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Derry mayor Michaela Boyle backs council dog fouling plans after losing sight as a child

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Dog walkers have been encouraged to clean up after their pets (Jane Barlow/PA)

Dog walkers have been encouraged to clean up after their pets (Jane Barlow/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Dog walkers have been encouraged to clean up after their pets (Jane Barlow/PA)

The mayor of Derry has spoken about being blinded in one eye by dog mess as a child after backing proposals to tackle fouling in the city.

Michaela Boyle was just five-years-old when she lost her sight in her left eye as a result of playing in sand containing the dog mess near her home.

She was unaware the sand was infested with parasites from dog faeces - resulting in complete blindness in one eye for the young girl.

Ms Boyle, who is a former MLA for West Tyrone and is from Ballycolman, said her personal experience made her eager to back new proposals tackling dog fouling, which she said has become an "epidemic" in the district.

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Michaela Boyle

Michaela Boyle

Michaela Boyle

A Derry City and Strabane District Council committee has approved new dog control measures including a ban on dogs in all council play parks, a measure will come before the full council later this month.

Dogs would need to kept on a leash in shared-use parks and the council is also researching the possibility of DNA testing of fouling to identify dogs.

"The council has undertaken a review and our Health and Communities Committee has recently looked at new powers to encourage dog owners to keep their pet on a lead, with an officer who could enforce that," said Ms Boyle.

"There would also be rules around dogs entering land where they're not supposed to be."

Ms Boyle, who is herself a dog owner, said there are more responsible dog owners than irresponsible ones but that the council has been forced to act.

"It's not just about having dog dirt on feet or wheels of buggies or on footpaths - there are serious consequences," she said.

The mayor said after she contracted toxocariasis, a potentially lethal disease carried in dog faeces, she had to undergo a number of operations to try and save her sight.

"I do remember being in hospital for long periods of time to save my eye and that has a lot of implications when you're a young child at school - learning to see through one eye.

"Now I don't know what it's like to have two eyes but at the time losing the sight was a big adjustment. It affected my schoolwork because I couldn't see the way other children did," she said.

The 53-year-old said there has always been a stigma associated with her condition, which she first experienced while a pupil in school.

"I have a slight turn in my eye, when it gets tired it's more noticeable and I would have been called all sorts of names and bullied. Back in the day I had to wear a patch and it wasn't very nice.

"Sometimes children can be horrible when it comes to singling someone out. You get through it and it's something that is thrown at you that makes you stronger."

As well as dog owners, the mayor said she is calling on all members of the community to report dog fouling whenever possible.

"People living in communities have to report it and it's completely confidential, you won't face the wrath of your neighbours. We want to review what worked in the past and what hasn't worked in other places. It is about looking at new ideas and new solutions," she said.

When it comes to cleaning up after your own pets, Ms Boyle said being aware of personal hygiene and cleanliness is important.

"I have cats and dogs and it is about being responsible. Hygiene is a big thing, washing your hands when you're feeding your pets and using gloves when you're cleaning up. The council provide poop bags so there shouldn't be any excuse not to clean up."

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