Dog off-leash debate gives paws for thought at Bayside Council

Canine conundrum: Bayside Council's trial of a new dog off-leash area has been put on hold for another month. Picture: John Veage
Canine conundrum: Bayside Council's trial of a new dog off-leash area has been put on hold for another month. Picture: John Veage

There were 95 dog bite attacks recorded in the Bayside Council area last year.

Of these, 47 were bites on human victims and 48 bites on animal victims.

The figures were released at last week's Bayside Council meeting during debate over the benefits and dangers of unfenced dog off-leash areas.

Last December, Bayside Council voted to have an off-leash dog exercise area at Mutch Park, Pagewood for a 12 month trial period.

The council already has a dog off-leash area at Kyeemagh.

But Councillor Michael Nagi lodged a rescission motion calling on the council to reverse its decision.

"I'm not against dogs," Cr Nagi said. "But I have to ensure I'm not compromising the health of children and the eldery in the community and for the other animals that are enjoying the park."

Cr Nagi asked for figures on the number of dog bite attacks last year in the Bayside local government area.

The council's figures showed that 23 dog attacks on humans were in a public place, road or footpath and 10 were in parks and 13 were on private property.

And 23 dog attacks on other animals were in a public place, road or footpath, 14 in a public park and 11 on private property.

Two attacks on animal victims took place in a dog off-leash park, council records show.

"The primary liability is the owners of the dog," Cr Nagi said. "Is the council liable or can it be brought into a civil action?"

General manager Meredith Wallace said the adult with the dog is responsible for the animal under the Companion Animals Act, but there is no guarantee that the person who is injured may take it on themselves to take civil action.

"If we designate a dog off-leash area that is not a safe environment, that is not fenced, are we covered?" Cr Nagi asked.

There is no definitive advice, Ms Wallace said.

Cr Nagi said this showed the council hasn't got all the answers.

"The City of Sydney Council has a similar number of dogs to the Bayside local government area but many more off-leash areas. The number of attacks is 200 per cent more than Bayside," he said.

"I'm not stopping dog off-leash areas but we should seriously consider having it in a safety environment because my advice is council could be liable.

"Sure, let's have an off-leash area but let's do it properly."

Cr Scott Morrissey said the dog off-leash area was passed by the majority of councillors.

"We are seeking a trial after-hours, 4pm to 10am in a park that is frequented by dogs already. It is not 24/7," he said.

"I acknowledge there is a risk but we can manage these risks with effective governance and effective management," he said.

Cr Andrew Tsounis said the community had legitimate concerns over dog off-leash areas that do not have an enclosure.

"We voted for Kyeemagh but it is in an isolated area at the corner of Cook Park," he said.

"If we are to trial someting I prefer it is an enclosed area. I don't see why it has to be an open area.

"I don't want to take the risk. I don't want to have to explain to a parent that that their child has been bitten because we have taken on the policy of having a dog off-leash areas which are not constrained within a fenced environment.

"Unless it is enclosed with a fence around it and with a double gate, I can't support it."

Cr Tarek Ibrahim described Kyeemagh (dog off-leash area) as an "absolute mistake" and said there had been many incidents there that had not been reported.

Cr Liz Barlow said people are saying that Kyeemagh is absolutely wonderful

"A person who has an uncontrolled dog doesn't go to these parks. It is the owners who are the problem, not the dogs," she said.

"I think we should defer it for one month so we get the answers we haven't got. The dogs are not at fault."

The council moved to defer the rescission motion for one month.

Cr Nagi said that councillors were missing the point.

"We talked about 95 bites, 95 attacks," he said.

"No one can control their dog if they are off-leash.

"I'm not against off-leash areas but get it right. The majority want safety.