Dog law unleashes a great debate as pet owners put their case
FOR many of us they are our most loyal companions and unquestioning friends.
For non ''dog people'', however, man's four-legged best friend can sometimes be seen as a bit of a pest.
Now after years of complaints about dog mess and about walkers feeling threatened by big dogs on the loose, one council has decided to call badly behaved dogs — and their owners — to heel.
After an appeal to police and to Neath Port Talbot dog wardens to give Skewen Park special attention in the past, the council has now gone a step further. From January a new bylaw will mean the many dog walkers who use the little green haven will have to keep their Labs and Lassies on a leash.
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The move will please some, who in the past have said dog fouling has caused a hazard and has stopped play on the site's football pitch at times.
But some dog owners say the ruling is completely barking and it declares an unnecessary and unwanted war on man's best friend.
In short, they argue, it appears open season has been declared on man's best friend.
Among them, owners such as Wendy Davies from Cardonnel Road who is unhappy about the plan.
"This decision has enraged many residents of Coedffranc,'' she adds.
"Residents who in turn contribute towards this parks upkeep through their community charge."
And she argues the idea hasn't been thought through carefully enough.
"The problems in the park relating to dog mess and uncontrolled dogs are the cause of the minority.
"There are many people who have been challenged in the park by the regular walkers in relation to not cleaning up their dog mess and not controlling their dogs.
"And the challengers are met with abuse and derision by such individuals."
Unless the council is able to enlist an officer to patrol the site to look out for such offenders, the bylaw, she says, is completely without teeth.
"Is the council going to provide a poop patrol individual?
"Or even a dog walking control individual to enable monitoring of this ruling and meter out the consequences of not following the ruling?"
Daily dog walker Jeff Parsons agrees that the plan puts an unnecessary choke chain on people's enjoyment of a well-used green space.
"I meet up with a group of dog walkers in the park at 10am every day to walk my daughter's Labradoodle, Kizzy,'' he says.
"And being able to walk off the lead is very important to socialise the dogs. I understand that some people are nervous of animals and it is important that owners train their dogs properly to come when they are called, but since we all go out as a group we watch what the dogs are doing very carefully."
MD of Cwmdulais dog training firm A1K9, Charles Hall, agrees it is sloppy owners, not dogs, who need to be admonished.
"I think as a society we are becoming increasingly anti dog, which is a shame because they give us companionship, they make us get out and exercise and for many ladies who want to jog and who don't feel safe to do that in remote or in woodland areas, dogs make them feel much safer.
"If a dog is well trained it shouldn't be necessary to put it on a lead in the park - an owner should have enough control over a dog to make sure it comes when it is called."
And while the issue of dog fouling is a distasteful one, again it is down to the owners.
"There is no excuse for not cleaning up after your dog. It takes seconds. And I don't want to walk down the street and step in dog mess.
"At the same time I don't like walking down Wind Street on a Saturday night and stepping into someone's vomit or into worse, if someone has decided they cannot get to a toilet, which some do. It is too easy to bash a dog."
Neath Port Talbot councillor Annette Wingrave says as a dog owner herself she doesn't want to curtail their enjoyment but it is right that the concerns of all sides of the argument are listened to.
"I'm not anti dog at all but the council had been getting complaints about dogs off leads running up to people, and a big dog can knock over an elderly person or a child.
"We have to think about the staff as well, who have to clear up the park. They use strimmers and dog mess flies up into their faces, which is not nice.
"I do accept the majority of dog owners are responsible, but if you park you car and let the dog out and it runs off the feeling is that you don't know where it has gone to do its business.
"If it is on a lead you can see exactly where it goes and you can clear up after it."