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Bureaucrats barking up wrong tree with these silly bans

By Fionola Meredith

Published 02/12/2015

What is it with councils and dogs? The way they carry on you would think that they viewed our canine friends as some sort of barely tolerated vermin, not the dear, staunchly loyal members of the family that dog lovers - and there are lots of us - know them to be.

Mid and East Antrim Council has a particular history of getting antsy about animals. Back in the summer, it tried to set up almost 100 'dog exclusion zones' in the area.

If you were caught straying into any of these zones, which included parts of the popular Carnfunnock Country Park, with your pooch in tow, you were liable to a fine of up to £1,000. The council backed down after an enormous backlash by dog owners, who rightly condemned the move as crazy and excessive, and it seemed that that was the end of the matter.

But, as everyone knows, you can't keep a good bureaucrat down. Now the council is back with its new, revised anti-dog policy.

Sorry, I mean its new consultation process. And, what do you know, it just can't let go of its beloved idea of dog exclusion zones. It's toned it down a little, it seems. Not every public space is designated a no-go area for dogs and their owners, and they might - in its manifold and great mercy - be able to put up with dogs in Carnfunnock if they are kept on their leads at certain, busy times.

Look, I'm not an advocate of dogs being allowed to run wild, by any means. Keeping them out of children's play areas and sports pitches is reasonable, and there are times and places where the use of a lead is fair and necessary.

But it seems to me that dogs get a particularly rough end of the stick from councils in general, and it's only getting rougher.

Why? Well, one reason is that dogs, or rather dog owners, are an easy target for petty, small-minded officials who like to impose rules, and need to have someone to impose them on. Dog owners aren't feral thugs or joy-riders or paramilitaries. They tend to be reasonably law-abiding people, who just want somewhere they can exercise their animal without being criminalised.

Most do the obligatory poop-and-scoop without question. Yet their pets are increasingly treated as some kind of foul liability, spreading disease and disorder.

It's not just punishment-hungry councils which go in for this kind of thinking.

The spirit of irritation, offence and intolerance which characterises much social interaction these days appears to have found an outlet in this zero-tolerance approach to dogs.

With a little goodwill on both sides, dog owners and the rest of the public can surely find a way to get along. Bans many be beloved of bureaucratic councils, but they're rarely the right answer to anything.

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