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Dublin: 3°C Tuesday 13 April 2021
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Opinion: A plea to dogowners - keep them on the lead?

Dublin resident Ken Cowley has had enough of dodging other people’s pets while out walking with his family.

Ken Cowley

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL has been running a survey to obtain public input regarding the future of our city parks.

With that in mind and with a view to improving the overall park experience for everyone, perhaps the council might consider looking at the issue of our ever-increasing dog population, particularly in the wake of the Covid outbreak?

Yes, we’ve all been confined to our 5KM radius, and yes many of us have felt as if we were walking in circles for the past few months. It’s been a struggle at times to even maintain the two-metre distance, with the number of people out, especially at lunchtime while remote workers and families get a well-earned break.

But some of our cities’ parks are becoming ‘no-go areas’ for anyone who may be nervous about dogs. Both adults and children.

We’ve all had to tolerate the sharing of space, and it has to be acknowledged that when the pandemic eases (or at least when the 5KM is soon scrapped) there should be less pressure on space in our parks. And it goes without saying that it’s great to see dogs bringing great joy to families and individuals, especially in these stressful times.

However, many of these new dogs are big animals and often seem to run around randomly and (in many cases illegally) off-lead. Also, their owners can be a loss as to how to train or manage them, hence for example – the typical cacophony of very noisy barking and ‘mock fights’ when dogs ‘meet’ each other in a park.

Can I ask – is this sort of behaviour acceptable? And what are the rules? Especially regarding lead or off-lead? The websites of the city and county councils are a little unclear on dog behaviour although the OPW does at least have a Code of Conduct.

I am the parent of a six-year child who is scared of dogs and I can assure readers that, even if these roaming dogs intend no harm, the above-described behaviour can be terrifying to a small child.

I put my son’s fear of dogs down to having begun on an occasion on a beach in County Wexford when he was a toddler and a large off-lead dog jumped right over his head. Subsequently, and especially since the pandemic he has had other experiences of dogs jumping around him in an unwelcome manner. This has affected how we enjoy walks, as we remain ever vigilant in our watch for oncoming dogs off leads.

Good intentions not enough

Most of the time, dog owners will pull their dog back or put it on the lead once they see there is a nervous child, but usually, the damage has been done, in terms of another little layer of fear being added.

What is infuriating is when the owners say, as quite a few do; ‘’ah but he only wants to play’’ or, ‘’he’s harmless, he wouldn’t hurt a fly’’.

I think owners really need to understand something. Neither I, nor my child knows your dog, we do not know what temperament your animal has, and by the time you’ve made it to where we are, the dog will have engaged with my child. I would urge you to consider other people using the parks and make more use of your dog’s lead.

As a runner, I get this sort of response sometimes too. I’m not scared of dogs myself, but I still don’t want to be jumped on when out running. Once in the Phoenix Park I even had a dog-owner say to me; ‘’You shouldn’t have run near him (the dog)’’.

Where we live, in Dublin 8, the worst offending place is the War Memorial Gardens. It is a lovely park but some of the behaviour of dogs and their owners there has been appalling during the last year. I recently saw a large German Shepherd dog run around on his own at full speed through that park.

Also, to add an additional concern, many of the puppies purchased early in the pandemic will soon be approaching their dog-teen years, which can be a tricky six-12 month period behaviour-wise in a dog’s life.

It is possible that we may soon be approaching one million dogs in this country. With that in mind, can I suggest that we ringfence the accompanying €20 million in dog-licence fee revenue to support animal welfare, dog-training, owner-education and enforcement of dog behaviour in urban Ireland?

Plus of course, some of the funding could also be used for measures to prevent dogs harassing sheep in rural Ireland and on the mountains.

In cities such as London, some parks have special penned-off dog areas, where dogs can roam as they please with no leads. I believe there are some in Dublin now too, such as Griffeen Park. Let’s have more of these. These are the sorts of solutions that might help keep all park users reasonably happy.

With regard to training, other countries seem to have much stronger systems of dog management and traditions of dog-training (eg. the UK) than we have, and others, like Switzerland, even have exams or similar requirements before you are allowed to own a dog.

At the very least all of these new post-Covid dog owners should be shown or be encouraged to learn the basics of dog training and animal welfare, with any available funding perhaps being funnelled through vets or the animal welfare organisations.

There is a happy medium to be achieved with all of this, and with some give-and-take from everyone and greater imaginative ideas from councils, there really is no reason why owners, their dogs and people who are nervous about dogs cannot co-exist happily.

So foul, not fair

Finally, it would be remiss in this piece not to look at the related and ever-worsening issue of dog-fouling on our streets and in our parks.

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How filthy a country we are when it is acceptable behaviour to deliberately allow your dog to foul the footpath in broad daylight on a busy mainstream road on which children are supposed to walk to school.

Due to what I see is a lack of any political will or policy, let alone dog-fouling-stigma or peer pressure on this in Ireland, the likes of which exists in other countries, it is hard to see a solution.

From what I can see, the authorities have little interest in the subject. At least, I have never heard of anyone being fined, and personally, I have never seen a warden of any kind enforcing dog-fouling rules. Who are these mythical dog wardens, what do they look like?

So, with a heavy heart, I think in Ireland we are sadly stuck with this unsavoury problem forever. As are our shoes.

Ken Cowley is the Founder & Director of Cowley Brown Recruitment and the parent of a senior infants pupil in a school in Dublin. 

  • The Noteworthy team wants to find out what is being done to tackle dog faeces littering our streets and parks. Support this project here.

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Ken Cowley

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