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Dog ban leads to walkies protest

JUST TO prove that it’s not just tin-pot tyrants in British councils who try to invoke laws restricting access for dogs to public areas, news from Italy shows that there are just as many dog dictators who take on dog owners at their peril.

A law banning dogs from the centre of Treviso brought 1,500 protesters and their pets on to the streets when it took effect last weekend.

The elegant city near Venice has been split by the ban amid fears that the dogs' excrement poses a health risk and "damages buildings".

The measure, designated as an ‘experimental law’ that will remain in force until February 10 2005, bars "owners or keepers" of all dogs, except those for the blind, from walking them in the smart central shopping district. Offenders can be fined the equivalent of £300.

Councillors say shopkeepers had pressed strongly for the law. Dog owners responded by raising a petition.

Many shopkeepers, fearing a loss of custom from dog owners, are trying to distance themselves from city hall, with some hanging signs saying: "Come on in, Fido!"

Ermanno Tristano, a JP described as the chief instigator of the protest, said: "The ban has no legal foundation. For one thing, reasons of hygiene are being invoked which have not been proved."

Treviso’s mayor, Giampaolo Gobbo, pushed through the law amid the protests. Mr Gobbo seems to have been clearly inspired by his predecessor and local Northern League party colleague, Giancarlo Gentilini, who is now his deputy.

During his term as mayor, Mr Gentilini had park benches removed to discourage Third World immigrants from sitting on them.