Creature comforts

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    Gosh, we love our dogs on Waiheke.

    There are 1112 of them on the island, according to the latest council numbers. That’s up 69 pooches from last year – an increase of around six percent, way above Auckland’s 1.4 percent increase over the same time.

    And in case you were putting it all down to the international craving for canines brought on by lockdowns and the pandemic, this is a regular trend: since Waiheke’s count of 802 dogs in 2016, the numbers have shot up by more than five percent every year.

    When it comes to the types of dog we tend to have, though, we’re pretty much standard to the Auckland stereotype – labrador retrievers top the list here as well as over on the mainland with 153, far outstripping the 61 border collies, 61 jack russells and 51 staffies which come in second, third and fourth on our list. In all there at 99 different breeds registered on Waiheke including 37 miniature schnauzers, 30 shih tzus, 10 Australian kelpies and six each of bernese mountain dogs, pekingese and pomeranians. And for those who want to stand out from the canine crowd, there are 20 unique dogs including a corgi, a lhasa apso, a tibetan mastiff and miniature pinscher, a Swedish vallhund and a Hungarian puli.

    The real fun comes, however, when we choose names for our furry friends because although there are a few choice favourites (Charlie tops the list with 16, followed by Lola at 15 and Jack, Poppy and Tui all on nine) there are 564 unique dog names on the island.

    And there are some real standouts when it comes to what inspires the names we shout out over the dog-walking reserves and beaches: from film stars (there’s a Bill Murray, a Xena and a Zsa Zsa) to music (there’s a Biggie Smalls, a Bowie and a Bootsy Collins Heather Lee), and the magnificent (Curia Vom Hause Wagner, Duke Woofington and Eventide Count on Gosi) to the just plain bizarre (Biko Dumpling Yumcha and Jasmine Land-shark).

    All these four-legged Waiheke residents reveal some good traits for their two-legged companions too: a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found dog-owners – especially older dog-owners – exercise much more than their non-dog-owning neighbours regardless of the season or the weather. 

    “We were amazed to find that dog walkers were on average more physically active and spent less time sitting on the coldest, wettest, and darkest days than non-dog owners were on long, sunny, and warm summer days,” project lead Andy Jones, a University of East Anglia professor said.

    So we’re clearly an island full of animal lovers who enjoy getting out and about in our glorious backyard, right? Well, yes and no.

    Because although we quite clearly care very much for the most visible of our animal companions, some of the less visible are getting very short shrift. 

    Last weekend’s rāhui for four species of shellfish around our waters is an admirable and vital start to a process that simply must expand to the protection of all our sea life in the Hauraki Gulf. 

    Case in point, the little blue penguins/kororā, which used to flock around our shorelines and which are now only occasionally seen bobbing in the Gulf or heard squawking or scurrying to their burrows by those lucky enough to live where they also live. 

    Our lead story in this week’s Gulf News sets up what will undoubtedly be a new war of words between the developers of and the protesters against the marina at Kennedy Point after an initial review of the planned site (carried out for the developer) found no active kororā burrows.

    Since the little blue penguin has very much been the ongoing symbol for the anti-marina protests, you can be sure these initial findings will be thoroughly disputed. 

    Native Bird Rescue’s Karen Saunders, who has rescued kororā from that area, says a specialist kororā search dog should have been used to confirm their presense since their naturally shy inclination means they “will sit in the water waiting and watching humans… They wait till you’ve gone and then come ashore”. She also disputes the dusk and dawn methodology of the marina study’s monitoring saying trail cameras showed birds arriving between 10pm and midnight and leaving by 4am.

    There ought to be a further “burrow survey of the breakwater when construction begins to confirm there are no active burrows”, according to the monitoring report but surely that misses on two points.

    Firstly, the marina’s impact is not going to be confined to the construction site and duration of work alone – any wholesale change to the marine environment and the coastal landscape could have a much longer term impact. And secondly (and I’m with Karen Saunders here, so I’ll just quote her) “I don’t think humans can find penguins”.

    Waiheke is a veritable cauldron of change at the moment with developments and schemes both good and bad throughout the whole island. As the dog-ownership numbers show, growth underpins this progress – but it’s surely vital that this island of animal-lovers takes care of not just our most visible but also our largely invisible neighbours. • James Belfield

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