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Monday May 06, 2013

Umhlanga beachgoers decry lack of law enforcement

Anyone who has had a peaceful stroll on the beach ruined by stepping on a doggy "landmine", or being set upon by a dog that's been let off the leash by its owner, will sympathise with reader Greg Finch.

Sandy and Graham Fouche with their dog, Holly, walking along the promende at Umhlanga Rocks.

Finch and his wife, dog lovers themselves, are determined to enjoy good health in their golden years and have been taking a daily walk on the beach for several years.

Recently, though, their outings have been anything but pleasurable. They are regularly harassed by dogs and, when they try to get the owners to comply with beach regulations, they have been greeted with aggression.

"For so long we have tried to get help from law enforcers, but no one seems to want to implement the rules governing dogs on beaches."

The couple's morning walk takes them from Battery Beach, near the site of the old Natal Command, northwards to the beach at Durban Country Club. They have noticed an increase in the number of unleashed dogs, and at the weekend there are often as many as 40 animals running amok.

"My wife and I have been attacked on three occasions by vicious dogs - once by a pit bull, once by two Rottweilers and, believe it or not, once by a pack of little Jack Russell terriers. I feel it is just a matter of time before a tragedy occurs," Finch continued.

"All along this stretch of beach there are signs prohibiting dogs. Let me be clear about this - the sign and the by-laws prohibit the presence of dogs on the beach at all. It does NOT make allowance for dogs on a leash to be on the beach. On many occasions dog-walkers walk past the lifeguards and law enforcement officers with their dogs on a leash. Once they pass the Suncoast Casino beach stretch they release their dogs and let them loose. This is when the attacks take place."

From a legal perspective, said Finch, the city by-law dealing with the issue stated very clearly: "No person shall cause or permit any dog, belonging to him or in his possession, charge or custody or under his control to enter, or be or remain in or on the seashore to which these regulations apply, unless permitted to do so by any sign or notice."

Finch has found that appealing to lifeguards is useless. They are not authorised to intervene, and are fed up with the dog issue and the dog mess on the beaches, they told him.

On one occasion, Finch stopped a metro police vehicle and asked for help - but they were disinterested.

Fearing they might have to give up their morning excursions, the Finchs went walking on Umhlanga beach and had only praise for the dog control measures in place there.

"The police and other civic role-players really have the issue under control."

Brian Wright, the project leader for the Umhlanga Urban Improvement Precinct (UIP), explained to City Watch why their dog regulatory system was functioning on a par with other world-class tourist destinations.

"The UIP has a very close working relationship with the Umhlanga Municipality, and we took the approach of educating the public on dog legislation, rather than simply clamping down on the legal side," he said.

"Historically, our town has always had areas demarcated for dogs on leashes, and other beachfront areas where dogs are not allowed at all. There is very clear demarcation, particularly on the promenade.

"At first, when we tried to enforce the regulations, we had complaints from long-time residents. But we instituted an education process to impress on people that we all need to show common human decency to one another, and now we find the system is self-regulatory. Compliant dog owners persuade others to do the right thing."

To help owners clean up their dogs' mess, the UIP has installed plastic bag dispensers at 500m intervals along the beachfront, which are replenished daily. Rubbish bins are emptied twice a day.

Councillor Geoff Pullan, beaches spokesman and deputy chief whip for the DA, has lived at Westbrook Beach since 1960 and takes great pride in the area. Together with municipal officials he has devised a win-win strategy for the popular resort. "The complainant is quite right to object to dogs running amok on some of Durban's beaches. It shouldn't happen," he said.

"What we have done at Westbrook Beach, and more recently at Umdloti, is to set aside portions of the beachfront for different users. I drew a map and a short text that we hand out to beach users at Westbrook Beach, explaining the rules and what applies where. There is an area - the prime bathing beach - where dogs are not permitted at all, and nor is the building of fires. Elsewhere dogs may be walked on a leash.

"I am concerned that our law enforcement officials are not 'policing' dog owners who misbehave. We have to get officials more on board, and a great way of doing that might be to have a dedicated beach inspector at each of eThekwini's beaches, who regulates facilities and usage and channels complaints to the relevant authorities."

Thembinkosi Ngcobo, head of parks, leisure and culture for eThekwini, expressed concern that people were flouting by-laws by letting dogs run free on Durban beaches.

"We have a special team of law enforcement personnel who wear brown uniforms and are tasked with enforcing beach by-laws. They are supported by the metro police in their work, and neither of these parties can refuse a request by a member of the public to stop illegal behaviour by dog owners," he said.

Steve Middleton, deputy head of the metro police, confirmed that enforcing beach legislation was part of a metro police officer's mandate. "If any member of the public notices dog owners breaking the law, then we would like to hear about it," he said. "Laws are there to be obeyed."

City Watch
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