Dh5,000 fine, safety concerns: Why pet owners shouldn't walk dogs without a leash in public

In a perfect world, all people would be responsible for their children and pets at all times, but since it is not, I would hope articles like this, and perhaps awareness campaigns on such subjects affecting communities, could make a difference

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Rasha Abu Baker

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Published: Mon 27 Feb 2023, 9:30 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 Mar 2023, 6:17 PM

My family and I recently moved to a lovely community in Abu Dhabi. It’s family- and pet-friendly with beach access, multiple pools, lots of green areas and, yes, lots of dogs! We knew the community had a big dog population before moving in a few weeks ago; in fact, the pooch count is well over 100 in a community made up of 6 precincts and 34 villas. Let’s put it this way: every time you go out for a walk, you are bound to encounter several pets on a walk with their owners or sitters. We’ve seen various breeds, mainly small and medium-sized popular pets such as German Shepherds, Chihuahuas and Bichon Frisés.

Thankfully, I haven’t had a negative engagement so far, but there are a few residents who wrote about their negative encounters on the community’s private Facebook page which drew concerns from others — including from me, as a parent to young children. The issues have mainly to do with the unfortunate lack of consideration and attention shown by some pet owners and handlers.

In a perfect world, all people would be responsible for their children and pets at all times, but since it is not, I would hope articles like this, and perhaps awareness campaigns on such subjects affecting communities, could make a difference.

One of the main concerns is the failure of some handlers to keep dogs on a leash. There have been reports of canines roaming around freely and approaching other animals and people, including children. The thing is, dogs will be dogs, and loose dogs can be very stressful for other pet owners whose animals are afraid or threatened by other dogs, parents of small children, and even those who don’t particularly feel comfortable being approached by animals. Unleashed dogs can pose a serious threat and be intimidating to others, and even if an owner is sure (as, of course, they all are) that they have a friendly pet, animals react differently around each other and are unpredictable — especially around small children. It is also a legal requirement in this country to keep dogs on a leash at all times when in public. Walking your dog without a leash in public places in Abu Dhabi carries a fine of Dh5,000.

This is not an ‘anti-dog’ story. I like dogs. I appreciate the value they can add to people’s lives and understand the sensitivity surrounding this topic as most ‘pet parents’ are fiercely protective of their pets, but I, as well as others, am also fiercely protective of my human children and cannot bear the thought of them getting bitten or attacked by a dog that has not been trained or handled properly.

Another issue that I have noticed myself is the attitude of some dog walkers. Unfortunately, we have come across some with no awareness or consideration for those they encounter while walking their charges: allowing the dog to get too close to others, or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, overreacting to and mistreating their pet, and, even worse, seemingly lacking any command of and control over the animal. These are always dog-sitters/nannies. It’s important for dog owners to be mindful of these issues for the safety of people and other pets; they also need to provide adequate training to their pets and ensure that any household members handling them are equipped to understand the needs of the animal and the public.

But, one of the biggest issues that I and many others have is … well, there’s no other way of saying it, dog poo. Walking into the building foyer once, I was mortified to see animal feces on the floor in front of the lifts and dog poo is frequently being spotted and reported all around the community, which is a serious health hazard, and a literally disgusting example of the disregard being shown. Every pet owner knows that it is their job to clean up after their pets, it’s part of the symbiotic relationship we have with our animal friends, so there really is no excuse for not being mindful and considerate. Pet owners should also ensure that their dog walkers understand the seriousness of this.

Perhaps it would be a good idea if community management organisations were to place hands-free pooper collectors, bags and waste bins throughout the community as an integral part of their services, especially if they promote themselves as ‘pet-friendly’.

I do get it. Dogs need exercise. They need to run and play. But so do my children… in a non-toxic environment. I think it’s fair to say that majority of dog owners, especially in a suburban setting, have access to a vehicle: they can take dogs off the leash and let them run loose in designated dog parks, like the one that opened in Abu Dhabi last year with separate areas for small and big dogs (Al Khubeirah Garden in Al Bateen), Formal Park, Abu Dhabi Corniche, or the UAE’s only private dog beach, Flopster Beach Ghantoot, or even the desert, which is never that far away!

It would also be a good idea if the municipality opened more dog parks near residential areas, which would be massively convenient for all members of the community — again with appropriate waste bins encouraging owners and sitters to clean up their mess. Because if we’re not careful, the municipality may take more drastic steps to curtail the problem, which could include muzzling all dogs in public, or even a ban on them, and I don’t want that.

I do commiserate with loving and respectful owners who do take appropriate measures while dog-walking; it must be just as annoying for them to be tarred with the same brush — but this isn’t about making them feel bad, this is to raise awareness for all.

Love your dogs, care for them, feed them, hug them… take them to the vet when they are not well, enjoy their company… but please pick up the poo!


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