Friday, April 04, 2008

Dog-gone debate at Council

Clover Moore's proposal to make 44 parks in the City of Sydney including Hyde Park, Cook and Phillip, Rushcutters Bay, Bear and Macleay Park in the most densely populated areas of the City's east 24 hours off leash have been met with howls of protest from residents and particularly young mothers. In quite emotional scenes at last Monday's mid afternoon committee community members spoke strongly of their concerns about protecting their children from a dog attack or even unwarranted attention by an off leash canine. As I said at the Committee this issue is not about dog lovers versus dog haters as some have tried to simplistically portray it. I'm a dog lover having owned many dogs in my life including a rather robust single minded Great Dane called Bowen (sadly gone to that great off leash park in the sky now). But having a well trained but determined dog or two reinforces my concerns for parents with young children. After supporting a deferral for more information on this proposal and reflection I now do not think that Council can introduce such a startling and radical change in a 'big bang'. But rather we need to much more carefully asses each park and open space. There should be some space for dogs off leash 24/7. But they must be either larger regional parks (like Sydney Park) where say 50% can off leash 24/7 or specially constructed large off leash enclosures such as in New York and Copenhagen. These are ideal especially for smaller inner city dogs. The balance should remain on leash from 8am (to allow humans exercising not to be assailed by canines) to just before sunset (say 5pm).

The Daily Telegraph covered this issue today (see below and links).

Clover puts your children on a leash

By Justin Vallejo, Urban Affiars Reporter
April 04, 2008 12:00am

CHILDREN'S playgrounds will be fenced off inside parks to give unleashed dogs free rein over the city's green open spaces.
Up to 10 popular city playgrounds will be penned in under a City of Sydney Council plan to hand over 44 parks to unrestrained canines. Instead of creating fenced off-leash areas as in other cities worldwide, families will be the ones corralled - for their own safety.
The move has sparked calls from Australia's peak veterinary body for all NSW councils to follow Sydney's lead and provide more places where dogs can be exercised.
"These days dogs are treated something akin to a member of the family by their owners, yet there seem to be greater restrictions than ever on where families can take their pet," Australian Veterinary Association president Diane Sheehan said.
A public debate between dog owners, parents and councillors this week erupted over Sydney City Council officers' rejection of calls to create fenced areas for dogs in favour of fencing off children.
Justifying its decision, the council report said its approach to off-leash areas was "to integrate recreational activities rather than segregate activities into separate areas".
But in the same breath it proposed to segregate children from dogs by fencing off playgrounds in Beare, Foley, Jubilee, Perry, Prince Alfred, Rushcutters Bay, Waterloo and Wentworth parks and Bannerman Crescent and Kimberley Grove reserves.
"This would have to be the most biased report I've ever seen in my four years as a councillor," Councillor Chris Harris said.
"I have no confidence in supporting the assumptions in this report."
The City of Sydney has proposed to turn 44 parks into off-leash areas 24 hours a day, incorporating 18 parks that are currently off-leash from 6pm to 8pm.
It would take the number of off-leash parks to 13 per cent of the city's 350 parks, up from 6 per cent.
But the land would be 55 per cent of the total land area, with the lion's share of the biggest and most popular parks going to the dogs.
Council staff dropped Paradise Park in Ultimo from the off-leash list after receiving a petition signed by 130 angry residents.
Seventy-three per cent of the 1527 public submissions backed the proposal.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore, both a dog owner and a parent, gave the plan support before the public debate, saying "exercising dogs is important to reduce animal boredom, which can reduce behavioural problems such as nuisance barking".
After fierce opposition at the public meeting her stance was more cautious and she said they had a challenge to balance everyone's concerns before the plan went to council next Monday for consideration.
"The pendulum in the past has swung against dog owners and we are trying to restore that balance. The fences are not to keep the child in, but to create a safe environment for parents and their children," she said.
There are currently only three city parks that are off-leash at all times: Edmund Resch Reserve at Redfern, Joynton Park at Zetland and Embarkation Park at Potts Point.
Mark Callan, walking his dog Molly on-leash past Waratah Playground, said council priorities were wrong.
"I think off-leash areas are great for the dogs but I understand parents' concerns that they would be the ones caged in, rather than the animals," he said.
"Which is more important, the dogs or the children? I would have thought the kids would be the priority."

More info on dogs off leash here at City of Sydney web site.

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