An afternoon walk along the Alphen Trail turned into an agonising nightmare for a Constantia resident.
John Wallace, semi-retired, his wife Tessa and their two Jack Russells set off from Le Seuer Meadow on Friday March 17. They are regular walkers, taking dogs Bella, 3, and Eddie, 15, twice a day along this stretch of the greenbelt.
Mr Wallace said they were walking towards the Alphen Hotel and noticed a couple of large dogs on the dry riverbed. Next thing he was flung into the air, his legs knocked out from under him, and he landed face in the soil. The owner of the dogs, whom he had never seen before, tried to help him to his feet but he was in agony and could not move. “Your medical aid will cover you,” is all he heard as she disappeared.
A passer-by called emergency services and 20 minutes later Mr Wallace was loaded into the vehicle and taken to Constantiaberg Mediclinic. Mr Wallace was initially put into a back brace but after scans and X-rays showing three fractured vertebrae, he ended up under the knife having a spinal fusion.
Last week, wearing a back brace, and speaking from his Constantia home, having just been discharged from hospital, he said he could have ended up paralysed but instead has three to six months recovery.
Mr Wallace said he was aware of the public participation process around dogs being allowed on the Constantia Greenbelts and believed people were privileged to able to walk their dogs off-leash.
However, he wants to raise concern over risks posed by the lack of responsibility of a small number of people who do not control their dogs.
On three separate occasions, he said, he had seen two horses being bitten by dogs and a child thrown off a horse.
He said people who were aware that their dog might be potentially aggressive should take steps to control their animals.
Ward 62 councillor Liz Brunette said the Constantia Greenbelt was one of the few popular areas you may get to walk your dog in Cape Town. Mr Wallace’s incident occurred in the Alphen greenbelt where it is proposed that dogs must be on leashes.
Ms Brunette, said the City Parks by-law states that dogs must be on leashes.
“There have been complaints of vicious attacks on passers-by (and) there is lawlessness on the greenbelts. As a result, residents have been called to contribute to a proposal to ensure that dogs are on leashes at all times,” she said.
Ms Brunette said the public participation process would allow people to identify areas where dogs should be prohibited, and influence the kinds of controls that should be put in place.
James Rawlings, chairman of the Friends of Constantia Valley Greenbelts, (FOCVG) said they had made a submission on the matter.
“Personally, I believe that the greenbelts are for the use of all, but all users should be considerate and respectful of other users. Dogs have had a very positive impact on the greenbelt that is closest to my heart – Spaanschemat, Paggas and Grootboschkloof – because they have helped me to eradicate the bad element and have thus made them safer and continue to keep them safe,” said Dr Rawlings.
He said he had not heard of or witnessed any bad incidents, except for a few involving inconsiderate cyclists.
FoCVG river warden Anne Mayne agreed with Dr Rawlings that dogs running free on greenbelts were beneficial. “For instance, my dog has sniffed out someone lurking in the bushes on three different occasions. If he’d been on a lead, he would not have exposed the person.”
Other advantages were that dogs running free had a great time playing and getting the exercise they needed. “Parents with toddlers and prams cannot control their lively children and lively dogs. If the dog runs down the river bank into the river it comes to no harm but if the toddler does this, it could be a disaster so the parents don’t need to
be hampered by the dog on a lead,” said Ms Mayne.
She told the Bulletin she has walked the greenbelts in the Constantia valley for 15 years and had seen only two incidents of dog bites on dogs and no people injured by dogs. “People with problem dogs muzzle them and keep them on leads. Friendly dogs, when put on leads become aggressive from frustration, whereas if they were free they would interact with other
dogs without aggression,” said Ms Mayne.
Mr Wallace would like to know
if anyone saw what happened to
him. And while most of the cost
has been covered by his medical aid, they don’t cover co-payments, physio, loss of earnings and prosthesis.
“People must ponder whether they are going to take responsibility for their actions. If they don’t, we are going to lose this amazing privilege,” said Mr Wallace.
If you witnessed the incident involving Mr Wallace, you can contact him on 021 795 0414.