There are regular paw prints along The Pass, Wategos, Whites and Brunswick Heads beaches of a morning. Recently a local lady was bailed up and bitten by a dog in the Border Ranges National Park. So how can we better manage dogs in our public spaces?
I am a dog lover. I have done time with the RSPCA picking ticks out of the orifices of everything from a miniature poodle to an English sheepdog.
However, as an environment strategist and local I am concerned about the current canine explosion. This has led to the Byron Shire Council (BSC) seeking to set up a reference group of volunteers aimed at the better management of dogs in our public spaces. Does this infer that BSC are thinking to expand areas to accommodate them?
Sarah Nagel, Manager of Public and Environmental Services at BSC states ‘the management of dogs in public spaces can be a very divisive issue for our community. We know that there are around 10,000 dogs living in the Byron Shire and this number has been on the rise since COVID’.
The Working Group will look at existing conditions, what could be done better, and whether there needs to be ‘new dog exclusion zones, off leash areas or more enclosed dog areas’. This statement is about dog owners. The area has a reputation of being ‘relaxed’ and is known to be under-resourced in managing dogs. There are very few fines issued or repercussions for negligent dog owners.
On average in Byron we own larger dogs and more per household. The shift to working from home, flexible working hours, and the impact of the pandemic has contributed to more people acquiring dogs. Dogs are catered for in cafes, restaurants and hotels and are a lucrative consumer industry.
This is having a negative impact on our local nature areas. Dog owners are now exercising their dogs in National Parks, native wildlife habitats or border sensitive areas. They let them run, leash free, to exhaust them so they will settle at home.
We can’t attribute blame solely on our visitors or new arrivals. Excuses for having dogs in dog-free areas include ‘I budget for fines’, ‘don’t you know I am a local’ and ‘my dog is sensitive and therefore exempt’. Daily, dogs roam off leash in no-go areas, destroying wildlife as well as confronting people. I’ve seen dogs knock people over causing major injures, people get bitten and other dogs get mauled as a result of non-compliance and owner mismanagement. There are daily accounts on the local social media of dogs found wandering.
Not a doggie destination
The key is how this is framed and presented to the community and of the reform required for these Council reference groups.
Byron Shire should never become known as a doggie destination. This is what a biodiversity commitment is. An education strategy explaining that, as a Shire, we prioritise native wildlife over pets is needed. The high risk of ticks needs emphasising.
Globally we are witnessing a watering down of what is needed to keep climate and biodiversity crises in check. On a small scale this is no different. We can’t just continue to do things in the same way as we always have. We need to change our behaviour.
Yes, to a reference group on dog issues, however, let’s revisit the terms. Byron is many things, but is not a ‘doggie destination’.
Byron Shire is founded on biodiversity in nature. It is central to our community recreation, and our tourism. It’s what every single political party in the current elections is claiming to prioritise, yet which one will do what it takes to develop an action plan that actually walks the green line?
There is the opportunity to develop dog-friendly playgrounds, but not by sacrificing habitat. We need the resources, fines and rangers to enforce these strategies. We are home to thousands of species that live predominately in the areas that dog owners love.
Wildlife needs more love, and our dog owners need a tighter lead.