John Roughan: Dog owners have a new reason to respect beaches

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Years ago the Auckland Star had an acerbic columnist, Robert Gilmore, who detested dogs on beaches. Or at least he detested what they left behind. Often after a stroll along the sand near his Takapuna home he would vent his disgust in a pungent paragraph or two.

I thought he was a bit obsessed until I had a dog of my own. They really are foul creatures. If Gilmore was alive today he would be writing with mischievous glee at the discovery of a salutary sea slug.

The suspected carrier of a toxin to dogs sounds like the sort of slimy pond life that children won't sample but dogs will. Long may the slugs live. But even if they are dying of the same algal disease its recurrence cannot be ruled out. If dog-owners needed a reason to respect the beaches they have it now.

We should never have needed a reason of course. We knew what our dogs were doing. As soon as mine put his paws in sand he seemed to find the sensation purgative.

We are probably a bit more dutiful with the scooper than dog-walkers of Gilmore's day but it is still no way to treat places where people are liable to walk, sit and lie in the sun.

The same can be said of grass in a park, I suppose, but if we insist on having dogs in a city they have to be allowed to run somewhere. Sandy beaches should be sacred.

This is one of those sentiments that might be more widely shared among dog people, than we suspect. Sometimes it takes a law or disease to drive us in the direction we want to go. We need a ban to stop doing something as dangerous as using a hand-held phone in the car. Why didn't smoking in restaurants cease of its own accord?

Anyone who has lived in the country knows a city really is no place for a dog. My father knew it when he shifted the family from a country schoolhouse to Christchurch. As a kid I accepted that. I couldn't imagine what I'd do in those confined spaces, let alone my lively young collie.

It went to a farm where it didn't last long. Worrying sheep is a capital offence in the country where dogs have the dignity of work.

They are an animal born to herd and hunt. In the country they live outside and eat raw meat.

Their natural instincts have been finely attuned to the behaviour of stock and subtle instructions. They can run for a purpose and bark when there is reason. They don't need a leash and they never go to the beach.

I wish I'd been as firm as my father when my kids wanted a dog in Auckland. The best I could do for the handsome gangly charmer they chose was to simulate country conditions as best I could.

He slept outside, almost never stepped into the house, always lived near a large reserve of wilderness where I let him range far and wide on our walks. We went to the beach only between Easter and Labour Weekend when he was allowed to be there unleashed. He chased seagulls and investigated dead fish. He'd chew on leathery carcasses and roll in anything that stank. He'd squat in embarrassing places and I'd gag with the plastic bag. Somehow in the country you never see their mess.

Doubtless I'm going to get scolded by dog nazis for this. He should have been under proper control.

We went to a couple of obedience classes when he was a pup and the lessons turned out to be for me. I had to bark commands with more authority. He always knew when I wasn't serious.

There is something sad about a dog trained for urban life and something anal about their controllers. You meet them when your dogs meet, or rather don't meet if the serious owner can help it.

An urban dog's existence is not doing much visible good for the animal, its owner or the city environment. The pets confined to houses and yards all day have nothing to do. They seem lost even when pampered silly. Their doting owners have obviously never seen a country dog's sense of identity, or they wouldn't baby the dog as they do.

Street berms and beaches are not its natural surroundings. It forages for food, upsetting rubbish bins, ripping bags open and strewing wrappers around. If young it is liable to chase anything. Mine could not resist a moving bicycle pedal or a skateboard.

At the beach they have only one use for a sandpit and it is not pleasant. Now the sea has exacted some retribution. It could be nature's cue that dogs should be gone for good.

- Newstalk ZB

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