Waikato police dog handlers say they have had enough of their dogs being attacked by stray and vicious canines roaming the streets.
Seven-year-old police dog Dutch underwent surgery on Monday night after he was attacked by two Staffordshire-cross dogs while on a job in Fairfield, Hamilton.
Dutch and his handler were getting out of the police dog van in Ross Cres when one dog lunged at Dutch as he stood on the footpath. The handler was able to kick the dog off Dutch, but then a second dog appeared and latched onto Dutchâ€™s left shoulder. After a lengthy struggle, the handler was able to kick the dog away.
Dutch was taken immediately to a vet suffering from a 10cm gash down his side by his rib cage. He has about 10 stitches in his side and will be off work for at least two weeks until the stitches are removed.
It was the fourth time Dutch had been attacked by stray dogs. He is the oldest and most experienced member of the Waikato dog squad.
Head of the Waikato dog squad, Sergeant Steve Shadbolt, said there had been at least 3 or 4 other attacks on his squad dogs in recent memory. The problem had escalated in the last year, he said.
"These dogs are roaming free on the streets, without any supervision. They are vicious and unpredictable and I am sick of my staff and dogs being put at risk. We are there to do a job, which involves catching criminals. We shouldnâ€™t be put in danger by irresponsible dog-owners who canâ€™t be bothered keeping their dogs secure."
The problems occurred mostly when police dogs were "tracking" a scent along a street or public area, but there was an increasing number of attacks on private properties.
Mr Shadbolt said he and his staff also had concerns about children being attacked on the streets. The majority of problems in Hamilton occurred in Fairfield and Nawton.
"In many cases, these dogs are roaming all over the place, which puts anyone at risk of being attacked."
Mr Shadbolt said police have the power to prosecute dog owners and can make orders for dogs to be destroyed. "We will not hesitate to do that,", he said.
Police will be working closely with Hamilton City Councilâ€™s dog control unit to try to identify roaming, vicious dogs.
In many cases, identifying the dogs was difficult because they "suddenly appeared out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly". It was also hard to track what property they came from.