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Gisborne dog death: Council officer at centre of pet’s wrongful death resigns

Natasha Hill

'Heavy heart': Council officer who put down wrong dog resigns

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

An animal control officer involved in putting down the wrong dog has resigned and says they have a ”heavy heart, burdened by the weight of the mistake I have made”.

Beloved family dog Sarge was put down on Friday after a Gisborne council worker mistook him for another dog.

Gisborne District Council will be undertaking an independent investigation to establish the facts.

Sarge, who was fully collared and chipped, was taken from a fenced property in Gisborne on Friday morning. He was destroyed by council staff the same day.

Sarge's owners said they were “beyond devastated” by his wrongful death. Photo / Supplied

In a statement, Gisborne District Council Council said it has appointed Kate Wallingford, the Director of Owl Investigations, to undertake the independent inquiry into the incident.

Council Chief Executive Nedine Thatcher Swann said Wallingford is an experienced investigator and will do a thorough job.

“We genuinely and deeply regret the distress caused to Sarge’s whānau and we acknowledge the huge outpouring of anger and grief from the community.

“We have failed the community and need to work hard to regain its confidence in us. This should not have happened and we sincerely apologise.”

The council said it had confirmation the dog was on the road before the Animal Control Officer picked him up.

“Sarge had both a tag and microchip. The Animal Control Officer was able to identify Sarge from his tag and he was taken back to his address on a lead. This is our normal practice when dogs are picked up and we are able to correctly identify them.

“Unfortunately, no one was home at the property and the owners were unable to be contacted. In these circumstances, we cannot leave a dog at a property that they’ve wandered off from if nobody is home.

“Sarge was taken to the pound and the officer left a message for his owner to pick him up.”

The officer’s personal statement, written with assistance from their representative, said they have a “heavy heart, burdened by the weight of the mistake I have made”.

“It is with sadness and remorse that I acknowledge my actions which led to the untimely death of a much-loved family dog. An error that I will forever regret.

“To the whānau who has lost their beloved pet, words will never be enough to express how deeply sorry I am for your pain. A pet is more than just an animal; it’s a family member, a companion, and a source of endless joy. I can’t begin to imagine the void and grief you must be experiencing. Please accept my sincere and unreserved apology.”

The officer also apologised to the Tairāwhiti community.

“I understand that trust is a big part of the job, and I deeply regret breaking that trust. The safety of people’s pets, the animals we encounter, and the welfare of the community have always been, and will always remain, paramount.

“This mistake was mine and mine alone. Gisborne District Council has processes in place, which I unfortunately did not follow. I want everyone to understand that one individual’s error should not be a reflection on the entire Council and its staff who work hard for the community. No one else should be blamed for my mistake.”

The officer said his workmate who found the dog had acted according to the council’s rules.

“Given the seriousness of my failure, I have decided to resign from my position at the Gisborne District Council. I believe in taking ownership for my actions.

“I will be fully cooperating with the independent investigation process. In closing, from the depths of my heart, I seek your forgiveness. And while the pain might not subside, I hope that in time, healing will begin.”

A whānau spokesperson told Stuff that they were “beyond devastated” by the shocking event.

“Our dog Sarge was taken from our property by a Gisborne District Council dog ranger and put down.

“His family had no opportunity to speak to anyone before he was killed.

“We were advised of this horrible ‘mistake’ late Friday afternoon, a mere seven hours after he was taken.”

Sarge was buried on Saturday.

Those who knew him took to Facebook to remember him as a beloved family member.

“If you know our bro, you know he’d never ever hurt a fly unless that fly tried to hurt his Mum,” said one poster.

“Rest in peace My Bro Sargie. You were never just a dog to us, you were and will forever be our family,” another post read.

The family earlier said they had been contacted by council managers to discuss the case further.

The council said it was taking appropriate measures to ensure a similar incident did not happen again.

“We want to reassure the community that we’re taking this matter seriously,” a council spokesperson said.

Hero image: Sarge. Photo / Supplied

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