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Dog owners bite back at plan to make them keep pets on leashat Carnfunnock

By Linda Stewart

Published 02/12/2015

Larne sign
Larne sign
Rod Herron, with Georgie
Norman Withers, with Marty
Libby Magill with Lily
Nan Barker and Toby
Florence Stewart with Fraggie

Dog owners have raised concerns over attempts to make them keep their pets on leads at Carnfunnock Country Park.

Following the outrage sparked last year when dog walkers at Stormont Estate were ordered not to let their charges off the leash, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council issued five dogs orders for consultation this year.

These included three that imposed restrictions on people walking their dogs on local beaches, with the orders set to go live from January 1. But it was the proposed restriction on walking dogs at the popular Carnfunnock Country Park in the Drain's Bay area of Larne that sparked most controversy.

The plan was to exclude dogs completely from a number of areas within the council-run country park, including the maze, the walled garden, family fun zone, inside the visitor centre, the activity centre and the golf course.

But the council has been forced to turn tail on plans to require dogs to be kept on leads at all times on a number of paths.

Irate dog owners argued that they were often the only people using the paths and that it was necessary for the health of their pets to let them run freely from time to time.

Last night, the council's director of operations, Philip Thompson, told the Belfast Telegraph that the council was about to launch a fresh consultation on the restrictions.

This will go public in the new year and will propose keeping dogs on leads between the hours of 9am and 5pm for 10 months of the year, and between 9am and 9pm during June and July.

Retired nurse Nan Barker, who was walking her dog, Toby, yesterday, welcomed the U-turn. "A lot of us dog owners who are out walking early are the only ones here, so there should be no controversy about them," she said. "If he didn't get out here in the daytime, I don't know what he'd do. Dogs need good exercise and to interact and play with other dogs. We are responsible owners who clean up after ourselves."

Lorry driver Norman Withers from Larne, who was walking his daughter's pet, Marty, said dogs were already barred from the walled garden.

"You don't see much dog dirt up here," he added. "Most people do pick it up."

However, John and Georgina Letters from Larne were relieved that tighter restrictions were coming in.

"If they put them on the lead, then fair enough, but they don't - they don't enforce it," said Georgina, who told how she had an encounter with an unleashed dog earlier this week.

"I was scared stiff it was going to jump on me," she added. "They dirty your clothes and their boss says it doesn't mean it, but you don't know."

And dog owner Libby Magill, from Larne, who was walking her whippet, Lily, said the proposals were "grand" because many people were too blasé.

"You walk around here and there is dog dirt and it is a disgrace," she said.

But retired machinist Philip Stewart said that while he could put his dog, Fraggle, on a lead temporarily as someone went past, it was impossible for him to walk it on a lead as he walks on two crutches.

"I can't walk him on a lead," he added. "A dog was not made to be kept on a six-foot lead." And his wife, Florence, claimed it was getting to the point where there was nowhere safe to let a dog off the leash.

"You are going to be forced to take your dogs to places which are quite dangerous places for humans," she said.

"The only people who come round the park at night in the winter are dog walkers. We are all responsible people and we don't come here in the summer when there are caravans and campers."

Rod Herron, from Larne, who was walking Georgie, said he did not think exclusion was the right move.

"Some dogs do growl and snarl - they are the ones that should be on the lead," he added.

"During the summer, it is quite busy here and there are a lot of kids. I would allow dogs in the area as long as they are on the lead."

And retired teacher Eddie McCauley said he was happy enough because he loves dogs.

"But I was here a few weeks ago and one had a go at me," he added. "It was off the lead and it was quite fierce. I said to the lady that it needed a bit of control. That is the problem - it's the owners."

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