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If only dogs could vote

Opinion

If only dogs could vote

Jane Stephens laments that off-leash areas for our four-legged pets are a necessity in populated areas but debate often brings out the bared teeth.

Debate around off-leash dogs quickly runs off the chain. It brings out the animal, making us whine and barking mad.

Any topic around animals is sure to elicit a range of public response – everyone seemingly has an opinion – but talk about off-leash dogs is next-level polarising.

It seems to me that the problem is two-fold: we live increasingly cheek by jowl and need a place to exercise our pets, and we have affection for our own animals but not necessarily other people’s.

All evidence says that running off leash is beneficial for dogs, contributing to their physical health, mental stimulation, socialisation and general happiness. The freedom allows pooches to explore, have stimulation of their senses and activate their natural instincts. But when it interferes with others’ right to move about, or endangers other people’s pets, we have not just a problem, but potentially a world of physical and emotional hurt.

No dog owners could attest hand on heart that their canine would never, ever nip or snarl or bite when cornered or put under pressure. They are dogs, after all.

Queensland law states that dogs must be on a leash when being walked in public places, unless in a signed off-leash area or during allocated hours in particular locations. The penalty for not keeping your dog under control on the Sunshine Coast is $309, and about 600 people were fined for breaking the rule last financial year. We should be grateful we live on the Sunshine Coast: on the Gold Coast, the fine is $619.

But off-leash areas are a hot-potato political issue. Consider the firebrand discussion around the previously off-leash expanse around the Point Cartwright headland: first the council took it all away, then when residents burred up in droves, they gave some back if only until mid next year. In December, we were told the council had budgeted $14,000 for police patrols to ensure people were playing nice in that area and keeping their fidos leashed outside the allowed zone. Now we are being asked for input on a park being transformed from a local to a district space in Buderim, to include an off-leash area.

Dogs are a big deal here. They are family for many and join their humans in cafes, on beaches, in streets and parks. But off-leash discussions inevitably dissolve into something resembling a bad dog’s breakfast.

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Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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