Dog lovers enraged at plan to ban animals from parks
Dog owners have been left outraged by proposals to ban their pets from woods and parks.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has launched a consultation process over the plans for dog exclusion zones.
It would bar dogs entirely from play parks or sport pitches and areas including Carrickfergus Harbour, Larne Promenade, Carnfunnock Country Park and Knockagh Monument.
In other spaces the animals would only be allowed if they are restricted to a lead no longer than 6ft, while beaches would remain a no-go during peak holiday season.
Owners who flout the regulations could be faced with a fixed penalty fine of £80, or forced to pay out up to £1,000 if they are convicted at a Magistrates Court.
Officials claim the restrictions are in response to irresponsible dog ownership in the area, which includes the former Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne council areas.
The proposals are designed to bring the new super council into line with existing restrictions in the former Larne Borough Council area, however this time they have been met with opposition. More than 2,000 people have lent their signatures to an online petition calling for the dog control orders to be rescinded.
Philip Thompson from Mid and East Antrim Council said: "There was the same public outcry three years ago in Larne, but meetings were held to air those concerns, and we got a compromise that suited everyone.
"We need to get the fear out of this. Nine out of 10 dog owners pick up after their pets, and most reasonable dog owners agree with these proposals."
Freedom of Information figures show last year 16 fines over dog fouling were issued by councils within the region. Although the area under their patrol will increase, there are no plans to recruit new dog wardens to enforce the proposed fines.
Mr Thompson said: "It's very difficult to detect that fouling is happening and while we do have officers out, a lot of it happens late at night or early in the morning, so we rely on members of the public who know those dogs are being let out of premises to foul."
Mr Thompson was emphatic the restrictions are measured and in response to repeated complaints over "hot spots" for dog mess, but concedes the proposed zones are not a done deal and there are question marks over what happens in areas not owned by the council.
He said: "There are some areas where there's no play parks or sports pitches, so we need to take on board the comments and they will come off the list, or if there are places people feel strongly about they will go on it.
"I don't imagine you can put the dog control areas where we don't own, but any open land is covered by the fouling order, whether it's owned by the council or not."
A dog owner himself, Mr Thompson was unconcerned by the plans, and explained it is prompted by public safety. The proposals remain out to consultation until June 19 and could come into force by September at the earliest. The exclusion zones are not available online, but can be viewed at council receptions.
'Council is tarring everyone with same brush'
Andy Harper (30) walks his golden retriever Finn in woodlands close to his Carrickfergus home. Their most visited spots, Oakfield Glen and Bashfordslands Wood, would both be out of bounds under the new proposals surrounding play parks and playing fields.
He said: "It's a no-brainer that you don't want dogs on playing fields or play parks, but a lot of places seem to come under that heading.
"People of all ages use that land, but everyone is what I would class a responsible dog owner who cleans up after their pet.
"There are some incidents of dog mess, but it's very rare, and if you see something lying there you pick it up.
"I'm more aware of it now that my two-year-old daugher Sophia is out walking with us and I would keep an eye on it, because I don't want my family to step in dog mess, and neither does anyone else. Dog walkers feel obliged to clean up for other users, and I think the council's tarring everyone with the same brush.
"The areas with more mess are the areas with fewer bins."