This has not been a good week for dogs.
My local council area, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, has lots of important issues to be getting on with, such as finding a way to improve job creation in the area, yet it chooses, as its first dictum, dogs. Yes, our four-legged friends have been under scrutiny and the council is planning to launch a consultation process for dog exclusion zones.
If the council gets its way it will mean dog owners will not be able to walk their pets in public parks, and other public areas such as Larne Promenade – a favourite place I believe – Carnfunnock Country Park and Carrickfergus Harbour.
I suppose if the council had any worthwhile beaches, which it hasn’t, despite its access to the sea, those too would be banned to dogs. In fact any open land which isn’t even owned by the council could come under dog fouling restrictions all in the interests of health and safety.
As a dog owner, no one is more anti dog fouling than me. My every coat pocket is stuffed with plastic bags – even my handbags which I change often and the car which has kitchen roll as well – to ensure my adored pooch does not mess any public area, especially if children might play there.
I don’t walk him anywhere near sports pitches or public footpaths and use a beach only if there is permission, such as at Portrush which has a designated area.
Yet I have to accept that dog fouling is a problem. I have seen it everywhere. I have also seen lazy owners walk on when their pet has fouled and owners who’ve picked up the mess in a plastic bag but then left the bag on the grass for someone else to dispose of.
I know some dog owners walk their pet at night, only so they can get away without cleaning up after them. But not all dog owners are like this. Most go to great lengths to ensure no mess is left behind.
An online petition with thousands of signatures from people opposed to the proposed regulations which will see the anti-fouling rules extend to woods and parks is gathering pace.
Most of the public anger stems from the fact that soon there may be few if any public places where people can walk their dogs. Similar rules have been imposed in one coastal area outside Belfast.
This cannot be right. Surely dogs, man’s favourite pet, have rights too? Don’t they suffer enough from endless cruelty, whether it’s in illegal puppy farms, dog fighting or simple abandonment?
This week while out walking my own dog I found a beautiful greyhound-like dog clearly abandoned given the area it was in. Frightened, obviously hungry and in distress its ribs were clear to be seen, her paws red and swollen from walking. If I were to give a home to every abandoned dog I have seen in my walking area since I became a dog owner a year ago I would need a bigger house and land.
My dog walking friend took charge, she had seen it many times, and called in the dog warden only after she fed and watered it. We can only hope that that beautiful animal, not much older than three or four years, will not be put down but found a new home.
Our councils exist because we elect them to do the business of running the borough for us. We pay annual rates for services run by our councils. In a sense we are the owners of our locality and we are entitled to use our public spaces as we please, including walking our dogs. After all we pay to licence and microchip our dogs as demanded by law.
That, surely, gives our dogs the rights I think they should have including the pleasure in being walked in the public areas their owners pay to service.