28 September 2023

Kids and elderly at risk when dog owners flout laws to let pets run free

| Michele Tydd
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Mel with her dogs Echo and Dougie.

Mel Brown and her dogs Echo (left) and Dougie. Mel says all dogs should be leashed, regardless of their personality. Photo: Supplied.

Dapto dog trainer, Mel Brown, gets sick of uttering the words – “can you please put your dog on a leash”.

“It’s something I run into almost every day when I’m out walking my two dogs and clients’ dogs in public places where leashes are legally required,” says Mel, who runs D&E Dog Training.

“And it gets worse during the holidays with an influx of tourists, often with dogs, wanting to explore the Illawarra.”

Mel accepts some people, particularly those from outside the area, are not familiar with the on-leash areas, but she says there are plenty more who knowingly flout the rules.

One of the common excuses she hears is, “Don’t worry, my dog is friendly”.

“I don’t care if their dog is friendly or mean, dogs are unpredictable and they might understandably react, for instance, if an excited small child runs up wanting to touch and pat them,” says Mel.

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“It takes an average of 1.3 seconds for a dog to snap and bite, and if it’s not on a leash there is no way the owner can pull it back in time to prevent that.

“The rule is about safety first and foremost to protect everyone who uses these spaces including other dogs, but children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable when dogs are off-leash.

“The irony is that the dogs who are routinely not on leashes are often the ones who you don’t want to be off-leash.”

The regulation comes under the Companion Animals Act, NSW, which allows local councils to impose fines on people who breach the act. Wollongong City Council, for example, imposes fines of $330 on people who ignore the on-leash signs.

Random council compliance inspections of on-leash recreation areas are rare and are usually done in response to complaints.

Dog on leash sign.

Dog owners can be fined $330 for not following on leash signs. Photo: Michele Tydd.

Mel says it is ultimately left up to individual dog owners to address the problem if they feel threatened by off-leash dogs, and it is a task that can sometimes pit them against aggressive owners.

“Some people find it awkward to speak up but I’m way past that,” Mel says, whose dog, Dougie, has been bowled over several times by aggressive off-leash dogs, but thankfully not injured.

Mel starts with a polite request to owners to please put their dog on a leash, and that works in most cases, but not all.

“I’ve had many times when I’ve been sworn at and told to ‘f… off’, and in one case where I was accused of being cruel for expecting dogs to be leashed while on walks.”

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Mel says one way she approaches the problem with owners who refuse to comply with the rules is to ask them to at least restrain their dog until she and her dogs pass.

“That way I avoid letting the situation escalate with aggressive dog owners who refuse to listen to common sense,” she says.

“You don’t know who they are or what they are capable of, so it’s best to get past them safely and seek out a different area to finish the walk.”

Mel says more should be done in terms of signage and to promote the areas that do allow dogs to be off their leads.

“There are plenty of beaches and parks, and less well known is the fact Illawarra has a number of walking trails where dogs are allowed to be off-leash.”

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