School district enforcing animal ban on playing fields
At 110 pounds and only two years old, Ginger the great dane gallops around the field at Ruth King elementary like a small horse. For Langford, this is dog central.
Offering wide open greenspace amid busy residential neighbourhoods, the school grounds have long played a role as an unofficial off-leash dog park. Ten or 15 canines wrestling and running is a common sight after school hours.
“This place is a godsend to us. Dogs need good exercise and to be socialized around other dogs,” says Lora Kossen, 30, the owner of Ginger. “We are new to Langford so this is a huge way to meet people and get into the community.”
Unfortunately, the field’s popularity with dog owners has made it ground-zero for the Sooke School District’s unpalatable problem with poop. The district has recently and quietly changed gears – once largely tolerated outside classroom hours, dogs are now overtly banned from the schoolyard.
District officials say the volume of uncollected dog poop on its fields – and particularly at Ruth King – has graduated from a nuisance to a possible health hazard.
“We’ve always had a policy of no dogs on the fields. For years we have turned a blind eye, but we can’t do that anymore,” says Trent Pryor, SD 62 facilities supervisor. “I’ve seen it for myself – somebody letting their dog defecate on the field and then walking away. This is not an acceptable way to behave in the city.”
The district is changing signs at its schools to reflect the renewed enforcement of the no-animal policy, particularly at the most problematic and soiled schools – Ruth King, Willway elementary and John Stubbs Memorial.
Over the past years, the district has fielded a litany of complaints from sports groups who rent space and are forced to clean fields littered with doggy land mines. Kids at Ruth King have tracked dog crap into the school, which brings up a host of sanitary concerns, Pryor says. District staff, police and bylaw enforcement even held a “poop symposium” to brainstorm ideas on how to solve the problem.
“The Ruth King field has escalated beyond control,” Pryor says. “The whole problem comes with a minority of people who don’t pick up after their dogs, and it impacts everyone.”
Ruth King principal Garry Manhas and his staff shovel up dog poop as a daily, early morning routine. He too has witnessed errant dog owners attempting to abandon their dog’s mess on school grounds.
“It’s frustrating is what it is,” Manhas says. “All people have to do is pick up after their pets. ”
The school grounds are an active hub for the surrounding community and a good place to let animals run, but Manhas says too many dog owners act irresponsibly.
“It’s a tough issue. We’ve been dealing with it for a long time,” he says. “You can see 10, 15, 20 dogs with people out there. A lot of those people live nearby and don’t have the luxury of space.”
In between rounds of tossing a ball down the field for Ginger the great dane, Kossen says that abandoning poop is a well-understood taboo among the tight-knit group of dog owners, who until recently, frequented Ruth King fields on a daily basis. Everybody brings extra baggies.
“The group was very conscious about it,” she says. “If someone didn’t pick up after their dog, I think they’d be shunned.”
Kossen agrees that the main culprits soiling Ruth King are a minority of dog owners, but says it’s unfair her dog gets punished due to the actions of a few lazy people. “I want to keep coming here. It’s a good, safe place for Ginger.”
Don Brown, Capital Regional District’s chief bylaw enforcement officer, who is also an SD 62 school trustee, has agreed to add Ruth King and other district schools to his officers’ regular patrol routes.
Brown said Langford’s bylaw banning dogs on sports fields extends to school district property. He expects the new “no dogs” signs will keep some people away, and that bylaw officers will educate unaware dog owners on the bylaws and regulations.
“This happens when you have high density residential with a school in the middle,” Brown remarked. “There’s not a lot of green areas around to take animals.”
Nowhere to run
The animal ban on school property leaves virtually no off-leash options within Langford for dog owners, other than off-summer months at regional parks.
Earlier this year, Langford banned dogs from City sports fields, such as the all-weather turf at City Centre Park, and requires dogs to be on-leash in playgrounds. That ban, arose in part due to dog owners leaving a mess on playing fields, such as the expensive artificial turf.
At the same time, the City is working on creating an off-leash dog park on a 2.6 acre wedge of land near David Cameron elementary and Veterans Memorial Parkway.
Coun. Lanny Seaton, chair of Langford’s parks committee, said the City is waiting for written permission from the Ministry of Transportation before it can set out a budget to clean up the land and install fencing. The timeline for opening the off-leash park isn’t set.
“We still need to get the land and we’ll go from there,” Seaton said. “It’s not a big area, but it’s something to let dogs run off-leash.”