The region’s dog lovers have taken to social media to protest at proposed changes to Wollongong City Council’s off-leash beaches.
In just four days, about 700 people have liked a Facebook page dedicated to saving the off-leash area at Coledale’s Sharkeys Beach and other northern Illawarra beaches.
Under planned changes to its dogs on beaches policy, the council has recommended dogs only be allowed on Sharkeys, McCauleys and Little Austinmer beaches at certain times and if they are restrained by a leash.
The Facebook page was started by Coledale resident Sarah Goss, who regularly walks her golden retriever labrador cross, Pudding, along the beach.
She created the page after reading comments made at last week’s council meeting, where two Coledale residents spoke in favour of removing the off-leash zone from Sharkeys because it was dangerous and had ‘‘killed the community spirit’’ of the beach.
Ms Goss said she had not witnessed any problems between dog owners and other beach users, arguing regular dog walkers helped keep the beach clean and promote safety and a sense of community.
‘‘I think most people are happy with the current status of Sharkeys Beach, and it’s just a vocal minority who are disgruntled,’’ she said.
‘‘Having this off-leash beach is part of what we love about living in this area and I think the overwhelming response on Facebook shows this.’’
By Tuesday afternoon, 674 dog lovers had supported the ‘‘Save Northern Illawarra’s Dog Friendly Beaches’’ page, with many posting stories of how they used the beaches.
Sheenagh Blacklaw said Sharkeys was her dog Cheezel’s favourite place ‘‘where we go to be together and share our love of being outside and meeting other like-minded people with their lovely dogs’’. Others focused on the health and lifestyle benefits of walking their dogs.
Out-of-towner Jill Odgers said she regularly drove for 50 minutes to take her dogs to Sharkeys.
‘‘We always have lunch and buy treats for the kids at Coledale, so we also contribute to the local economy,’’ she said.
The raft of proposed changes to the council’s dogs on beaches and parks policy will go on public exhibition for 60 days from Wednesday.
Submissions can be made through the council website.
DOG patrols at Wollongong’s many beaches and off-leash parks around the city are often left to a single ranger who doesn’t even have the power to directly issue fines.
The lack of enforcement was highlighted at the council’s latest meeting, as councillors discussed controversial changes to the organisation’s dogs on beaches and parks policy.
A council spokeswoman confirmed animal control rangers were contractors who ‘‘randomly patrol’’ beaches between dawn and dusk, with the number on duty during busy weekend periods varying ‘‘between one and two’’ at any time. She also confirmed these workers did not have the power to issue fines.
Instead, they ‘‘patrol and take the evidence’’ for dog-related offences such as being in the wrong area, not picking up dog poo and having an aggressive dog, but must then refer the information to a council officer to issue the fines.
When told weekend patrols were done by one contractor, Cr Janice Kershaw was unimpressed.
‘‘One of the main issues that everybody raises is that we have the restrictions in place, but unfortunately they’re not monitored as much as they should be,’’ she said at the council meeting.
‘‘In a couple of weeks, we will be meeting to set budgets and priorities for the next year. And if we’re serious as councillors wanting to help our community to have rangers in place on the weekend and when most of the breaches of the policies occur, we’ve got to be willing to make those decisions.’’
Cr Leigh Colacino, who has advocated strengthening the dogs on beaches policy, said he also wanted to see better enforcement.
‘‘If people want these areas to be off-leash, the community of Wollongong has to understand that comes at a cost,’’ he said.
‘‘I think that the healthy way forward is that we do need an increased opportunity for beach inspections – not just to keep dogs off the beach, but to make sure people in our city can be safe when they’re at the beaches.’’
Greg Petty also indicated he would support funding for extra rangers.
‘‘I think we are putting irresponsible dog ownership before our ratepayers [and] our visitors to our city and our beaches,’’ he said.
‘‘We need to find funding for enforcement.’’