A family is living in fear of hunting dogs kept in a suburban Albion Park backyard, alongside their small children and lone surviving pet.
Mother-of-three Nicole McNeil has had three pets either disappear or killed in her presence since late-2013. Most recently her King Charles Spaniel, Bruce, went under the back fence to a gruesome death, on June 19.
Shellharbour council says the owner of the offending dogs has since euthanised two animals deemed responsible for that attack, and sent the remaining two to a farm, at the request of rangers. But there is nothing to stop the man from bringing similar animals home in future.
“We heard the whole thing. Bruce was yelping, and pretty much dying in front of us. I just lost it, I was hysterical."
Ms McNeil went to investigate loud barking outside her house on June 19. She saw an area under the back fence had been dug out and realised Bruce wasn’t responding when she called.
“I looked over the fence and all four [hunting dogs] were going at him,” she said.
“We heard the whole thing. Bruce was yelping, and pretty much dying in front of us. I just lost it, I was hysterical. It could have been my three-year-old putting his hands under the fence that day, not a dog.”
A pet poodle called Lily disappeared from Ms McNeil’s yard almost without a trace in late-2013, when the tall Colorbond fence between the properties blew over in strong winds.
“We found her little jumper she was wearing in their yard,” Ms McNeil said.
In a 2015 encounter, two of the neighbouring dogs managed to get over the fence. Ms McNeil said she narrowly avoided being attacked after she went into her backyard to retrieve her dog Bailey. Her partner required stitches after he took refuge on top of a brick barbecue area, which collapsed under his weight. Somewhere in that melee, she saw the dogs attack the family cat, Mittens.
“There was nothing left, just a bit of blood on the bricks,” she said. “They ate the cat in front of my eyes.”
Ms McNeil said she felt “shakey and traumatised” afterwards. More recently, he was considering sending her eldest sons, Brax, 4, and Jhett, 7, to counselling.
“We told Brax, ‘Bruce went to heaven’,” Ms McNeil said. “He’ll say, ‘no, Bruce died. The big, bad wolves got him’.”
Ms McNeil said her parents had reported the incidents to Shellharbour council on her behalf, but the family was frustrated by what they saw as repeated inaction.
City Mayor Marianne Saliba told the Mercury the neighbouring property had housed several different dogs over the years.
She said council had received proof that two of the dogs involved in the June 19 attack had been euthanised.
The dogs’ owner told council officers that his other two dogs were within his sight when the attack occurred, so could not have been involved.
“The hardest part is that there are no witnesses,” Cr Saliba said. “If the dog [Bruce] has climbed under the fence next door, then whilst it’s a real tragedy, it’s not the same as these dogs dragging it in. There’s been no evidence of this. We’re bound by legislation as to what action we can take and what we can enforce.”
Cr Saliba said council had no record of a complaint relating to the 2015 incident.
Council’s investigation into the matter is ongoing.