Unleash the hounds: in Canberra, you likely won't get caught
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Unleash the hounds: in Canberra, you likely won't get caught

A dog bounding playfully along a footpath, bush trail or park is as common a sight as sunrise.

Yet the scene also represents one of Canberra's most common, and least-policed, offences (up there, perhaps, with driving with fog lights on).

Franklin resident Sharyn Butts with her dog River at the O'Connor dog park, one of few areas in Canberra where dogs are allowed off-leash.

Franklin resident Sharyn Butts with her dog River at the O'Connor dog park, one of few areas in Canberra where dogs are allowed off-leash.Credit:Rohan Thomson

It's illegal to let a dog off-leash in almost all suburban areas of the ACT, and dogs are banned completely from most national parkland.

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Rangers can fine people who let their pets run unrestrained up to $750.

Yet new data released by the City Services Directorate shows only three owners and three carers were fined in 2014-15 for failing to keep dogs leashed.

The government did, however, crack down more vigorously on owners whose dogs were found roaming without a carer: it issued 46 fines for this offence, which also carries a penalty of up to $750.

The directorate pleaded in its last annual report for greater compliance with dog laws, saying keeping the animals leashed was particularly important in nature parks.

"Introduced species, like domestic dogs and cats, can have a devastating effect on native flora and fauna and, importantly, keeping dogs on a lead can keep them safe from some of the perils of the Australian bush," it said.

The directorate reported a steep increase in dog attacks – on people and other animals – in 2014-15. It carried out 245 investigations of attacks, almost three times as many as in the previous two years.

The number of attacks in 2015-16 will be reported soon, but is understood to be similarly high.

The directorate's head of "city presentation", Fleur Flanery, said dog owners were responsible for keeping their pets under control so as not to "interfere with someone else's enjoyment of public spaces".

"As a general rule, if people are ever in doubt they should keep their dog on a leash," she said.

The government changed the ACT's dog-exercise areas late last year to help owners understand more clearly where they could let their pets off-leash.

In general, dogs: must be restrained when on foothpaths/cycleways and in major parks; are banned from playgrounds and barbeque areas; and can be let off-leash on sportsgrounds if no sport is being played.

Ms Flanery said keeping dogs "restrained by a leash in public areas, in most instances, balances the views of people who like interacting with dogs with those that don't and mitigates any potential issues of public safety", such as dogs biting or harassing other people, or getting in the way of cyclists and runners.

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There are six, designated, fenced dog parks across Canberra, where owners can exercise their pets off-leash.

The government recently allocated $320,000 to build a new dog park in Weston Creek, and wants residents to help select a site.

Markus Mannheim edits The Public Sector Informant and writes regularly about government.

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