BAW BAW // THE BAW Baw Shire Council has recently reminded residents its 12 month trial of off leash areas is limited to nine parks around the LGA.
Above: on leash: Penny Gibson of Crossover with Solomon and Gracie at Burke Street Park, Warragul. Photo: William PJ Kulich.
First published in the 28 August 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
At the introduction of the areas in March, some in the community questioned the worth of the areas. The debate provoked strong emotions from off leash area fans and opponents, so the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen set out to answer the question: do off leash areas actually achieve what they are set up to achieve?
The answer, in short, seems to be off leash areas have long-term benefits for both dogs and humans, as well as the surrounding community, so long as they are appropriately policed.
A practising veterinarian who is writing a doctorate of philosophy at the University of Melbourne on anxiety in dogs, Dennis Wormald, told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen off leash dog areas needed strict rules to ensure dogs and humans got the most out of the spaces.
He also said people needed to have common sense when walking more aggressive dogs – one of the concerns frequently raised by objectors to allowing dogs to run free.
A Baw Baw Shire spokesperson said the council would inform the public to not walk dogs in the off leash areas if they could not be controlled without enforcement.
“This is a decision that every responsible pet owner must make,” the spokesperson told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
However, he said available evidence that dogs in off leash areas proved to be dangerous to wildlife was not sufficient.
A report by the Wildlife Hospital at Healesville Sanctuary concluded that 115 attacks on animals were made by dogs between 20 September, 2008 and 31 January, 2010.
A further 79 attacks on animals were made by cats, suggesting dogs have a bigger environmental impact than cats.
Mr Wormald said if the necessary fencing was installed, the same biodiversity could be maintained, even though some of the wildlife may vacate from fear of the dogs.
The Baw Baw spokesperson said fencing would be installed if the trial was successful and if the council saw it necessary.
Mr Wormald said allowing dogs to run around parks and other areas without the restrictions of a leash provided for more than twice the exercise than a walk with a leash provided.
“Off leash areas are beneficial to both humans and animals, as it takes only 45 minutes off leash to provide the same amount of exercise of 2 hours on a leash,” he said.
Baw Baw mayor Debbie Brown said in a media release the balance between the wellbeing of others and the satisfaction of dog owners needed to be kept throughout the trial.
“Of course, this balance can only be struck if dog owners continue to exercise caution by only allowing their dogs to be off leash if they are able to control them,” Cr Brown.
Mr Wormald said off leash parks would encourage dogs to socialise more and the animals would be able to engage in playful behaviour, but more restrictions needed to be placed on those with unfriendly dogs.
He said the benefits of off leash dog walking areas, including an increased life span for both pet and owner, and higher attendance and use of amenities outweighed the negatives, so long as there was sufficient infrastructure.
He said deterrents for owners who do not clean up after their dog or bring hostile dogs to the areas could be introduced.
The council said the success of the trial depended on the actions of the community.
“If everyone obeys the rules and respects the right of other park users to enjoy the parks, there is no reason why the trial would not be successful,” the council spokesperson said.
Dog owners seen leaving waste at any park will be fined $200, but Mr Wormald said enforcement was a major issue in dog behaviour restrictions across the state.
“There is a complete lack of policing of dog walking at the moment,” he said.
He said the main message was “be smart” around and with dogs at all times.
Baw Baw’s trial off leash areas are at Brooker Park in Warragul, Bellbird and Alex Goudie parks in Drouin, Darnum Recreation Reserve, Trafalgar’s James Balfour Oak Tree Park, Dowton Park in Yarragon, Kydd Parke Reserve in Jindivick and Dunstan Oval and St Phillack Reserve in Rawson.
Follow the author on Twitter
Get free email updates from the Baw Baw Citizen
Read more Baw Baw Features Read more Baw Baw News