It was standing room only on Tuesday night as residents of the Illawarra’s northern suburbs gathered to debate why dogs should be allowed on the area’s beaches.
Wollongong City Council has proposed changes to its dogs on beaches and parks policy, including only allowing dogs on Sharkeys, McCauleys and Little Austinmer beaches at restricted times and only if they are on a leash.
The plans have been met with resistance by some members of the community - a Facebook page dedicated to saving the off-leash beaches has been liked nearly 2000 times.
For more than an hour at the Neighbourhood Forum Three meeting, speakers told council representatives why they wanted their beaches to remain friendly for their four-footed friends.
The meeting began in a small room at the Thirroul District Community Centre, but was moved to the larger hall 10 minutes in as people continued to arrive.
The first speaker was resident Margaret Wall, who said she regularly walked her dogs on the beaches slated for change.
She argued for more education for non dog-owners and said the debate was ‘‘destroying the community.’’
Nadia Szimhart put forward reasons McCauleys should remain an off-leash dog beach, including that it was unpatrolled and had natural boundaries that kept dogs in check.
Both speeches were met with loud applause.
Many speakers also wanted more information from council as to what weight was given to complaints about dogs on beaches versus comments in favour of it.
Austinmer Veterinary Hospital vet Dr Rick Prowse said he had rarely heard of people being bitten by dogs on the suburb’s beaches, but said he regularly treated dogs who had been injured by eating hooks left by fisherman or rubbish leftover from picnics.
A petition to continue to allow dogs on beaches was also circulated.
Jeannie Nicol, council manager regulation and enforcement, explained the report process to the crowd and encouraged them to make submissions to council.
The proposed policy is on public exhibition until October 6. Submissions can be made through council’s website.