‘Council must rethink proposed Dog Order zoning’

Sandra Snounou and Jillian Davis with their dogs in Hazelbank Park. INNT 11-006-FP
Sandra Snounou and Jillian Davis with their dogs in Hazelbank Park. INNT 11-006-FP

A GROUP of concerned dog owners are urging local councillors to rethink plans to designate the coastal path at Hazelbank Park an ‘on-lead’ zone.

The council’s proposed Dogs on Leads Order could see a ban on dogs being exercised off the lead on the pedestrian and cycle route between Whiteabbey and the Belfast City Council boundary near Duncrue.

While the council has stressed that its proposed new legislation is aimed at tacking problems such as dog fouling, many pet owners believe that the Dogs on Leads Order will only penalise responsible dog walkers.

A group of local dog owners, which includes a number of Kennel Club accredited trainers and judges, has written to councillors asking them to make changes to the current proposals before the Dogs on Leads Order is approved.

“We appreciate that there are dog fouling issues in the borough and a very small minority of irresponsible dog owners who do not keep their dogs under control. However, we feel that the current proposal to make the path ‘lead only’ is disproportionately weighted against the many thousands of responsible dog walkers who live in the borough and will suffer a serious loss of amenity,” the correspondence states.

The letter, signed by dog owners Dr Jillian Davis, Sheila Sloan and Sandra Snounou, also appeals to the council to promote better education and training among local dog owners.

“We would ask the council to reconsider the zoning of the path from Whiteabbey War Memorial car park to the Belfast boundary limits through Hazelbank Park. We would like parity with the North Down Borough in retaining the coastal path as an ‘off-lead’ zone and to include it in the ‘Leads by Direction’ Order instead, thereby enabling officers to target the minority of offenders and deal with specific problems as they arise rather than penalising the vast majority of responsible dog walkers,” the letter concludes.

Another member of the group, Jenny McLaren from Mallusk, has started an online petition at www.change.org opposing the proposed Dogs on Leads Order. It has already attracted more than 140 signatories.

“We are worried that if Newtownabbey Council goes ahead with this then Lisburn will do it and other councils will follow suit and soon Northern Ireland will be a no-go place for dogs. This (the loughshore path) is a place we all use a lot and if the council goes ahead with this plan we’d be devastated,” she added.

While several new Dog Control Orders came into effect on February 1, a council spokesperson confirmed that no decision has yet been made regarding its proposed Dogs on Leads Order.

A period of public consultation closed on February 28 and the results are due to be reported to councillors at their Environment Committee meeting on April 8. Any decision made by elected representatives at that meeting will have to be ratified when full council meets on April 29.