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Byron Shire
May 24, 2024

A manifesto on man’s best friend

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Long time local Steve Medcalf rescued a bush wallaby from a dog attack on the beach near Elements Resort. Photo David Hancock.

It is really easy to blame the self-centred entitled boneheads who choose to take their dogs into the no-go areas on the beach.

And I do. There is nothing so certain as to ruin my daily sojourn to the beach than confronting these precious beasts about their boundaries. Or not confronting them, and wondering if I should. Or trying not to look aghast at the common lame excuses for environmental vandalism like ‘my dogs don’t chase birds’ or ‘it’s only one’ or ‘she’s old’.

Some, very few, have no idea or miss the signs and have transgressed by accident. The aggro alternatives ‘what’s it to you?’ or ‘fuck off!’ show the true colours of some dolts.

Wallaby tracks left on New Brighton beach following dog attack. Photo supplied.

I’ve diligently followed the suggested approaches from Echo letter writers over the years including this gem: ‘There’s a ranger down there booking people for dog offences. Just letting you know’. The problem is that occasionally the pet and the petulant then take off into the bush to avoid the mythical ranger making things worse. 

But the more I’ve thought about doggy don’ts from a criminological perspective, the key culpable mob is the trifecta of authorities tasked with policing this: National Parks, Council rangers and the police. Where are they when the dogs are frolicking with glee around nests and chasing wallabies? All can write tickets. All can prosecute. All are generally missing in action. Warnings, education, leads, tsk, tsk, tsk are utterly useless.

Here is a well-accepted criminological theory – if a law is not enforced and a perpetrator believes there is little or no chance of being caught, then the crime will be committed more often.

Oystercatcher and chick. Photo Deborah Pearse

Here is a second theory – if you name, shame and heavily penalise a few offenders, it acts as a deterrence to others. Testing these theories on myself for example, I conclude that if I could use my mobile phone while driving without any prospect of being caught, I probably would. If there were phone detection cameras all over the place and the fine was a million dollars and loss of licence for ten years, I probably wouldn’t. If there was no risk of getting caught I might just claim a few extras on my dismal tax deduction list. Theory proven.

Remember the nude swimming/pervert/Tyagarah outrage a few years ago?

A combination of education, enforcement, exemplification, general and specific deterrence and community engagement largely worked.

Since then, the absence of frantic rutting in the sandhills has been notable. And genitals generally don’t kill wildlife. Well, not often.

So, here’s a lesson in criminal law policy 101 to reduce the problem of dogs in protected areas.

A pooch on a lead at Wooyong Beach. Image Tweed Shire Council

First have a meeting between the prosecuting agencies and work out a cooperative approach on timing, areas and joint patrols. Nothing like three different uniforms bearing down on you. There are different areas of jurisdiction and attention needed from Wooyung in the north to Broken Head in the south, so planning is essential.

Second, the investigation. I know that a hurdle is getting people’s names and addresses.

The solution is called a camera. The three authorities could collectively set up a Facebook page seeking information based on the photos taken where they can’t identify the perps or mutts. The community would identify the dogs, owners and walkers in no time by private message. Once that information is received, the identity is confirmed by a wee home visit, and bingo!

Third, stop with the softly softly – maybe a ticket or a bit of education and other warning mush. Prosecute in court in, say, ten really strong cases each year for each of Council, police and National Parks.

They have the discretion to do that instead of a ticket. The fines in court are potentially huge. The original ticket amount is irrelevant. The defendants will have to front up to court. They will be photographed and shamed and fined or bonded and have costs awarded against them.

Press releases and advertisements will be placed, highlighting the successful prosecution. They will be plastered all over social media. Environmental vandals! Bird/turtle/wallaby killers! Narcissists! Tabloid shock-jock bliss. 

Fourth, harness your best friends in this – that is, the vast majority of dog owners who do the right thing. They are your greatest allies because they sacrifice their ball throwing, desire for quiet, bit more walk north/south, always carry black bag, lead etc for the environment every single day. 

They are responsible canine lovers, just like the responsible nude bathers, and they have every incentive to help pull into line the refusers.

Atlas (right) with Isla, in the care of WIRES after being found in his dead mother’s pouch by a dog. Photo Tricia Griffin

I love my shore birds. I adore watching the marsupials lick the salt off the sand. I want to swim without dogs pissing on my towel. Or barking in my meditation. Or sniffing me when doing a downface dog. Eka Hasta Vrksasanav in sand is hard enough, without my elbow being humped.

There are children and adults who’ve had shocking experiences with dogs who just want to relax without them.  

I have a mobile phone with a camera that I never use in the car. Now, is that going to be a tax deduction after this column?

♦ David Heilpern is a former magistrate and is Dean of Law at SCU.

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  1. Typical legalism. Religion is basically a bunch of cultural rules you don’t have to enforce to get the desired behaviour. We used to have a secular religion in this country of nationalism, order, standards, etc that are now labeled patriarchy, white supremacy, etc. Once you free people from that, you get lots of interesting behaviour that requires cameras everywhere, heavily armed govt, massive fines, etc and you still get vastly less compliance. This dog issue wouldn’t have been an issue in the 50s, it would simply not be the done thing, and that would be that.

      • Do you think the date on the calendar determines peoples cultural believes? Our calendar says it’s the year 5783, so I must be way in advance of you. The people make the times, just as the people make the nation. ‘Demographics is destiny’ as the kids say.

    • CS you have yet to post a single comment since emerging from your priest hole that has contributed positively to the issues being considered and doesn’t make you look like an absolute narcissistic tosser.
      Ever !
      Back in the 1950s your ridiculous comments wouldn’t have been an issue, needing to be approved as relevant and inoffensive by editorial staff after contacting the writer to verify their real name and address. Publishing such crap would simply not be done thing, and that would be that.

      • They could barely get the Echo started in the 80s. I wouldn’t have had to say anything in the 50s.
        I would suggest your confusion is that I argue based on concepts, and that many here are stuck in issues. That’s where the double standards I call out here spring from, and are basically formulaic. I understand why you feel frustrated. I suggest you subscribe to the printed version so that you are no longer troubled by the intrusive thoughts.

          • Clark’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
            You fail to define me for much the same reason.

        • No confusion here thanks professor. You’re just blogging on the Echo. Nothing clever about constant devils advocacy solely to provoke pointless arguments with absurd off-topic comments – like why “the dog issue wouldn’t have happened in the 50s” (interestingly …. not why the dog “concept” wouldn’t have happened in the 50s, more than SIXTY years ago. what the?). Pathetic that you feel compelled to constantly explain and (re)define yourself to demonstrate your superiority. We get it. It’s obvious how misunderstood you are.
          Meanwhile, back to the “issue”, great article Mr Heilpern! Great suggestions based on your real world experiences and factual knowledge. Let’s hope our local compliance authorities also read it.

          • I’m not sure the concept of dog was different in the 50s….four legs, tail, dumber than a cat…but I’ll check with my mum. This issue of dogs didn’t exist though.

            While you read up about analogies and fault finding strategies, I will ask such questions as ‘Why are these people aggressively defensive?’ , ‘Why do they feel they need a deadly weapon when they go for a walk and to defend their home?’, ‘Why was this not an issue decades ago..why now?’. Getting to the root cause, rather than name calling, reveals un-intuitive solutions.

            When your tall poppy cutter gets blunt, try noticing what I don’t comment on. That may increase your understanding, and maybe reduce your inferiority complex.

  2. Good article. I disagree somewhat with Christian Steinberg’s last sentence. People have lost the plot everywhere on what responsible dog ownership entails, then factor in the huge increase in dog ownership. The reason it wouldn’t have been an issue in the 50s for one thing was that more people had greater respect to not cause other people a problem, but also dogs were not common. Most working class people were too poor to feed and maintain a dog. Byron Bay was a fairly poor working class town well into the 1960s. As a child then I knew almost no-one whose family had a dog. Now you see almost every home has 1 or 2 dogs, and very often no-one at home preventing them from causing a nuisance to their neighbours with barking, and no time to property exercise and train their dogs. Too many people are just in it for themselves, and their imagined “rights”, but of course no responsibilities.

  3. Great article , I’ve always had dogs and now have 3 rescue greyhounds, I’m dismayed by the behavior of some dog owners . The current local laws are quite adequate , they should be enforced but the Byron Shire council doesn’t encourage fining people because it costs money! And the money raised by fines doesn’t flow to the council. I’m all for a joint task force crack down bring it on .

    • That’s why we invented equalisers such as pepper spray. Then it doesn’t matter what size difference there is.

  4. I agree David. A joint approach, some very hefty fines for repeat offenders, and publicity about offences would be a deterrent. If the fines are large enough it might cover administrative costs of enforcement. I was glad to read that Tweed Council is actively enforcing this. Having been attacked at least 10 times by off leash dogs in public places including Recreation Park in Tweed, I have been thankful I did not have a child with me at the time.

    Evenso my dogs bark and get upset when they see off leash dogs as they have been also attacked. The irresponsible, callous owners have said things like you report including “she’s never done that before” after a neighbour’s lactating female Jack Russell lunged and bit my hand and caused arterial bleeding. No apology or offer of assistance.

    It’s a bit like drink driving. The lawless person who doesn’t cause death or injury of another is as reckless as the person who does.

  5. If councils recognise that dogs need their own parks for recreational activities then they should also recognise and provide separate beaches for mans best friends with the necessary amenities. Clearly mark “Beach for dogs exercise ” so that the Karens of the world DON’T go there. Within no time the wild life would work out that this is a no go area as they are smarter than some people. This would justify the council charging dog owners registration fees of their best friend.

  6. Oh Mrs Steinberg – such a lot of common sense here about the beaches – especially since there are few other places in this shire for off leash dog exercise. Are there any?

    Some in this community suggest that such exercise areas could be on private property and offer the service for a fee! Not very Green I’d suggest, advocating people leave home and drive around the shire for their exercise and fees for simple pleasures.

    My only objection is that you need to give Karens a break. Not all of us are self-entitled ignoramuses if you don’t mind!


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