A grieving father’s plea to have dogs banned from graveyards in Edinburgh has been rejected by councillors – who instead agreed to tighten rules.
Paul Irvine, whose three-year-old son Xander was killed after being struck by a car on Morningside Road in 2020, addressed members of the council’s Culture and Communities Committee on Tuesday.
Speaking from Morningside Cemetery where Xander was laid to rest, Mr Irvine told councillors of numerous incidents where dogs have destroyed items including soft toys left by his son’s headstone.
He also reported seeing dogs urinating on graves.
Mr Irvine said: “We had all the teddies removed from Morningside Road over to the graveside and through time we started noticing some were missing, only to return a few days later and we were scratching our heads wondering what that could be.
“We started noticing the amount of people coming over with their dogs and they were off the lead and then I started thinking maybe it’s perhaps the dogs. And then a month or two later we were standing here just having a quiet moment and a dog came running over and grabbed a teddy.
“Since then I started noticing more and more teddies missing, then some actually got destroyed – I’ve got a couple in the house where one of the heads is ripped off, one of the arms is ripped off.
Mr Irvine said one teddy that was home-made by somebody was “completely shredded”, adding: “It’s really distressing.”
“It’s just snowballing,” he said. “There’s so many people in here now bringing their dogs in on a regular basis, they bring in the balls to throw for the dog.
“For me, it’s a place of reflection and for me to come over and grieve. I’m not anti-dog, I’ve had dogs, I love dogs, but I just don’t think this is the place to be doing it. There’s a park two minutes away and five minutes away there’s a massive hill. I don’t understand why people would want to come in here.”
Mr Irvine said he has witnessed dogs in Morningside Cemetery urinating on headstones “even when on the lead” and added: “I don’t care if that headstone is a hundred years old or two days old, that person’s memory is still there.”
He was speaking to councillors as they prepared to usher in new management rules for Edinburgh’s 43 cemeteries.
The draft legislation put before the committee suggested allowing dogs in graveyards, however requiring owners to keep them on leads.
Mr Irvine said the move is a “massive step in the right direction”, however added: “I don’t think it’s really going to solve the problem.”
Lib Dem councillor Hal Osler questioned how a blanket ban on dogs in cemeteries could be enforced.
She said: “My biggest concern is if we remove and say no dogs, that’s 24/7 enforcement. The majority of these places are open to allow individuals to come in and grieve and my concern is that we will prevent individuals from actually accessing graves which are really important to them because I’m not entirely sure how we can then actually enforce a 24/7, seven days a week no dog policy.”
Quizzing the council’s Bereavement Services manager Robbie Beattie on the new rules, Alex Staniforth, of the Green Party, asked: “How often would the average cemetery see an officer there enforcing the rules on dogs, whether we go for what’s suggested or an absolute ban?”
Mr Beattie replied: “That’s going to vary from cemetery to cemetery” adding: “Some places might be every day, some places might be every two weeks.”
He told councillors there is a “need to strike a balance” and reminded them: “We are the city of Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful dog who sat at his master’s grave.”
Conservative councillor Mark Brown called the suggestion of a dog ban “very draconian” and “completely out of step with what we really should be looking to achieve”.
Meanwhile, the SNP’s Amy McNeese-Mechan, Catherine Fullerton and Ethan Young backed the move and Councillor McNeese-Mechan moved a last-minute motion to strike the line on allowing dogs from the proposals.
However, Labour convenor Donald Wilson disallowed the amendment and said: “This is far too late to bring forward something that’s such a substantial alteration to the report without investigating all the implications of that. The rules of submission are these for a reason and I think this does offend them.”
Councillors agreed on the new cemetery management rules originally put to them by officers, which prohibit people from annoying, offending or distressing cemetery visitors, littering in burial grounds and pursuing any activity which endangers any person or property.
The rules also state dogs must be kept on a lead and are banned from fouling in cemeteries.
The rules will now go to a public inspection for people to give their views, which the committee will consider before implementing.
Members also agreed an addendum submitted by Tory councillor Max Mitchell to review the measures one year on from implementation and look at “compliance, complaints, and any enforcement actions in relation to the new management rules”.