Storm in a dog park? First dog complaint? A dogged stance?
Not everyone has been sympathetic to the plight of Moonee Valley dogs who, for the past three weeks, have been told they must remain on-lead at all times in Moonee Valley, while their furry friends in Moreland, Melbourne and Maribyrnong continue to run free in dog-parks each day.
I’ve spent three weeks questioning this rule and I’m still banging on about it.
Some residents have argued that questioning the rule is selfish and that we should be doing everything we’re told in order to combat COVID-19. And mostly, I concur.
We should all be following the Chief Health Officer’s directions, and the federal government directives, to stay at home, social distance, and not gather in groups in order to keep our families and community healthy and safe. Of course we should.
But Moonee Valley Council officers have varied these rules without clear medical advice – and that causes me concern.
Legal and government processes still matter. Even, or especially, in times of crisis and pandemic.
I’ve been concerned that in their genuine efforts to take strong protective action, Moonee Valley Council officers have overstepped the mark of governance, and Moonee Valley dogs are the ones missing out (puppy dog eyes and all).
There are also very real concerns about animal welfare and people’s mental health during what is already a stressful and lonely time for many. Walking a dog, seeing a four-legged companion run happily, is a small joy for many dog owners.
Council officers have said the rule was made –
“to accord with the Deputy Chief Health Officer’s direction concerning social distancing, so as to contain the spread of the virus and reduce the risk to the health of Victorians.”
There’s been a tome of email correspondence with MVCC trying to clarify two key things about the rule:
- what powers do Moonee Valley officers have to make a rule preventing dogs from being off-lead in designated off-lead dog parks?
- what powers do Moonee Valley officers have to enforce this rule?
To date, I haven’t had satisfactory answers to either of these questions.
In response to the first question, I was bluntly told that now was not the time to question the government.
In response to the second, I was told that warnings would be issued and then the police would be called.
So I rang the Victorian Police to ask whether they would fine me for walking my dog off-lead in Moonee Valley off-lead areas – designated as such under s.26(2) of the Domestic Animals Act Vic.
They referred me to the DHHS information line and the advice I received there was that walking a dog off-lead in an off-lead area was not something that breached the deputy Chief Health Officer’s directions.
I conveyed this to MVCC, but was told the rule would remain in place until social distancing rules are relaxed.
The reason I care about this is that my dog, like many other dogs, needs to run to stay fit and healthy. He is well trained and is under effective control when off-lead. He isn’t good at running with people – he stops to sniff and jerks his neck on the lead.
If the state or federal governments, on the advice of their medical experts, issue a directive that dogs must stay on leads in dog-parks, of course I would comply. But they haven’t. It’s not been a measure considered necessary at this time by public health and medical experts to curtail the pandemic.
Back to the key questions.
There’s no breach of the state government’s directions if a dog is off-lead in a dog park in Moonee Valley. But is it a breach of a Moonee Valley rule or law?
Council officers have no power under the Local Government Act to make or amend local laws. Only the Councillors through a Council meeting can do this.
The MVCC CEO wrote to me today confirming there has been no change to Moonee Valley’s local laws.
Except there is no breach of the directions in having a dog off-lead, and DHHS has confirmed this is not a matter for Victoria Police.
The answer to the first question about the powers of council officers to make this rule remains unknown.
The answer to the question about what powers council officers have to enforce the rule is clearer: none.
Where to from here?
I’ve again asked councillors and council officers to consider removing the rule, and the signs, given there’s no power to enforce the rule and we’re probably better served by having the sorts of signs used in other councils reminding people to stay 1.5m apart and not gather in groups of more than a household or two people.
While we’re all very wary of a second wave of the virus hitting during winter, unless medical experts say otherwise, there doesn’t appear to be a nexus between dogs running in dog parks in Moonee Valley, and the rising risk of pandemic.
Although, on a rainy night like tonight, my dog doesn’t appear to share my passion!