Community Safety Ranger at the Bass Coast Shire Council, Kevin Lonergan, was out on dog patrol along the beaches at Inverloch over the weekend but it was a case of “educating” dog owners who transgressed the new dog ban rather than issuing $144 infringement notices.
LAST Saturday, on the hottest day of the summer so far, thousands of people flocked to Inverloch’s beaches.
And, totally oblivious of the controversy that has raged there for weeks, they brought dozens of dogs with them to enjoy the family outing.
Their pets frolicked and gambled about, along both major beaches, on and off-leash, enjoyed a cooling swim like their owners as temperatures soared past 38 degrees or played games and apparently caused no problems whatsoever, even on what could have been the busiest beach day of the holidays.
It’s hardly surprising they were unaware they were breaking the law.
Although the shire has hastily erected a few signs at some entrance points to the beaches, rather than advising dog owners clearly about the beach ban on these signs, they have euphemistically announced, in large letter, ‘Trial dog off-leash area’.
And unless you read the small print, you wouldn’t even realise that a key part of the so-called trial is that “no dogs are permitted on the beach between 9am and 6pm”.
In fact, as several dog owners pointed out when contacted on the beach by the Sentinel-Times, there are actually dozens of signs which say the exact opposite.
“We go to other places where dogs aren’t allowed on the beach or there are restrictions on times, so I make it a point to look before we go on the beach with our dog,” said one lady, enjoying a quiet time on the beach with her husband and Jack Russell dog ‘Rosie’.
“Go back and take a look at the sign yourself (entry off Beach Parade at Ozone Street). It says you can’t have a fire, go camping or ride horses, among other things but it says you can walk your dog,” she said.
“I’m sure it says dogs are OK.
“We’ve been coming to Inverloch for years, for day trips mainly but we like it so much that we rented a house for a week this year, mainly because you can take your dog on to the beach.
“We clean up after our dog and I’ve never seen an issue with a dog.
“I hadn’t heard about the new law before today but it’s ridiculous. They’re not doing anyone any harm.
“Yes, we’d reconsider coming here again for a week, of course we would.”
The Jack Russell owner said that while she appreciated the new law was only a trial until the end of May, she hoped they might have sacked the council by then for agreeing to such ridiculous arrangements.
Everyone said they were totally unaware of the new laws.
“We live in Melbourne but we’ve got a holiday house here and have been coming down here for years,” said another woman walking a busy-looking border collie with her daughter.
“There are no signs or anything around. How are you supposed to know what’s going on?”
Typically, the main point of contact for holiday renters coming to the area is their local real estate property manager.
So you’d think the shire council might have opted to go through them to get useful information out to visitors.
But, oh dear, the information sheet made available by the council to real estate agents for the summer says nothing about the new dog arrangements.
“All it’s got is information about recycling and when to put out your rubbish bins. Nothing about dogs,” said one of the busiest property managers in town.
Those wishing to access up-to-date information should go to the Bass Coast Shire’s website and type ‘Where can I walk my dog’ into the search bar. Brochures are also available at the shire’s service centres including at the Inverloch Hub.
Q&A with the shire
Here are a few questions we put to the shire about the trial:
Question 1. How are you planning to conduct the trial?
Answer 1. The trial times are the hours of 9am to 6pm. During these times dogs should not be on the beach. These times are consistent with the restrictions already in place for adjoining beaches managed by Parks Victoria (Inverloch Surf Beach south of Wreck Creek). As part of the trial, Council established four new off-leash areas, two of which are on the beach and two in inland reserves. This was in response to comments from dog owners who wanted to be able to exercise their dogs off the leash. The trial will run from December to the end of April. During this period we will be collecting data from visitors to the beach and off-leash inland areas. The purpose is to find a balance between those who want to dogs on the beach and those who enjoy exercising their dogs on the beach. During the trial time, two independent experienced researchers will carry out observations and ask questions from beach goers. The information and any other observations will form the basis of a report to be considered by Council at its May meeting.
Q2. How and when will data be collected?
A2. Two researchers will collect data and observations from beach goers and people at the off-leash inland reserves. They will randomly visit the relevant areas between 8am and 7pm to ensure all days of the week and times are covered.
Q3. I appreciate you are ‘educating’ and monitoring the situation but when will you start issuing $144 infringement notices?
A3. The level of enforcement will be determined by the behaviour of the community. We will always aim to educate first. However, repeat offenders will receive a warning. Fines will only be issued as a very last resort and only after the relevant signs are up.
Q4. How can you conduct the trial, issue warnings and infringement notices when the signage is so contradictory (photos of various signs were provided)?
A4. Due to the change of times for the trial at the December Council meeting and the Christmas holidays, signs have been somewhat delayed. However, we expect that signs will be up in the next day or so.
Q5. Will there be more signs? Are the permanent signs going to be changed?
Q6. Has the trial started in a half-baked manner and was the shire ill-prepared to commence the trial this summer? Should the trial have been flagged for the summer of 2014-15 by which time all the signs, community consultation etc could have been in place?
A6. Consultation actually started in 2012, when Council undertook extensive consultation for the development of Council’s Domestic Animal Management Plan. This was followed by the survey of Inverloch residents earlier this year and discussions with the Domestic Animal Advisory Committee. The committee had such diverse views that it could not agree on a recommendation and was deemed that the best way to actually test the times/months was through a trial. I’m sure that given our time all over again we would find ways of improving implementation. This is always the case. Re. the signs; the signs would have been up in good time. However, the change in the trial times meant that signs had to be redone just before Christmas, which has caused some delays. We are confident that the trial will be up and running in full later this week.