“It’s a real community, and they’re really passionate, so this is not going to go down lightly,” she said.
The council voted to revoke the majority of the off-leash areas in October after a resident whose home bordered the park complained that his two assistance dogs became upset by the off-leash dogs, resulting in him feeling that he couldn’t use the park.
Council staff cited the need to comply with disability discrimination legislation, and also raised concerns about the area being used for dogs off-leash because it directly adjoined people’s homes, creating potential conflicts between different users of the park.
Staff have said they will also review the locations of other off-leash areas in the municipality to scrutinise similar issues.
Another nearby resident, Sarah, said a compromise could have been reached through community consultation, and the council’s decision made the area less attractive for dog owners.
Mayor Darcy Byrne, who was not present during the vote, said the off-leash area had been working well since its introduction in 2013 under the former Leichhardt council.
“There is absolutely no need to introduce new restrictions on dog walkers there and I’ll be working with residents to have the off-leash area reinstated,” he said.
“Common sense dictates that hundreds of residents shouldn’t lose out because of a single complaint.”
But Samantha Connor, president of People With Disability Australia, said the public needed to understand that for a lot of people companion dogs or guide dogs were “essential pieces of equipment” and they needed to access the outdoors on an equitable basis.
“If they can’t go out of the house without that essential support then they’re just as on-leash or more so than the dogs are,” Ms Connor said.
Another councillor, Victor Macri, said he was aiming to introduce a motion at the next council meeting to have certain areas throughout the municipality that would have separate timeslots for smaller and larger dogs.
“We can’t provide separate, segregated areas so we have to just try and work it out so we have larger dog times and smaller dog times … it’s about making the system work better,” Cr Macri said.
“It’s the same way we have under-10s, under 6s (in sport), it’s a similar type of thing.”
He said the idea was prompted by a number of incidents in which smaller dogs were likely unintentionally injured by larger dogs when they mingled in public spaces, and he hoped it would allow owners of smaller dogs to feel less intimidated in off-leash parks.
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Angus Thompson is an Urban Affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.