing for him.

‘‘He keeps asking why our recently deceased dog is crying.’’

Christine said she had approached the dog’s owner, a single man who worked at night, but he did not consider the dog was a problem.

The dog owner, who did not want to be named, confirmed to The Ashburton Courier the dog, now 18 months old, was kept in the backyard day and night.

He had tried keeping it inside but it ‘‘ripped’’ items in the house. He took the dog out about three times a week, either for a walk or with him in his car.

He said an animal control officer had visited him on two occasions last year in response to the Sandersons’ barking complaints, once mid-year and again in December, but said the dog was ‘‘normal’’.

The dog only barked when it was reacting to things it saw. It had howled for a period last year after being put in the yard after being inside, but this had now quietened down.

A neighbour on the other side did not complain, the dog owner said.

‘‘They hear the dog and they understand his reaction about things, he’s a puppy, it’s only her (Christine) complaining.’’

Christine said she had filed several forms given to her by the district council reporting the date and time of barking, had met with the mayor, emailed and phoned the district council and its animal and noise control contractor Talbot Security Group.

Christine and Trevor Sanderson retired to Ashburton in 2019.

In March last year, environmental monitoring manager Rick Catchpowle told her by email the animal control officers would continue to monitor the situation, ‘‘you therefore do not have to call ADC again’’. This month he told her the officers had found no grounds to support her complaints. Any future complaints from her would be ‘‘logged only’’.

‘‘Our contracted animal control officers will continue to monitor the situation infrequently as part of their regular patrols and will take appropriate action, should they find grounds to do so,’’ Catchpowle said in the email.

On January 17 about 1.30pm, Christine was trespassed by Talbot Security Group for breaching the peace after she played a recording of the dog’s barking and howling on her phone through a bluetooth speaker, from outside the firm’s premises on East St.

‘‘All I want is a bit of peace. The council isn’t using the tools it’s got. What do you have to do to get a dog abatement notice?’’ she said.

‘‘I am at my wit’s end as to what to do. I’m just going around and around in circles, and now we begin year two.’’

The district council said it could not respond to all of the questions from The Ashburton Courier by deadline, as some key staff were away. These questions included whether the district council was in this case failing to meet its obligations under the Dog Control Act 1996.

Group manager – compliance and development Jane Donaldson was able to confirm the district council had responded to the Sandersons’ complaints. But based on investigations and discussions with other neighbours, there was no evidence to justify an abatement notice.