Called to heel

Wed, Jan 25, 2012, 00:00

PARKS ARE maintained in the public interest and for the common good. They represent a shared facility and, for more than 100 years, bylaws have specified what is, and is not, allowed within their precincts. Drunkenness, littering and causing a nuisance or a danger to others are specific offences. Similarly, all pets have to be kept under control. In general, the rules reflect the demands made on local authorities by members of the general public.

Dog owners in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area have launched a campaign against what they regard as “intolerant” and restrictive bylaws that require them to keep their pets on a leash, or trained to heel, in public parks. In excess of 600 people attended a recent meeting to voice their concerns. They also object to bylaws that, in general, ban dogs from beaches from June to September, between the hours of 10 am and 7pm. Dogs are officially allowed off leash on Killiney Hill and within four other fenced-off park areas.

There is no doubting the genuine concern and annoyance being expressed by dog lovers. Shore anglers were equally upset some years ago when bylaws sought to restrict their activities. The reason for the bylaws can, however, be traced to similar causes – generalised public complaints about social misbehaviour; about littering and the fouling of beaches and parks. A minority of anglers and dog owners have little regard for the needs of others, be they swimmers, casual walkers or picnicking families. Some dog owners appear to think that allowing pets off-lead also releases them from a civic duty to clean up.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is to be complimented on the very high quality of its public parks and children’s play areas. Money is tight. A single dog warden patrols individual parks about once every month.

Bylaws are being ignored and conflicting pressures from park users have built up. A public consultation process is under way regarding dog regulations and additional facilities may be provided. But well-heeled dog owners should learn to clean up after their pets and keep them under control. Even in winter, public promenades in beach areas can be truly disgusting because of the extent of dog fouling. In summer, picnicking families would not regard a beach ban on free-running and free-fouling dogs as excessive. A friendly, high-spirited dog can be traumatically threatening to a small child. This is not the fault of the dog: the problem lies with the owner.