YOU could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from pet owners shire-wide when dogs were finally allowed back on Bass Coast beaches during the day last week.
After five months of fiery protest, debate that often degenerated into personal abuse, explosive council meetings and one almighty public rally at Coronet Bay, the wait was finally over.
From last Thursday, May 1, it was almost like nothing had ever happened.
A small group of acquaintances met at Rainbow Park in Inverloch at noon to enjoy what they coined a ‘Reclaiming Day’ walk – a stroll where they could legally do what they fought for all along.
There were mixed emotions to be read on their faces: relief, fatigue and a touch of uncertainty.
They were ready to move on, but they’re not ready to forget.
“It completely spoiled our Christmas and entire summer,” retiree Michael Sawyers said.
“Before last December, we had a casual little walking group.
“We haven’t seen each other for months.
“It was very beneficial for both our health and for the dogs; it was marvellous.”
During the ban, Mr Sawyers walked his dog at night. Alone.
One of the other residents along for the Reclaiming Day walk, local dog groomer Julie Jones, said she had barely been to the beach since the ban had been in place.
“I used to go every day, but I virtually haven’t been near the water since,” she said.
Margaret Sartorio and her son Phil – two community members who vented their frustration at more than one council meeting – said they were simply glad to get back “some normalcy”.
Mr Sartorio, however, remains slightly on edge.
“There’s definitely a feeling of uncertainty about what the council could do next,” he said.
“There’ not a lot of trust left.”
Where to from here?
A Draft Terms of Reference for a reformed Domestic Animal Management Advisory Committee (DAMAC) was out for public comment until yesterday, May 5.
A new report is due to be presented to councillors on May 21.
Members of the Sandy Paws Coronet Bay and Waterline Alliance groups and their supporters say they are keen to work with council on the next phase.
“Since the rally in March, the community may think we have been resting,” Sandy Paws spokesperson Laney Russell said.
“On the contrary, we’ve been busy liaising with council, have responded to a request from officers for feedback on the impact of the ‘trial’ and have now submitted a detailed review of the draft Terms of Reference for the new DAMAC.
“The number of followers on our Facebook page keeps climbing, approaching 700 now, and our posts receive up to 2000 readers.”
Another Sandy Paws member, Karen Sandon, noted that “the council decision to implement place-based consultation shows recognition that there are very great differences between beaches, and their usage, throughout the shire”.
“It is our view that the new DAMAC must be responsible for ensuring that place-based consultation is accessible to local communities, reflects their wishes and reflects the diversity of environmental and social factors impacting each beach,” Ms Sandon said.
“Phase one is over, all the parties are now back at the drawing board, and now we’re moving into phase two – the place-based process of consultation.”
In reflecting on the changes in moving from ‘protest’ to consultation, Sandy Paws has found time for some internal development too.
“Our statement of purpose, aims and objectives have evolved to reflect the current needs,” Ms Sandon added.
“In keeping with our concerns about transparency, these statements will shortly be available for download or viewing through the Sandy Paws Coronet Bay Facebook page.”
Bass Coast residents should note there are still beaches where dogs are restricted during daytime hours, as was the case before the ban last December.
For more information, visit www.basscoast.vic.gov.au/