Dogs thrive without leashes

Sue Liell-Cock, Bergvliet

I question the way the public participation process was handled over the issue of dogs being walked with leashes, specifically on the Alphen greenbelt (“Dogs allowed off leashes in some areas”, Bulletin, November 9).

Mine and at least two of my friends’ comments were not included in the subsequent report, even though we sent them in time and to the correct email address. How many other comments were excluded? Even without our comments, most of the comments were against leashes.

Why was a dog behavourist not consulted in this process? Dogs on leads feel constrained and vulnerable, so they become defensive when other dogs approach which causes fights. However, when all are off leads there are hardly any problems.

To ensure dogs are properly socialised and so behave well together it is essential they are off leashes.

The reasons given for dogs to be on leashes at the Alphen greenbelt make no sense:

* “Conflict with other users including the vulnerable” – the vast majority of people with kids there are specifically there so they can walk the dogs and kids at the same time in an environment that is considered safe for

You can’t walk freely with a dog on a lead – that will bring dog fights right to the children and they will be hurt then.

With regards to horses – the vast majority of dogs are fine with horses. Why are the majority being punished because of tiny minority? Rather police those few than the majority.

* “Damage caused by dogs to the sensitive natural environment in heavily used areas”. The Alphen Greenbelt is not a “sensitive natural environment”! And it was not the dogs that have recently degraded it, their impact is minimal.

Since Parkrun has started there, there has been a massive growth in the size of the trails at Alphen. However, having more runners increases security.

It feels like we, the people, are once again being ignored, proper processes are not being followed, tricky questions are not being answered. Just the will of the few on the council is being enforced.

When children start getting injured during dog fights then it will be time for the council to answer these questions – but do we have to wait for the injuries?

Dogs off leashes at the Alphen greenbelt has been working extremely well for more than 30 years at least – don’t let them break what works please.

* Elizabeth Brunette, ward 62 councillor, responds:

I have responded to every email on this subject, irrespective of where the complainants live, and I have received letters of support.

Appropriate signage is being erected or added to existing signage on all greenbelts, parks and public open spaces where it is not currently displayed.

In terms of the City’s Animal By-law, dogs are required to be on a leash in greenbelts, parks and public open spaces throughout the city, including Constantia, unless they are in an area that has been designated as a free-running area. A total of 10 greenbelts in Ward 62 have been designated as free-running areas.

I have received the following feedback from the recreation and parks department regarding the Alphen Greenbelt:

The trails are multi-use trails and, in light of the horse attacks by dogs on the greenbelts, it is advisable to put a dog on a leash to prevent any incidents.

Dog walkers on the Alphen trail walk multiple dogs which results in “pack mentality” and thus dogs are unlikely to obey verbal commands from their owner.

The trails are also narrow in certain sections along the Alphen trail which results in conflict between socialised dogs and timid dogs because there is not sufficient space between the dogs or the owner does not have an alternative route to take to avoid other dogs.

The number of unleashed dogs also presents an environmental challenge. Apart from the dog owners not picking up their dog’s faeces (often because it is off the main trail), the constant running up and down the river banks has caused severe erosion of the slopes of the river.

This disturbance has opened up the river to colonisation by invasive alien plant species including Indian cannas, crofton weeds and other pioneer species.

Indigenous plant species cannot be used to rehabilitate the area as unleashed dogs tend to dig up the plants.

The water quality of the Diep River has drastically decreased since the number of unleashed dogs on the Alphen greenbelt has increased. E. coli, chemicals and other pollutants have been found in the water quality reports – this could only be introduced by dogs as there are no street people, sewage spills or illegal dumping occurring along the river system west of Alphen Drive.

Furthermore, bird life is extremely limited along the river system because of the colonisation by
invasive alien plants
and because free-running dogs prevent birds from foraging and breeding.

Until dog owners take responsibility for their dogs and place them on a leash, the City cannot successfully undertake rehabilitation projects to restore the Alphen greenbelt into a fully functioning ecological corridor for fauna and flora.

Alphen is more park-like than any of the other greenbelts and is frequented by people of all ages, including the vulnerable such as toddlers and senior citizens who must be taken into consideration.

Dog faeces is a major health problem at the Alphen greenbelt because with so many dogs, owners have the excuse to plead ignorance and not clean up after their dogs. Being on leash will force them to accept responsibility.

The City is doing all it can to balance the needs of all users of this area, while taking into account the various ecological considerations.