A dog gone doggy fight over Memorial Walk

Francesca Jenkins-Iles walks her dog Billie. Below, signs prohibit dogs on the walk.DOG owners are set to fight the ban of their best friends from Newcastle’s Memorial Walk.
Nanjing Night Net

Newcastle City Council has launched a four-week campaign to clear the cliff-top walk of dogs in the wake of complaints that dog-owners were flouting the ban that has been in place since the bridge opened earlier this year.

One Newcastle Herald reader wrote, in a letter to the editor, that she had seen 40-50 dogs on the bridge in the space of an hour. The council has erected more prominent signs and warned of fines of $329.

‘‘This walk is a memorial to the men and women from the Hunter that served in World War I. As a mark of respect dogs are not permitted on the Memorial Walk,’’ a council spokesperson said.

‘‘The location of the walk poses logistical difficulties for council crews to access the walkway to wash down the deck or to service waste receptacles as we do on the road-side paths.’’

But the 358-member Dog Lovers Social Group, Central Coast and Newcastle is preparing to challenge the dog-free zone.

The group is working on a petition to council, arguing dogs and their owners should be given the chance to enjoy the walk.

‘‘Maybe they could impose harsher penalties for people who don’t do the right thing, rather than banning everyone,’’ group organiser Michelle Pounder said.

Mikaela Dombkins’ great-grandfather served in World War I but she cannot see his name on the Memorial Walk when she walks her dog, Izabel.

Ms Dombkins, of Newcastle, said she was shocked by the new signs at the Strzlecki entrance to the walk. ‘‘It’s stupid, you wouldn’t think anyone would object to them being up there – particularly in Newcastle when so many people have dogs,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s not as if the floor has holes in it and their paws could get stuck, it’s safe for a dog to walk on it.’’

Owners have argued that dogs were involved in wars too but the RSL said the ban should not be lifted.

Newcastle RSL sub branch president Ken Fayle said no veteran would find it acceptable for dogs to be on the walk.

Mr Fayle, also a trustee on the Memorial Walk Trust, said he didn’t think anyone could hold their pet back when ‘‘nature urges it to go whenever and wherever they feel like it’’.

‘‘They are desecrating people who have gone before us,’’ Mr Fayle said. ‘‘It is a dedicated, living memorial and we don’t want dogs on it.’’

Walk architect Barney Collins is owner of two labradors and an avid dog walker.

He said the main issue with dogs was the risks posed by confined space.

If two dogs were coming in opposite directions and a fight broke out there would be nowhere for kids or others to go, Mr Collins said.

‘‘I have no issue with dogs being near memorials,’’ Mr Collins said.

‘‘But if dog owners allowed dogs to urinate on the memorial signage, I think that is a big issue. That is disrespectful.’’

Bar Beach resident Matthew Sullivan doesn’t have a dog but said he wouldn’t care if they were on the path – as long their owners cleaned up after them.

‘‘I don’t think the Diggers would have had a problem with it,’’ he said.

Merewether resident Karin Marshall says dogs should be allowed.

‘‘Most of the people who walk are the people who have dogs,’’ she said.

‘‘The whole point in having a dog is so you can exercise and by restricting where you can take dogs it is stopping people from having healthy habits,’’ she said.

But Gavin, of Merewether, who did not wish to give his surname, approved of the ban, saying it was awful to see droppings on the bridge.

‘‘Partly because it’s a memorial and it’s just such a lovely facility. I don’t want to see it spoiled by a bad few who might not pick up after their dogs.’’

Another Merewether resident, who did not wish to be named but whose miniature schnauzer was among the first to walk on the bridge when it opened, was ‘‘pretty annoyed’’ and disappointed to find his dog was prohibited.

‘‘It’s not some sort of sacred site. It’s not a war memorial.

‘‘It’s a bridge.

‘‘I’ve got several relatives that have done plenty of service for the country and they would think it was totally ridiculous,’’ he said.

Dog owner Francesca Jenkins-Iles said it was disappointing that her dog Billie was banned. ‘‘I’d love to be able to walk up there but I’m always with my dog,’’ she said, as she walked on the footpath below.

‘‘I can understand it is a memorial that was built in memory of the Anzacs – but dogs did fight in the war too.’’

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