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Forestry officials call for consistency on rules regarding dogs on leads
According to the authorities responsible for the upkeep and protection of Belgian forests, too many walkers do not keep their dog on a leash, even though this is mandatory in Wallonia and Flanders.
In Brussels, the rules are less clear, because loose dogs are tolerated there, provided that the owner has the animal under control. After a third deer in the past month was found dead, a Walloon forester has called for the legislation on unleashed dogs in the three regions to be made consistent.
At the beginning of December, forester Nicolas Bronchain found a dead deer, apparently succumbing to a heart attack after being chased by a dog. A week later, Bronchain was alerted again by passers-by who saw a dog hunting, not far from Solvay Castle in La Hulpe. Shortly afterwards, the ranger found a dead deer with bite marks.
On 6 January, the ranger was alerted again by hikers who had found a dying deer. Bronchain also found evidence that this animal had been chased and hunted. The deer had bite marks on the neck and the walkers testified about sounds of dogs just before finding the animal.
In addition, around the same time, there were two other incidents in an area of the Sonian Forest in Wallonia. In the first, where there were no fatal consequences, a horse bolted after being shocked by a loose dog, unseating its rider. Also in mid-December, a ranger found two dogs chasing a deer which eventually escaped.
The Sonian Forest extends over the three Belgian regions. In Wallonia and Flanders, dogs must be kept on a leash in the forest, but not in Brussels, provided that the dog is kept under control and does not enter an area designated as a 'vulnerable area'. Brussels Environment states that dogs in the Sonian Forest must always be on a leash, unless otherwise stated.
According to forester Bronchain, dog owners do not always adhere to this, despite the many signs in the forest. He therefore calls for the underlying legislation to be harmonised.
Dogs are also a big problem in the Brussels part of the Sonian Forest. The number of deer in the Sonian Forest is decreasing, as reported two months ago, due mainly to the large numbers of people in the forest, but their off-leash dogs also play an important role in this decline.
The Sonian Forest Foundation is organising a meeting in February to discuss the issue. It says its aim is not to ban dogs but to "ensure the tranquility of the wild animals and also to respect other hikers, who sometimes do not like these animals."
According to Nicolas Bronchain, people do not realize how dangerous dogs are for wild animals. "The forest is the worst place to let your dog run free because it's a very fragile ecosystem."