Wednesday 21 February 2018

Every dog may no longer have its day if ban passes

Dogs and their owners will be harshly brought to heel if bans on beach walking are extended, writes Andrea Smith

While nobody would argue with the idea that a dog is man's best friend, it appears that this friendship is not reciprocated by certain members of the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown (DLR) constituency.

If the worst fears of responsible local dog-owners are realised, the sight of happy dogs frolicking in the sea will soon be a thing of the past. DLR councillors will vote tomorrow on a proposal to extend the existing summertime ban on dogs being walked on local beaches to a blanket year-round one, which seems to be a particularly vicious bite to the ankles of this predominantly responsible and law-abiding group.

Just ask Liz Neligan, chairperson of Dogs Unleashed, who loves to walk her four-year-old Shih Tzu Luna on the beach, while unfailingly cleaning up after her. The former MD of IT recruitment company Computer Staff Recruitment says she was unaware of the 2009 beach bye-law that states that dogs must be kept on a leash at all times on beaches, until she and some fellow dog-owners were approached by litter wardens in March 2011 while walking along Sandycove beach.

Now it seems that dogs will be banned altogether from certain beaches, whether leashed or unleashed.

"I got Luna as I need to exercise for my health, and she loves to play with her friends on the beach. She is very well-behaved, coming immediately when called," says Liz.

"I have absolutely no problem with the ban operating during the summer months, but am deeply disappointed at the prospect of it being extended into a year-round one.

"Dogs are part of society, and they and their owners are often the only ones on the beaches outside of the summer months, irrespective of weather or tidal conditions. As far as we're concerned, it's not about putting the welfare of dogs over the welfare of children, it's about promoting responsible ownership."

At present, dogs can be walked off-leash only on Killiney Hill, along a 300m stretch of Killiney beach, and in four designated dog pens in DLR public parks: Marlay, Deerpark, Cabinteely and Shanganagh.

Having sought submissions from the public and other interest groups on the existing 2009 bye-laws for parks and beaches, the council's proposed amendment will see dogs being banned from Seapoint and Sandycove beaches all year long, while being excluded from the designated bathing area of Killiney beach from May to September inclusive. On all other DLR area beaches, dogs may be exercised before 10am and after 7pm only.

This would mean that for six months of the year, these evening walks would be conducted in darkness, which, for women like Liz, would not be safe or practical. Those who support the ban include swimmers, notably the Seapoint Swimming Association, and those concerned with the issue of dog faeces on the beach or dogs who jump up on people.

Liz says that only 16 of the 599 public submissions made were in favour of the amend

ment, and is at a loss as to why the wishes of the minority group appear to be holding sway rather than the democratic will of the people.

Dogs Unleashed has already gathered over 5,000 signatures in support of its aims, and has been lobbying for fair and balanced bye-laws for the past 18 months, while also working to promote responsible and accountable dog ownership. This includes the regular organised clean-ups the group has carried out on local beaches, where most of the detritus removed has been human in origin -- food packaging, wrappers, broken glass, syringe needles and used condoms have all been bagged and removed by dog owners doing their bit to keep the beaches clean.

Liz believes dogs play a major role in enhancing the physical and emotional well-being of their owners, which hugely benefits society, and need proper off-leash exercise for their own physical and mental well-being.

Liz says that when she went through a difficult time herself, it was the loyalty of little Luna that got her through it.

"My IT recruitment business ceased trading in July 2009 as a result of the recession," she says.

"I was squeezed between the VAT man and clients who were slow to pay, and as I had been involved since 1982, it was like going through a bereavement. I'd come home some evenings with tears running down my face, and within seconds I'd be smiling again because of Luna. I bring her into nursing homes too, including the one where my mother -- who has dementia -- is living, and she's great therapy for the residents."

As grandmother to three-month-old baby Leila, Liz fully agrees that dog control issues need to be properly addressed, but sees a total ban as a draconian solution to a general societal issue.

Dogs Unleashed and the majority of dog-owners have been working towards a fair and responsible solution. We can only hope that the councillors of DLR don't mete out further "wuff justice" to them when they vote tomorrow.

Sunday Independent

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