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Allow our dogs to run free in the city's parks

Please do not use the word "park" anywhere near my dog or the word "frisbee", "biscuit" or "beach" because such words have consequences.

Should Molly hear the word "park" for instance - and she doesn't care about context - she will immediately go to her toybox, retrieve one of her 30 or so frisbees and sit with it in her mouth, tongue lolling, ears up, tail thrashing, waiting for the outing to the park to begin. Staying at home is not an option.

The reason Molly gets so excited about a possible trip to the park is that the one we go to, Bellahouston in Glasgow, is one of the few places where she can run and run and run. Off comes the lead and out comes the frisbee, ball, or stick. This is her chance to enjoy herself, away from the rules urban society increasingly imposes on dogs; she can be her most wild, her most beautiful and her most uninhibited and free. She can be the most like a dog she ever is.

So isn't it a pity that the men and women who run Glasgow's parks do not appear to understand this? In fact, the city council appears to be wilfully ignoring the importance of the city's parks to dogs with fatuous proposals for a rule requiring them to be kept on leads of no more than six feet. Perhaps all the councillors are cat owners, or pigeon fanciers. Who knows. Or perhaps they are just ignoring the fact that the position of dogs in our communities is changing for the worse and that the park is one of the last refuges of freedom.

The justification that the council has advanced for the proposed new rule is particularly lame."We want to ensure people can enjoy the parks without being caused any nuisance," they say. But do we have the right to a life free of nuisance? Of course not. If you go for a walk in the park and occasionally a dog jumps up at you and you get some mud on your trousers, so what? If you're of a sensitive nature, or a cynophobe, and the sight of a group of dogs frightens you, go home and get some therapeutic help to overcome your jitters. Dogs are inherently messy and unruly; they know no different, nor should they.

If the councillors of Glasgow do not understand this, I can recommend a book they should read while the new rule is out to consultation (a process that is usually a disguise for a decision that has already been taken). The book is called In Defence of Dogs and it is by Dr John Bradshaw who has spent his entire career observing the behaviour of domestic animals. The great fear he expresses is that society's attitudes to dogs have changed for the worse. "Tolerance of dogs and their ways is hard to find," he says, "especially in cities."

There is one story from the book that illustrates this perfectly. It is the story of Ginger, a cairn terrier that belonged to Dr Bradshaw's grandfather. Every lunchtime, Ginger would leave his house and take himself off for a walk, stopping at the fish and chip shop to beg a few scraps. He would then pop into the park to socialise with the other dogs and, according to family legend, on the way home, the local traffic policeman would solemnly stop the cars to allow the little terrier safe passage across the road.

Ginger was obviously quite a character, but Dr Bradshaw contrasts the freedom that feisty old terrier enjoyed with the life of dogs today. The park where Ginger roamed, for example, is now ringed with poop bins and most of the dogs that are walked there will be on leads. If a dog is ever seen wandering freely in the park, the wardens will be called out to catch it.

How sad that the lives of dogs have become restricted in this way, and how sad that Glasgow City Council is planning to restrict them even further by shutting off the last few places where dogs can run free. Dogs need to be off the lead as much as they can to keep fit but also to keep in touch with their instincts, their dogness. And yet human society continues to put impossible pressure on them to be unobtrusive, well behaved, controlled and clean. They are dogs, not laptops; they cannot be rewired.

Humans are able to change their thinking however - and should - and the first step is realising that dogs need as much freedom as possible. We should learn to tolerate that fact, and celebrate it, and should stop expecting animals to spend their entire life on the end of a leash for the convenience of humans. In other words, it is not dogs that need retrained; it's us.

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Pets

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