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Saanich considers requiring pets to be leashed in parks, dog owners voice alarm

Off-leash dogs under owner control currently allowed in parks; new policy would limit off-leash to designated areas
Trish Fougner walks her 11-year-old Labrador retriever Shadow through PKOLS (Mount Douglas Park) on Tuesday. They hike at the park every day and Fougner believes that by confining dogs to smaller areas the risk of conflict will increase. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich council will look at requiring dogs in parks to be leashed at all times except in designated areas or fenced dog parks.

The district has released a draft of its “People, Pets and Parks” strategy, which has been in the works since June 2021. It’s a controversial issue that the municipality frames as an attempt to balance the interests of park users, dog owners and commercial dog walkers. The current bylaw allows dogs to be off-leash under owner control in all parks.

The draft has identified 57 parks and one beach that can accommodate off-leash areas. Of these, 12 parks have been identified for fenced off-leash areas.

The district is recommending a 1.5-kilometre trail loop within PKOLS (Mount Douglas Park) and a four-­hectare fenced area with trails in Cuthbert Holmes Park. It is also recommending that Cordova Bay Beach be off-leash year round. The lists of parks and maps can be found on the district’s website,

Other key recommendations include better waste management, increased park maintenance — especially of sport fields — better signage and increased education and communication. Developing a commercial dog walkers permit, similar to the Capital Regional District, is also recommended.

If approved, the changes are expected to cost between $5 million and $7 million over the next five years. The cost of additional staff needed for bylaw enforcement, garbage collection and maintenance is estimated at $800,000 annually.

Feedback on the draft recommendations can be made online until midnight June 11. The final draft will be presented to council on June 26.

Many dog owners are upset about the proposed change to Saanich’s animal bylaw.

“It’s ridiculous,” Eulala Mills, a member of the Facebook group Happy Dogs in Saanich Parks, said Tuesday. “People are incredibly disappointed. It looks like they’re taking away 90 per cent, maybe even more, of the off-leash space.”

According to Mills, data shows 73 per cent of park users are dog owners and two-thirds of Saanich residents have no issues with dogs in parks or beaches.

“This means the majority of residents don’t see unleashed dogs as a nuisance, ” said Mills, who is hopeful that the mayor and council will see that the recommendations go too far.

At PKOLS, unleashed dogs can run on 20 kilometres of trails. Setting aside a 1.5-kilometre loop means they are losing 93 per cent of the trails, said Mills.

At PKOLS Tuesday, Gregg Sheehy was enjoying the trails with Joy, his golden retriever.

“It’s really a dog-friendly city. There are so many people with dogs who come here. I never see any bad interactions and it’s really important for her. I just don’t see the problem,” said Sheehy. “With the migratory bird sanctuary, they can’t go to the beaches anywhere from Esquimalt to Ten Mile Point and that’s really affected a lot of people as well as their dogs. Being on a leash just doesn’t do it. It’s like being shackled to somebody. They need to be able to move on their own and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds.”

Trish Fougner has lived near the park for 30 years and hikes every day with her 11-year-old black lab Shadow.

“The 1.5-kilometre loop means every dog off-leash is going to be in that small little area along with all the dog walkers so we’re going to create an even bigger problem. It’s really crazy,” said Fougner.

Rachel Whittaker hopped out of her car, flyers in hand, to show people the proposed restrictions.

“On a personal note, I’ve suffered the loss of a parent, infertility and a job loss in the last three years,” she said, her voice shaking. “This dog and this park have saved my life.”

Like Fougner, Whittaker believes that by confining dogs to smaller areas the risk of conflict will increase. She and her doodle, Bentley, often hike the back side of the mountain and hardly see anybody, she said.

Alan Hollingworth was walking without a dog. He believes the issue of out-of-control dogs has been exaggerated. “Lots of them are well-behaved,” he smiled.

Linda Canham, striding along with Nova, her mini bull terrier, was upset by the proposed changes and favours more responsible education. “I think they’re going to have a problem with dog behaviours cause they need exercise and they need an outlet,” she said.

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