Call to limit dog-off-leash parks in Wanneroo, making them the exception not the norm

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The City of Wanneroo has acres of beautifully landscaped and natural park and reserve land, ideal for families and outdoor lovers. Currently, almost all of these areas are pet-friendly, which is wonderful, except that almost all of them also allow dogs off leashes. In fact, dog-on-leash zones are the exception, not the norm.

Dogs are allowed off leash near playgrounds and sporting fields. In fact, the only dog-on-leash areas are along the foreshore reserves. But perhaps due to the general rule of dog-off-leash, numerous dogs are not on leads in this zone either.

This petition calls for the City of Wanneroo to review its parks and allocate dog exercise zones that give the broader community the opportunity to use the parks without fear of attack, being rushed at or approached. This is not a petition to ban dogs from parks. It is simply to have the exception being a dog exercise area, and not the other way around.

I recently wrote to council to ask for an amendment and presented the following argument:

The intention of Dog Act 1976

Without looking into the parliamentary debate at that time, the apparent intent of the Dog Act is for the care of dogs and consideration to how they relate within the community, and owner responsibility. It gives council rights to make their own laws. The City of Wanneroo has declared almost every park and reserve a dog exercise area. 

The Government of Western Australia states:

…it is important that dog owners handle their animals in a way that respects other people in the community.

However, the City of Wanneroo makes very little provision for the free enjoyment of open spaces for dogs on leads, preferring to let residents self-monitor their dog and behaviours. This is not working with numerous reports of people not feeling able to freely use parks. Reasons include:

  • General fear of dogs off leashes, even if friendly
  • Walking a reactive, nervous, ill, frail, timid, anxious, old or overly active dog on a leash, and being approached by other dogs, even if friendly
  • Injury to children and adults, not necessarily by attack, but being barrelled by a fast moving dog
  • Dogs running over picnic blankets and children and babies
  • Dogs rushing at the elderly
  • And, more seriously, dog attacks

From a broader perspective, it is relegating dog owners to pathways, as almost all reserves and parks are dog exercise areas. I am sure this is not the intention of the legislation. Rather, I would argue it was for council to nominate specific areas in each micro-community where dogs could be off leash and other dog owners could choose not to go there.

Given the number of parks and reserves, it would not be too hard to select one in each populace and make the others more controlled.

For example, I was walking my dog on the outer path of the park in front of Somerly Primary School. A bull mastiff called Scottie ran some 100 metres at full speed toward us. I was knocked heavily at the back of the knee and was injured for several weeks. My own dog was anxious. The owner did get the dog back, but lack of fences means dogs can run off if they choose. Had I been walking with a toddler, the toddler would have been sent literally flying. Yes, the responsibility of the owner is clear, but this type of offence is almost impossible to police. And I can hardly run up to a dog and grab its registration number, for fear of being bitten by the dog or accosted by the owner.

The State Government is even more specific:

Local governments can set out dog exercise areas where dogs can be taken off a lead without penalty.

To declare almost every area in Wanneroo a ‘dog exercise area’ defeats the purpose of having an Act that is there to protect other animals, children and adults. It is simply impossible to know how a dog is going to respond in every situation.

Secure dog exercise areas would resolve this so that we can all enjoy the wonderful parks and reserves.

 

The issue is safety of our entire community which should be put first before the rights of dogs off leashes. If there are leash-only areas in each community, making the dog exercise park the exception and not the norm, all these potential incidents are reduced.

With many incidents this year already of dog attacks or attacks on dogs, dog ownership is a pressing issue. 

Updated Dog Act 1976

When the Act was updated in 2013 the parliamentary debate made some pertinent points:

This bill introduces amendments in the following key areas: improving community safety through increased controls over dangerous dogs and higher penalties, encouraging more responsible dog ownership; enabling nuisance, including nuisance barking, to be more effectively dealt with; recognition of assistance dogs as an extension of the guide dog provisions; and meeting changing community expectations in areas such as microchipping, lifetime dog registrations and impounding provisions. The community remains concerned about dog attacks and irresponsible dog ownership.[1 Hansard debate]

At the moment, I argue that the existing policies, regulations and allowances made by City of Wanneroo do very little to encourage more responsible dog ownership or address the varying degrees of irresponsible dog ownership.

As pointed out in the debate:

Increased penalties for offences are but one solution; education is another. Many dog owners act and behave responsibly...

I have already requested amendments and review but have been told that it would not be fair to change it, given residents have had it this way for so long.

I was advised to start a petition if I wanted change. The Mayor, Tracey Roberts, has stated today that "we are reliant upon people being responsible when out with their dogs". Fair enough. But that is like saying we don't need road rules because we are reliant on people not speeding.

She also stated: "Responsible dog ownership is the responsibility of the dog owner. It is not the fault of the dog, basic common sense and courtesy should prevail when exercising animals, especially when owners know the temperament of their furbabies. It would also be good to see people picking up after their dogs, but many fail to do so. Majority of dog owners do the right thing and are respectful, but unfortunately, some are not and cause a lot of unnecessary angst for others!"

Having dog-on-leash zones would allow responsible dog owners the same rights they have now, but contain the issue and make it easier to control for rangers. It is most certainly never the fault of the dog. But with hundreds of acres of land as dog-off-leash zones, how can rangers ever possibly monitor it? I spoke to one ranger who told me even he was abused when he told owners to put their dog on the leash! So, what hope does a resident have?

All I ask is that council bring the parks into line with the intention of the act and put its residents first. Please sign if you agree.



[1] COUNCIL — Thursday, 19 September 2013 Hon Helen Morton

 

Further reading on the danger of dog parks is here:
http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/home/pets/dogs-should-pass-tests-to-use-offleash-parks-says-expert/news-story/fd2bfcc6fbb78b4eee916cf0ea3e2c60

[Note: this petition is not to ban dog parks, but to limit the high number of dog-off-leash parks. The above article should be read in context of the dangers of dog-off-leash parks. Not as support for banning them altogether. There is a place for them in our community, in my opinion.]

 



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