The issue of domestic animal management should not be reduced to a discussion on the rights of owners who do not want to leash their dogs. It should include a full consideration of the safety and enjoyment of all beach users, in particular children, and of the preservation of the environment.
Dogs can make a significant contribution to the health and well being of their owners. This is a well documented fact. It is also a fact that dogs can inflict injury on other dogs and humans, including children.
According to a 2017 Australian Government report, almost 4000 people were hospitalised in Australia in 2013-14 because of injuries by dogs, with the highest rate of injury occurring in children four years and under.
The number of people using our beaches has increased markedly in recent years, as has the number of off-leash dogs on the beach, causing concern about the safety of children.
Over a number of years, residents have written to council stating that it will only be a matter of time before a child is injured. Councillors cannot claim that this issue has not been raised with them.
Dogs can kill wildlife. On Phillip Island in the 2018/19 Hooded Plover breeding season, six chicks were killed by dogs in 18 days between late January and mid-February. Dogs can also diminish the chance of survival of birds through disturbing their nesting and feeding.
A 2019 UN report warns of the grave impacts of species extinction, which is accelerating. Australia has one of the highest losses of species in the world.
Climate change, drought and the horrific recent bushfires have pushed more species to the brink of extinction. Phillip Island’s most endangered bird species is on our doorstep and we should be doing all we can to ensure its survival.
Dogs need exercise, but do not need to exercise off-leash in the habitat of threatened species.
The Bass Coast Shire Council and Phillip Island Nature Parks are the authorities responsible for the management of our beaches and have worked collaboratively, taking the needs of all beach users into consideration in order to identify suitable on and off-leash beaches. Dog owners now have a choice.
We do not own this land. We are the current custodians. We have no ‘right’ to use the beaches as and when we choose. Our primary focus should be on the safety and needs of the whole community and on the preservation of the environment for future generations.
Councillors should make decisions regarding dogs on beaches based on facts and with a view to the future, not on the degree of pressure exerted by any one group or on emotive commentary.
Intimidating behaviour, verbal abuse, bullying and death threats directed at councillors, rangers, shire officers, volunteers and residents in no way make a positive contribution to the decision making process. We, as a community, should make it clear that under no circumstances is this behaviour acceptable.
Rob Humphrys, Surf Beach.