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Byron Shire
December 4, 2021

Should Byron Shire be a doggie destination?

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Dogs often scare local wildlife when they are off-leash on beaches in nature areas. Photo supplied

Alison Drover

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. 


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25 COMMENTS

  1. totally with you on this one: the priority, when it comes to duty of care, should always be with the wild life.
    as a human i also reserve the freedom to refuse being charged, jumped on, sniffed, licked, barked at by any canine – considering to carry pepperspray in future.

  2. Domestic dogs are now the number 1 pest in this area. Not only are they decimating the koala and chook population they are responsible for prohibiting the peaceful enjoyment of human beings in communal areas. It is now impossible to have breakfast at Brunswick Heads cafes due to the smell of stale dog urine and the constant dog fighting.

  3. Dunno about Byron township because I do my damnedest to avoid it. However, the number of times I’ve been tripped or tangled by dog leashes while shopping in Mullum are beyond counting. If you can’t keep your mutt on a leash shorter than one metre, leave the dog at home!

    As for those many slackers who can’t even be bothered with a leash: I’ll pepper-spray your pooch if it sniffs, licks, or jumps on me. You’ve been warned!

  4. Agree with article as a dog owner, I still can’t get my head around walking in national parks and nature reserves and finding people with their dogs, like at the bottom of minyon falls. There are places to walk our dogs ,on and off lead but not everywhere like at farmers markets which don’t allow dogs but you find people ignoring the signs. This makes it hard for the rest of us with our dogs.
    Nada if you use pepper spray you find yourself with legal hassles and just plain stupid.

  5. Dogs are not allowed on most of Sydney’s beaches, not even on a lead. I’ve lived here for thirty plus years and it is really getting out of hand on Tallow Beach. And if dog owner pressure is too great – at least restrict the hours to 6 – 8 am and 6 – 8 pm. Enough already!! We want our beach back!!

  6. Oh my goodness where has all this anti-canine angst come from? One person bitten or tripping over dog leads does not mean dogs are a public nuisance. And no I’m not condoning dogs in national parks, bites, dog droppings in public places & etc but please have some sense. There are other ways of having comfortable co-existence with dogs than canning them, banning them and following Ballina Council’s dog-phobic approach. What about educating dog owners? School classes about pets, their care & responsibility for them? Dogs have lived with humans for millennia, and are “man’s (sic) best friend” – it would be to our society’s detriment to push them away now.

    • We need designated dog parks and secluded parts of beaches.
      I agree re teaching responsible pet ownership and dog training and socialization classes.
      Many dogs are better behaved that the ferals and yobs that infest Byron Shire.

  7. Agree, keep dogs @ home. Love them, but not out & about. I choose to enjoy the local area for what it has to offer, not someone else’s pet!

  8. I have not been walking much on Tallow beach for some time but having just adopted a greyhound who is not used to crowds or lots of other dogs I will not
    be taking her to the beach. I have lived here for 25 years and seen a massive increase in dog ownership during covid times I will just have to continue to restrict my
    visits to the non dog end of the beach.

  9. The Byron Environment Centre has set up a Cats and Dogs Compliance Committee (C&DCC) a year ago, for broad community members, under the BEC’s auspice. if you would like to be on our mailing list please email [email protected] (title email C&DCC). To date we have been working on non compliance on estates that have Restrictive Covenants on private land titles, and on public areas that are zoned Wildlife Protection Areas. We have community C&DCC members with dogs that also want to work on an environmentally/socially sustainable position for the Shire. We have been engaged with Council on getting new Wildlife Protection Areas signage up to date, and expanding one Wildlife Protection Area over a Councils bypass biodiversity offset site. We have engaged with the State Govt department that manages the Companion Animals Act and who hold the Register of cats and dogs.
    John Lazarus, Convenor Byron Environment Centre

  10. So Negative. In my experience of living here 20 years the majority of local dog owners are 100% responsible, and who do you think keeps the beaches clean of bottles and put out fires started by others? Dog walkers, who are up early, do care about our environment and clean up before most people even get to the beach.
    As for hotels catering for dogs, where? There is not one single pub you can take a dog to in Byron, not the Rails, Northern or Beach Hotel, or even the Suffolk Pub, all have a strict no dogs policy. No restaurants either, you might find the odd cafe that has outside seating you can bring your dog to, but in general dogs are not made welcome at all.
    Think some fact checking needs to be done as most of this article is extremely biased, there are definitely not regular paw prints at any of the beaches you mention, except perhaps Bruns, and that would be in the doggie area. I’m totally for Wategos, the Pass, Main beach etc being dog free and never took my dog there in the 15 years I had him. We have 2 beautiful dog beaches that are well used and well taken care of by dog owners, who clean up after the air B & B parties all summer that leave hot embers and shattered glass covered with a hint of sand to tidy up.

    There will always be a few people that aren’t responsible dog owners, a small minority, don’t tar all dog owners with that.

  11. What a sad situation when the the majority of comments this topic attracts are from people who are unable to appreciate the wonderful ways in which dogs enhance our lives. They are truly missing out is all I can say.

    It’s true that dogs are not indigenous to this landscape and, left to be allowed to behave abominably, they can create huge problems. But hey isn’t that true of the majority of we homo sapiens who inhabit this continent? In a tussle over who has more right to intrude I have a dilemma – I find dogs more likeable and better company than many humans I encounter.

    There is a reason that dog ownership has exploded in the face of Covid 19 – their positive effect on mental health is indisputable (for those open to what they can offer). Dogs are invaluable company for those who live alone and they can make women and older people in particular feel a greater sense of security living or exercising alone. Their benefits when used as visitors in hospitals, schools, libraries and aged care etc are immense.

    Because of the ancient and amazing bond that has evolved between humans and canines they are used in an increasing range of service roles which include:
    Guide Dogs.
    Hearing Dogs.
    Diabetic Alert Dogs.
    Mobility Assistance Dogs.
    Seizure Response Dogs.
    Autism Support Dogs.
    Allergy Detection Dogs.
    Psychiatric Service Dogs, for use with the management of PTSD, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

    The dogs that bring all these wonderful things to our lives need exercising – in fact it is essential to keeping them from creating a potential nuisance to neighbours in their own back yards. Given the number of people who wish to have a dog – and the huge benefits dogs bring a society – it is an essential part of urban planning to have safe places for them to exercise off leash.

    I walk with my dog daily on the very small section of Tallow beach designated and have done so for around twenty years. It’s not just good for the dogs. Nearly all the regular beach walkers are walking a dog. With nearly all neighbours I regularly chat with, the icebreaker has been our dogs. A highly responsible group of regulars, because they are always carrying poo bags, pick up the dog poo which would likely be there even without without the dog friendly tick because irresponsible dog owners won’t keep their dogs contained.

    If I see plastic bags, tops, fishing line and other rubbish, I can’t help but think of what horrible end might await a sea creature if they ingest it. With a poo bag at the ready I always feel quite safe to pick them up. I’m sure many other “doggie” people do the same. The majority of dog owners greatly value this section of beach with the chance it gives to enjoy the sun, waves and fresh air with their canine companion. They take pride in it and care for it.

    I won’t say that in the years I have been frequenting the beach I haven’t encountered a nuisance dog but I must say it’s very rare. I might very occasionally dodge an exuberant young puppy but it seems so precious to to get curmudgeonly over this when I can, by contrast, let the dog’s joie de vivre inspire me. Of course we need to train dogs to socialise properly, keep them confined and supervise them when out. But let’s keep a perspective and a place in the world for dogs – it would be a much sadder place without them. Consider this old but gold list of the things we can learn from dogs to be less curmudgeon and more canine.

    15 LIFE LESSONS FROM DOGS
    1. LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING
    2. ALLOW FRESH AIR AND WIND IN YOUR FACE WHENEVER POSSIBLE
    3. BE LOYAL
    4. NEVER PRETEND TO BE SOMETHING YOU’RE NOT
    5. YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO PLAY
    6. WHEN LOVED ONES COME HOME ALWAYS GREET THEM ENTHUSIASTICALLY
    7. STRETCH BEFORE RISING
    8. AVOID BITING WHEN GROWLING WILL DO
    9. FORGIVE
    10. SHOW COMPASSION
    11. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
    12. LITTLE THINGS DON’T MATTER
    13. GO FOR WALKS EVERY DAY
    14. LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY
    15. GET LOTS OF REST

    I can only feel sad for people who can’t love a dog.

    • Sorry Liz, it’s got nothing to do with not loving or appreciating dogs, more about irresponsible dog ownership, & their unnecessary ubiquitous presence. Dogs don’t need 24 hour attention, nor do they need to go shopping or for coffee.
      I love em, & they have their place, & that place is the designated exercise areas & within the confines of their own yards, & not to the detriment of wildlife where even the scent of a dog causes stress & behavioural changes.

      Seems like many people have short memories….. not referring to the daily excrement left on beaches by uncaring & unobservant owners, rather, remember the months of hostility from those entitled twats towards moving the totally inappropriate off-leash exercise area from New Brighton beach parallel to Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve about 10 years ago? Dogs chased shorebirds on the beaches daily, preventing rest & breeding. Dogs in the dunes chased swamp wallabies – facts not rumours.
      BARCO (remember them? the self-interested Brunswick Area Responsible Canine Owners – where are they now? the need hasn’t abated!) together with The Echo campaigned against science, common sense & the un-implemented priorities of the Byron Shire Biodiversity Strategy – just because they didn’t want the off-leash area moved 800m north, to protect wildlife from constant harassment & stress, that would allow National Parks to bait in an area scientifically identified as a high priority for protection of Critically Endangered, Endangered & Vulnerable shorebird species – despite it being closer & with easier access. Since moving the off-leash area north, the threatened species have thrived, but there must still be easily half a dozen entitled people a week still taking dogs into the reserve to Christmas Beach despite the excellent work of the NPWS Rangers AND the 1080 baiting warning signs.

      “R.Soul” summarised it succinctly, dog owners DGAF.
      R also raised another valid point: 1080 – used in national parks and nature reserves for fox (and unfortunately dingo) control. People ignore the warning signs and put their pets at risk (there is no antidote) to the point NPWS has decided that the accidental death of one domestic pet is more of a concern than loss of threatened species to fox predation, so that they bizarrely suspend their baiting programs during holiday periods.

  12. I

    I don’t know which part of my post you think contradicts anything you have said here M Clarke – although I don’t know anything about the BARCO stuff from ten years back.

    My post was in response to the overly negative comments that suggest a general ideological opposition to companion animals and a preciousness about sharing any public spaces in a way that both dog owners et al can be adequately catered for. There is plenty of dog prohibited beach area for all to enjoy. Yes pets create a carbon footprint but we, to varying individual extents, generally create much bigger ones.

    I was pointing out that dogs also have huge societal benefits and that planning should allow for their responsible ownership, not try to edge them out. Of course they should not be allowed to add to the general destruction caused by feral introduced species. Of course there needs to be rules and pet etiquette. There also needs to be some tolerance and compromise because we are not all the same.

    I personally think that cafe owners – who pay for the privilege of street dining – should be able to target the type of clientele they wish (dog lovers or dog non-abiders). I’d go for a cafe with a couple of well behaved dogs any day over one that insists on the ubiquitous crap music that is amplified both inside and out.

    I observe lots of DGAF behaviour in this shire relating to the welfare of human and nature alike and I’m surprised you’re happy with the “succinct” generalisation that dog owners are all like this. Horrified that you think 1080 in public places is a good idea (although I assumed the handle ‘R Soul’ indicated this was a sick joke). A child’s broken bones are an outrage but a child coming in contact with 1080 could create far worse.

    My concern is that Council will adopt a knee jerk reaction to a few loud precious voices and ban dogs from a beach run. If this happens I can see the existing responsible walkers being the only ones who will comply and they won’t be there to pick up the stray dog poo and other rubbish left on the beach. In these beachside communities there is also generally a lack of safe alternative exercise areas.

    Australia generally has an intolerance of pet presence. Who knows, greater accommodation may lead to more responsible management.

    • Liz,
      Just a quick response to your 1080 concerns. Firstly, the prospect of “a child coming into contact with 1080” is virtually impossible. It’s either buried or in an M44 injector. And even if they did “come into contact with 1080”, there will still not be a problem unless they then choose to eat it, & I doubt any child would eat a rancid chunk of raw meat they dug up. Not aware of it happening anywhere in the world. Ever. It can be safely used.

      Secondly I was referring specifically to the local Nature Reserves, where Critically Endangered & Endangered species are threatened by fox predation. If you can’t protect such important species in designated Nature Reserves, gazetted for the conservation & protection of flora & fauna, then they are doomed. Do we just let more species decline to extinction? What’s the alternative method to protecting them? Trapping on public land? Shooting on public land? Case in point – in the past 3 weeks a single fox at Belongil estuary has taken all three Pied Oystercatcher chicks (a large clutch, usually only two), together with the Beach Stone Curlew egg (they lay one only). 100% breeding effort thwarted this season because of a fox. Already hard enough for these species already with all the disturbance from thousands of people each breeding season.

      And you can rest assured no doggy exercise areas in Byron Shire will ever be closed. Byron Council is beholden to the well-heeled dog lobby.

  13. You’re determined to find an argument, MC. Perhaps read closely instead.

    I know YOU were referring to the likes of nature reserves but R Soul’s (love it) “dog management in public places” is a little less tightly defined. The thought of an innocent pet stumbling upon 1080 while out and about because someone got their hand licked by a dog at some time, is horrifying – and dangerous. . I was expressing surprise at your admiration of this post – don’t conflate stuff.

    Nature reserves are one thing and public parks, streets, designated exercise area are quite another. Although native flora and fauna needs to be respected anywhere, with good companion animal regulation.

  14. Interesting comments from everyone. Dog lovers and environmentalists. I am both!
    I have lived on Tallows Beach for 18 years and have been a dog owner myself.
    Back in the day, I recall the Ranger stopping for a chat whilst patrolling the beach and streets for any meandering k9, who had strayed from the confines of its yard. I remember the coastal wallabies in the early morn, eating the grass in the dunes and an abundance of sea birds, settling on the shore line to fossick for food. I have not spotted the ranger on our beach for years, nor a wallaby and all of our shore birds have diminished, including our beautiful pelicans.

    Now as much as I love our K9 friends and its not their fault its the owners!
    I’m not really one to complain, and strive to live in harmony with all creatures great and small, I was devastated to have, over the past 2 years, 3 dog attacks breaking into my well fenced backyard and, killing my beloved chickens.

    I think the dog population has gotten out of hand, for our small beach area, morning walks are a sea of dogs and also the black bags dotted along the sand, left on the beach because the dog owners do not wish to carry them the distance and then forget where they are placed, dog poo that is left for a beach stroller and children playing in the sand. Not to mention the pungent smell of urine, enough to make you hold your breath as you traverse the path for your morning stroll.

    The solution??

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