Man’s best friend, or public enemy number one? Dog question divides Heigham Park users

Paddy the Labrador enjoying Heigham Park. Submitted

Paddy the Labrador enjoying Heigham Park. Submitted - Credit: Submitted

As campaigners call for a clampdown on dogs in a Heigham Park, DAVID HANNANT asks just where the boundaries should lie for dogs in our public spaces.

Sarah Tunnicliffe who is organising a petition to keep dogs on leads in Heigham Park. Pictured with

Sarah Tunnicliffe who is organising a petition to keep dogs on leads in Heigham Park. Pictured with her children Harry, 10, Oliver, 7, and Cleo, 10 months.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

In Heigham Park, the battle lines are being drawn.

On the one side are campaigners calling for tougher measures to be taken against dogs.

On the other are owners, who argue that they are being unfairly targeted.

The debate has been provoked by a petition set up by Sarah Tunnicliffe, 41, a mother-of-three from nearby College Road.

Plenty of space in Heigham Park during the July heatwave. Photo: Bill Smith

Plenty of space in Heigham Park during the July heatwave. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

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In it she calls for the council to introduce measures to, in her words, 'reclaim' the park from 'anti-social dog behaviour'.

She says she started the petition, on the website, after witnessing several breaches of the park's rules on dogs.

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'I've experienced dogs taking food from children. My youngest daughter Cleo - who is 18 months - has nearly been knocked down by dogs jumping up, but this isn't just about my experience.'

She added: 'My two boys are 10 and seven, so are more robust, but since I've had Cleo it's become difficult to go to the park again - I'm constantly having to look out for dogs and their foulings.'

Her proposed solution is keep dogs out of the play area and games field, and to fence off an unused bowling green, to create a zone where dogs can run off their leads.

Her petition now has more than 200 signatures, but has provoked strong opposition. Another petition on the same website, which has attracted a similar number of names, describes it as 'incredibly unfair'.

Suzy Copping, 42, a mother of two from Unthank Road, regularly walks her eight-year-old Labrador, Paddy, in the park and said she feared the original petition risked dividing the community.

'Dog fouling is unacceptable and quite rightly unlawful, but it is an issue across the city, not just in this park. There is a danger of focusing too much on the dogs, and not enough on their owners.

'A lot of dogs I encounter in the park are well behaved and cared for responsibly.

'Unfortunately, like many things in life, there are often a few inconsiderate people who spoil things; but it is wrong to tar all with the same brush – this is fundamentally the basis of all discrimination.'

She added that many dogs could be kept perfectly well under control while off a lead, and that for long periods of time, the park is largely empty of children, so it would be wrong to restrict dogs during these times.

'In 12 years of using the park as a parent and dog-walker, I have only twice experienced these kinds of problems -and on both occasions it was the owner who was accountable, not the dog,' she added.

What the council says

The rules for Heigham Park are that dogs must remain on the lead, though a council spokesman admits this is 'very difficult to enforce'.

He added: 'Our parks and open spaces are for everyone to use - dog owners and non-dog users alike and we need to accommodate everyone.

'For this reason, we would prefer not to have specific, sectioned off area for dogs.'

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